The State of iTunes 12 Says Something Important About Apple's Future

There is a fundamental tension between writing great software and picking your fights. Recently, that tension has bubbled to the surface with the release of iTunes 12. When times change and customer trends become noticeable, Apple software has to change as well. But throwing in the towel on the monolithic iTunes app isn't the way to do it.


It all started when Apple released iTunes 12.

Kirk McElhearn found the new look of iTunes 12 less intuitive, but didn't condemn the app out of hand. I, on the other hand found iTunes 12 to be completely unacceptable from a company with such a rich heritage of great software. We chatted on Twitter and had to end up agreeing to disagree.

Along the way, Chris Breen over at Macworld has also chimed in and suggests that because iTunes music sales are down and media ownership belongs to a dying breed, we can't expect much from iTunes. (Think about that for a minute.) In this article, "What's to be done about iTunes? Tweak? Strip? Split?" Mr. Breen writes:

How much sense does it make for Apple to invest time, effort, and a whole lot of money in an app that’s focused on media ownership when the future promises all-media, all-the-time, anywhere? The company purchased Beats Music and routinely adds new Apple TV channels for a reason. And that reason isn’t to convince you that media ownership is primed for a comeback.

When I reflect on all this, I see basic problem with the philosophy of software development by a large company. It goes like this.

Apple has historically been on the cutting edge of technology. In the software area, if you wait until trends are fully baked, you can never catch up let alone be a leader. And so, when trends first become evident, it's normally time to move on.

My argument is that you can always get away with that when your company is small and the installed base is small. Companies with limited resources can't afford to hang on to aging technology; it's a drain on the company's psyche and talent.

What Apple is learning, however, is that its glory days of also turning on a dime must now be tempered by the massive installed base. If indeed, music sales in the iTunes store have dropped 13 percent since the start of the year, as Mr. Breen cites, then the proper reaction in my mind is to figure out why and develop new strategies that cope with sales facts.

The wrong approach, however, is to panic, declare this revenue stream dead and forsake 75 million or so Mac customers who still enjoy managing and playing music on a Mac platform. Sure, the opportunities for subscription music on a mobile iPhone abound, but that doesn't mean you just give up with iTunes and deliver half-baked, embarrassing software. After all, when a very large company with an enormous customer base flits from fad to fad, all that remains is carnage and disaffection. Grumblings of former greatness squandered begin to emerge.

What Apple is finding out now is that the law of large numbers not only applies to revenue growth but also to the momentum of its customer psyche. It's like aircraft carrier technology. We've made great advances with arresting gear, rail gun catapults and laser weapons, but it remains very hard to turn a 90,000 ton aircraft carrier lumbering along at 33 knots.

Apple customers want state of the art technology and the means to guide them and make their lives better. But that doesn't mean that a company with great resources is self-entitled to flippantly throw in the towel on things it loses interest in and can't figure out how to do well anymore.

There's no competition for iTunes and there never will be. That means that Apple has a special responsibility to deliver the best software it can for the those many millions of Mac customers.

Perhaps that's the best argument yet for Apple to factor iTunes into digestible components so that each can branch and grow with the times while legacy elements still retain the excellence of the past.

Next: the tech news debris for the week of November 3. Apple under fire.

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of November 3


If the technological culture of our corporations is unable to resist the allure to introduce hidden functionality that, when brought to light is found to be creepy and undesirable, then what hope is there when even more technical power (and robots) are routine in our lives? Here are a couple of recent examples.

Does competing with other companies extend to punishing customers who have forsaken one company for another? What role does the government play in enforcing competitive ethics on behalf of the customers? These are just a few questions that could be raised here. "Apple Has Been Accused Of 'Intercepting' iPhone Texts In Violation Of The Federal Wiretap Act."

 No one ever told me I couldn't ...

Here's another example of questions we could ask ourselves. In this case, one wonders what the connection is between the behavior of certain services and how forthcoming a company needs to be on how the service is designed to operate—in light of conventional privacy expectations.

For example, if we've always expected our personal writings on a Mac to be private, does the new iCloud service need to formally alert us that our writings and musings on the Mac may no loger be private? For example: "Critics chafe as Macs send sensitive docs to iCloud without warning."

These examples suggest that modern consumer electronics giants need to engage in a more extensive dialog with its customers about how the customers want certain services to work. Otherwise, the developers could assume they have a carte blanche to do as they please because no one ever advised them of proper and ethical limits. Until, that is, the class-action lawsuit is filed.

Perhaps it's time for Tim Cook to exercise his special brand of  leadership and form an advisory group of consumers to provide feedback on the limits and protocols, related to privacy, expected of Internet connected devices.

In pleasant contrast, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently had some very positive things to say about the security of Apple's iMessage. "EFF ranks Apple's iMessage, FaceTime 'best mass market options' for secure messaging, ahead of BlackBerry Messenger, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Microsoft Skype."

There's been a lot of discussion about the malware called Wirelurker. This next article is helpful because it shows you where to look for infecting files and how to remove them. "FAQ on how to detect and remove WireLurker from OS X and iOS."

There must be no doubt about it. There is a culture of copying that is not self-critical but rather self-congratulatory. In the U.S., we pound it into our students that everything they do: writing, speaking, design, advertising, art—everything—must be original work. To do otherwise is dishonest. I can understand, however, where there can be cultures where mimicry is considered a good thing. You be the judge. "Lenovo’s iPhone ripoff is so blatant it puts Samsung to shame."

Apple Pay has come along just in time for the holiday shopping season, and Jonny Evans at Computerworld thinks it's going to be very good for Apple. This article, with data from Retale, has lots of interesting numbers related to the prospects of Apple Pay. "Apple Pay will generate millions of dollars this season."

Finally, if you're thinking about an iPad Air 2 for Christmas, AnandTech has posted another one of its legendary, in-depth reviews that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about this awesome tablet from Apple. Revel in the details here: "The Apple iPad Air 2 Review."


Robot concept and music graphic teaser via Shutterstock.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.