Rethinking iTunes — A Reconstruction Proposal

In the previous article of the series “Rethinking iTunes”, a grouping of all iTunes features and functions was elaborated to better understand the real nature of iTunes. With that in mind, it is easier to consider things that we could remove to make iTunes more approachable, more predictable and easier to evolve.

iTunes is for three thingsThe idea guiding the rethinking process is to remove everything that is not directly related to acquiring, serving or managing digital media. These form the core features of iTunes.

Taking Out Account Management

The easiest thing that could be removed from iTunes is account management related functions. There is no obvious reasons to keep them within the application itself. They could just move to a web site. iTunes already transports the user to something that looks like a web page loaded within the application anyway in the current release.

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Moreover, Apple already offers web based account management to help users manage their digital life: AppleId and iCloud. Doing the same for iTunes would just provide a more coherent approach.

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One major and immediate benefit of a web based account management portal is to be available everywhere, from every devices. The account portal could be made available at something like myitunes.apple.com.

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When logging into the portal, a web page would welcome the user with all the features required to help them manage their iTunes account as highlighted in the following diagram.

iTunes Simplified  copy

Creating a Device Management Application

Next up is device management. A new application named “My Devices” could be implemented within OS X and Windows. This application would be used to activate a new device, backup a device at user’s request or during a sync operation. iOS updates would be done within this application too. Think of this companion application as the one Apple created for the Apple Watch. But instead of being used on iOS, it is used on OS X or Windows.

iTunes Simplified

An important part of “My Devices” would be to allow users to manage their device’s settings including synchronization process. For example, the application would let the users choose which iTunes playlist to sync to the iPhone or iPad. Settings would be saved on a per device basis.

A new system wide “Media Library”

The next thing to manage are the media files. These are the objects that both, My Devices app and iTunes itself has to have access. Think of this as a library. The user can drag and drop media files into it. To peek into the content, iTunes would be mandatory.

The new digital media library should be seen as a database. A smart playlist could act like a query. The sync engine can attach a smart playlist to a device at user’s request. When a new object is added to the library, all smart playlists would be reevaluated and the sync engine would be responsible to update the device content over USB or wi-fi.

iTunes Simplified Media Lib

iTunes uses a sync engine but the proposal here is to change the management perspective. In order to manage device content, the user would use iTunes because this is where the content is. If the user wants to see a specific playlist on the device he or she has made with iTunes, then My Devices will be used for that purpose. A default setting could be implemented to automatically sync any new playlists to the device.

How many times we hear this question: I have a song that I want to put on my phone, how do I carry out thit task? Right now, the user has to copy the file to iTunes so the file gets imported into the library. Then the user has to plug the iPhone, and sync the device. Within the context of the new iTunes, the user would drag the file to the system media library and the sync process would automatically put the file to any configured devices in My Devices application. iTunes is not involved here per se. This process is much more intuitive as it looks like a simple file copy operation.

At this point, iTunes is now a much simpler application built to acquire, manage and serve digital content. Account management is done over a web portal and device management is done with the use of a new companion application named “My Devices” that sits on OS X or Windows.

iTunes Simplified Three Functions

This proposal is all about making iTunes a simpler application with a more predictable behaviour. In order to achieve this goal we can argue that removing account management from iTunes and creating a device management companion application help us in this endeavour. A synchronization engine coupled with a new digital media library are the building blocks that bridge our devices with digital content.

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