Apple’s .itms links are either the scourge of the universe, or a very handy little shortcut to getting at iTunes content, depending on who you ask and what mood they happen to be in. My personal policy is always to give people fair warning (warning: this Pastebot link opens iTunes) when I’m linking to the iTunes store, to prevent unexpected program launches when they might not be most convenient.
Recently, Apple introduced preview launch pages for its iTunes musical content. The new pages, which replace the boring “iTunes is launching, please wait” dialog that used to appear, provide basically a snapshot of what you’ll find when that iTunes icon eventually stops bouncing and you’re taken to the relevant page on the iTunes store. And now iPhone apps have received the same treatment.
The launch page you now receive when you click App Store links looks pretty much exactly like what you’ll see in iTunes itself. Product description, recommended apps, screenshots and user reviews — it’s all there. Apple also benefits by providing you with the Apple web site’s top navigation bar, so that customers clicking through are now also potentially rerouted towards the company’s other products and offerings.
Is the web preview a good idea? I guess so, especially for Apple’s new customers, who might be confused or put off by links that just open an application on their computer with little or no explanation. And it’s good for Apple, as I’ve just mentioned, since it acts as a kind of light up-selling tool. But as an experienced user who doesn’t appreciate being sold to when I’m already trying to buy something, I see little point in the entire iTunes Preview concept.
Not that it’s completely without merit. In fact, there’s a very simple way to make the whole thing extremely useful and get rid of the annoyance that some feel when inadvertently clicking .itms links. I’m talking about just using iTunes Previews, without the simultaneous opening of iTunes itself. This is one of the few times I will actually advise the implementation of a user interface element that actually adds a step instead of taking one away, but in this case it just makes sense.
The launch pad tells you everything you need to know, since it literally contains all the information available on the item’s iTunes store page. Let us as customers pause there, reflect, perhaps preview songs, etc. and click through to other app previews, and then provide a link to open iTunes. I suspect even just the sense of agency this will allow consumers will help boost actual purchase numbers. And Apple still gets the chance to up sell using the navigation bar. Everybody wins.