Blog Post

iApps: The Software Suite Apple Should Create


Once upon a time, iTunes did exactly what it sounded like it should do: play music. It was the digital jukebox for your mac, Rip, Mix, Burn, remember that?

Looking at the sidebar in iTunes now, I’ve got Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, iTunes U, Audiobooks, Applications, and Radio, and that’s just the main library. Next is the iTunes Store and a “Purchased” smart list, the Genius feature, iTunes DJ and (finally) my custom Smart Playlists. That’s a lot to pack into one application, especially considering that many of the features have nothing to do with each other. There are very few times when I’m wanting to watch a movie that I care to look through my music collection. Music and video are two different functions, and in my opinion, deserve two different apps.

Actually, I’d like to see Apple release an entire “iApps Suite,” separating out audio, video, and applications. Strip Movies and TV Shows out of iTunes and integrate them into a new “iVideo” app, or something similarly named. Hide the video content from the iTunes store in iTunes and create a link for an iVideo store inside the new video app.

Similarly, I’d like to see Apple break out the App Store into it’s own dedicated application. Leave the functionality exactly as it is now and simply move it into its own app. There are many times that I’ve got iTunes open, most of the time just to listen to music, and have no interest whatsoever in my collection of apps.

Maybe my desire for Apple to break apart iTunes is because of my background in Unix, and the Unix philosophy for writing applications that “do one thing, and do it very well.” Or, maybe it’s because the direction iTunes has taken doesn’t seem very “Mac like.” Take the bundled applications for example. Mail, iCal, and Address Book are very often lumped together in the same app. Thunderbird (with the lightning extension) does this, as do Outlook and Lotus Notes. Apple sees sending and receiving mail, calendaring, and storing information about contacts as three separate functions, and wrote three separate apps to handle it. The iLife suite is another great example of separating applications that do different things. iPhoto ties into iWeb, Garageband, iMovie, and iDVD, but they are still separate apps for separate purposes.

I thought for a while that audio, video, and apps were all lumped together in iTunes to make it easier to sync to iPods and iPhones. But, iCal, Address Book, and iPhoto have no problem syncing their data. iPhoto will, by default, open when you plug-in an iPod touch or an iPhone, but Address Book and iCal sync silently, if configured to do so in iTunes. If iTunes were to be separated into different apps, perhaps the iSync utilities role could be expanded to handle what is synced where. That almost sounds like the job of a system preference to me.

Now I think that the three functions of iTunes are tied together because of the iTunes store. Since Apple used the same distribution model that had been successful with music for movies and TV shows, adding the functionality to iTunes and the iTunes Store offered the path of least resistance. Similarly, when it needed to build another store for applications, Apple built it on top of what was already successful.

I don’t see Apple changing directions with iTunes any time soon. If it were to create three apps out of the one iTunes, it would have to create them for Windows as well. I don’t have access to the source code, but knowing what I do about programming and development, I can’t imagine that would be an easy task. Perhaps this is a third-party opportunity for some ambitious indie devs out there? Or, maybe, just maybe, if we get the right people’s attention, a conversation might start that leads to some real change.

15 Responses to “iApps: The Software Suite Apple Should Create”

  1. I have to agree with both sides in this argument to some extent. I agree it would be nice to have everything in one place and have it work well. Work well. Itunes is garbage on a pc. I don’t know how it works on a mac, but frankly, telling me things would be better on a mac isn’t the same as showing me how great your software is to start with. Instead, what I get is a piece of bloated garbage that causes my 2ghz processor with 4gb of memory to hang up for 30 seconds every time I play a song or try to sync or anything else. That’s not good advertising for Apple. If you want to lure me to pay a premium for your product you don’t give me bad software and then tell me it’s my fault it doesn’t work well, and that if I pay you extra, you can make it work. Instead, make good software that makes me want to look at what else you can do. If the Itunes flagship is an example of Apple software, they can keep the rest. Over the years I’ve tried to use it several times, in different versions on different pcs and the performance has always been crap. The only reason I can see that anyone even uses Itunes at all is because the music player itself is so nifty.

  2. “Looking at the sidebar in iTunes now, I’ve got Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, iTunes U, Audiobooks, Applications, and Radio, and that’s just the main library. Next is the iTunes Store and a “Purchased” smart list, the Genius feature, iTunes DJ and (finally) my custom Smart Playlists. That’s a lot to pack into one application, especially considering that many of the features have nothing to do with each other. There are very few times when I’m wanting to watch a movie that I care to look through my music collection. Music and video are two different functions, and in my opinion, deserve two different apps.”

    Well isn’t that handy! all inthe one place, no flicking between separate apps to access all your media. My word that would soon wear out command – tab!. It’s a shame that you can’t access keynote, pages and numbers documents – but hopefully in iTunes X, eh?

    I would rather see contacts and ical more integrated as a single app with mail, more like (and I WILL was my mouth out with soap) ‘Outlook’ – but obviously better and more Appley Maccy! Rather than generate even more applications.

    As for speed issues – get a new Mac! They come out with upgrades every frickin’ fortnight!

  3. There’s actually at least four functions: 1) a store where you buy media (and iPhone apps), 2) database management of data you own (or rent), 3) players and readers for media (or data) you own (or rent, or browse), and 4) applications for making and manipulating media or data. And looming over all of this is the ‘cloud’– should some or all of these functions migrate to distant servers? Who knows?

    I agree that the way all these functions are currently split up among Apple’s applications is pretty arbitrary and mostly due to history. I’d normally be reluctant to mess with it, since it does all still sorta does work– but I agree that the time has probably come to rethink and redo it.

  4. I am exactly of the same opinion.

    Apple your are all about clean products. Simple and functional. As in all software, iTunes gets crappier every time you simply ad a function without considering the concept of the whole package.

  5. @NC, I think you brought up a key word here which is “media,” specifically the storage and consumption of media. Tweets, email, and RSS feeds (as mentioned by @HZC) can arguably be categorized as media, but are potentially stored and consumed differently than audio, video, Internet radio, etc.

  6. BadIdea!

    Oh my what a bad idea! I agree that with some of the syncing with calendars and photos it seems a bit clunky and un apple-like to use iTunes but to separate the store from the music from the movies etc. just makes for a bad user experience.

    So I’d have to run a ‘store app’ to browse for music, movies, tv shows, and then to watch or listen to my purchases I’d have to run a separate app to listen to music, then to watch a movie I’d have to go to another app? No-friggin-thanks if it’s all the same with you?

    So what about on the iPhone? The iPod app plays music, movies, tv shows etc. and so if you think it is a good idea to break these functions out into separate apps on the mac then surely the same applies to the iPhone?

    What about the AppleTV – same thing applies

    What about FrontRow?

    The best thing about iTunes is the all-in-one experience, from buying to watching/listening to syncing.

    @Gazoobee if you take a movie with your iPhone it ends up in iPhoto not iTunes and is available automatically in your movie app.

    @HZC the point is the iTunes allows you to buy, play/watch and sync media files, everything is related. Your argument is a non sequitur.

    • Well, don’t worry, Apple won’t split up iTunes … because of the store. This way when you go to buy an app, you might spot a movie or a song you like and end up buying that too. They won’t ever split the store up. So I guess that anything that’s related to the store ends up in iTunes.

      Your other points about the iPod/iPod app and AppleTV are well taken. I happen to have all of those too ;-)

  7. I have to disagree with the author on this. I prefer having a central location all of my media. There is a possible argument that the iPhone and it’s apps don’t integrate well. But seeing as I use it as an iPod more than a phone most of the time, it makes sense to have it integrated into iTunes. Instead of breaking iTunes apart, I think Apple could focus on the underlying architecture to speed up all of the processes. I think that would help out with HZC’s problem.

  8. I would certainly like iTunes to be the ultra media center that can play everyting I have on my mac, but sadly nothing could be further from the truth.
    iTunes really does not suffice as a video player, and what’s even worse: quicktime doesn’t either! And I’m not even talking about the stripped version of quicktime that is part of Snow Leopard.
    Without VLC and plugins like perian, the mac would be a very limited movie playing apparatus.
    Of course, Apple wants to solve this by moving in a direction where the only movie content you’ll ever want to watch comes from the iTunes store – but we’re not there yet, and we won’t arrive there anytime soon either.

  9. I agree with the concept. iTunes has become so big and bloated that it takes forever to start on my Mac. I hear the experience is even worse on Windows. I know someone, in fact, that switched from Windows Media Player to iTunes and then back again to WMP because iTunes was too slow.

    Apps like Address Book and iCal open quickly and let you start working right away. When I open iTunes, I usually switch to my RSS reader to kill time while iTunes slowly gets out of bed.

    @ZEDenterprizes, I don’t think it’s backward thinking at all. At what point do you stop adding features to your “one app”. How about throwing in an RSS reader, mail and a twitter client?

    The more stuff that gets put in, is the more stuff that must eventually be loaded “lazily” or “on-demand” in order to allow the application to start more quickly. Then, when you want to use a feature that isn’t loaded, the app must load the required components. Isn’t this then like starting up a separate app. The difference is you’re clicking in a different place.

    The UNIX philosophy is correct. Do one thing and do it well.

  10. Gazoobee

    I think the author is right and have thought the same for a long time now. The setup they have now is completely illogical and ass-backwards.

    A further point to the same argument is the fact that you sync your photos and your videos with iTunes (the “music” app), even though you have a system level photo and video app. If I take a movie with my phone, it ends up in my music library instead of my video app. None of this makes any sense at all and there are numerous other examples I won’t bother to get into.

    The most logical solution is to keep the media types all in media specific apps (which already exist), and to have a “sync app” that pulls them all together. That way you wouldn’t be syncing with iTunes but with the computer, and each app would handle the media types on it’s own. This would also provide the end user with more choices in that they needn’t use any particular app for storing and managing their media, as long as whatever they chose was able to be seen by the syncing application.

    This means on Windows they needn’t make any media software at all, just the syncing app, which could connect to whatever crappy Windows video, audio, or photo software the end user was unfortunate enough to have purchased.

  11. ZEDenterprizes

    I think that this idea is backwards thinking, friend. I think apple ought to move away from separate applications altogether and that when I want to play a movie it’s just all part of a seamless whole without me needing to be bothered by the fact that I need to “open” a new “application” at all. I mean, if we’re really trying to make things easy to use, then why not make all that stuff transparent for the end user. The main focus is the media or the task, not the application. Make the applications invisible to the user–then you’re making progress, IMHO.

  12. estephan500

    this article is totally uncompelling. there are actually amazing, great reasons to have iTunes offer a spectrum of media. I’m glad you like unix, but the question is, is the application very good? it is. splitting it apart would be idiotic.