This is one of those items I find so hard to get behind, rather like the infrequent (boring) updates to MobileMe. But here goes; Apple (s aapl) has ever-so-quietly launched a new web-based front-end to their iTunes music library titled “iTunes Preview.” It allows a visitor to view lists of music available on the iTunes Store via their web browser. There you go. That’s kinda it.
I’m going to assume 99.999 percent of our readers already use iTunes, and are probably intimately familiar with the drill by now; you’re reading a web page and you’re presented with a link to some music, tv show or maybe an app inside the iTunes store. You click the link and, after your browser does a brief Redirection Dance, iTunes pops-up, opens the iTunes store and, as you’d expect, dumps you out on the correct product page. Which is nice.
Except, this isn’t the case if you don’t have iTunes installed. If you’re one of the few people left in this crazy world who doesn’t have iTunes installed, clicking on one of those links previously dumped you (again, after the spastic redirection dance) on a web page commanding you to download and install iTunes. Which is not nice.
Well, all that has (sort of) changed. iTunes Preview exists as something of an interim step designed to partially improve the overall user experience, and partially to get the last remaining holdouts among us to install iTunes. See, despite the “Preview” part of its name, iTunes Preview doesn’t let you actually preview anything beyond Music. And then it’s not actually a preview. It’s just track-listings and user reviews.
If you want to listen to a bit of music before you part with your cash, you’ll still need to install iTunes. And, in case that wasn’t totally obvious already, the webpage provides ample linkage to get you downloading Apple’s venerable media software.
As it stands today, the value and usefulness of iTunes Preview is limited. I guess it’s sort-of useful if all you want is a user-friendly link you can stuff into an email to your significant other (To: Other Half, Subject: Buy me this for xmas). But I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here in search of really worthwhile functionality. Right now, iTunes Preview verges on being almost entirely pointless. Sure, browse music by artist or album, view metadata like track duration or artist bios, and even find related artists… but anything more than that is reserved for the real iTunes.
However, it’s early days. Who knows what Apple might do in the months and years to come? Is this, for instance, the first step toward freeing users from iTunes, in anticipation of a day when that bloated, lumbering beast will be replaced by a suite of modern, slimline, specialized apps?
Nah, probably not. The music in iTunes might have been liberated from its DRM-shackles, but everyone forgets that iTunes itself is, for most people, one giant walled garden. With one hundred million active credit card accounts tied to the iTunes ecosystem, it’s unlikely Apple will want to break it apart any day soon without a proven, easy and established migration route to its successor(s).
iTunes Preview might be the start of something interesting, but it just as easily might be nothing more than the result of a user-experience “tidy-up” by the iTunes dev team, an idea that languished at the bottom of their “might be nice” wish-list for the last few years and just got executed by their newest interns.
If you’re keen to try it out, you’ll be pleased to learn it works on all the major browsers and is available right now. I’ll get you started with this link to the Michael Jackson artist page so you can see for yourself how it works. You can also access more content from the iTunes Charts page. But don’t get excited — there’s really nothing to see here, folks.