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iTunes 10 Interface: Where Apple Went Wrong

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Almost every year, Apple (s aapl) releases a new version of iTunes with some new feature. Last year it was Home Sharing. This year, it’s Ping. Apple also usually tweaks the UI, many times creating a backlash. This year Apple has outdone itself.

Vertical Buttons

I’ll start with the most obvious UI tweak: the close/minimize/maximize buttons. I understand why Apple made this change: it saves space. When you hit the maximize button in iTunes, you get the mini-player, which has vertical close/min/max buttons in order to save space. Apple used the same reasoning with the main iTunes window.

There is a way you can disable it. Fire up Terminal and enter the following code:

defaults write full-window -boolean YES

That will put the buttons back horizontally. You can change it back if you want to by changing the “YES” to a “NO”.

I don’t mind this change that much. I usually use the keyboard shortcuts to close or minimize iTunes anyway, and the vertical buttons do save space (if only a little).

Monochrome Sidebar

This one really irks me: Apple completely did away with color in the icons in the sidebar. To show you why this was such a dumb idea, I’m going to quote from Apple’s own Human Interface Guidelines:

Making each toolbar icon distinct helps the user associate it with its purpose and locate it quickly. Variations in shape, color, and image all help to differentiate one toolbar icon from another.

Making all the sidebar icons monochrome makes it harder to identify them, especially since they’re all similar in size. Back in iTunes 9, you could easily tell where the iTunes Store was because its icon was green. In iTunes 10, you have to distinguish between the shapes, which is harder for us to do and takes more time.

There are currently a couple of hacks available to address this.

Show/Hide in the Sidebar

Another change made to the sidebar is getting rid of the triangle buttons on the left of list headings. These have been replaced by “Show/Hide” buttons that only appear when you’re hovering over a list name.

Album List View

Album list view is basically list view, but with albums on the side. A version of this existed in iTunes 9, but Apple tweaked the functionality of it as well as added a new toolbar button for it.

The New Icon

The new iTunes icon isn’t bad, it’s just not terribly interesting. I think Apple should have used a color other than blue, because, as Josh pointed out, there’s already a surplus of blue icons in OS X (Finder, Mail, Safari, iChat, QuickTime, etc). Purple would’ve worked nicely.

Apple chose to change the icon as the former “CD” icon has become less and less relevant in the age of digital downloads. But Apple could have taken it a step further. It could have changed the name as well, seeing as iTunes has long been for more than just music. My current favorite is “iMedia,” but that’s a little too broad; media can be images, as well. Also, “iMedia” doesn’t sound as good as “iTunes.” I think Apple will eventually change the name (and the icon to reflect that).

If you’d like tou can change the icon yourself:

  1. Open your Applications folder in Finder and highlight iTunes.
  2. Right click on it and select “Show Package Contents”.
  3. Go to Content -> Resources and replace the iTunes.icns with a new one. There’s already some great replacement icons coming out, like this one from Mattias Ekstrom. Of course, you can also just use the old iTunes icon.


It seems to me like most of the changes in iTunes are changes for change’s sake; just to make it look newer. The only really new feature in iTunes is Ping, and that’s basically just a link in the sidebar.

Do you love or hate iTunes 10? What other new names might work for it? Tell us in the comments.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: With Ping, Apple Builds a Social Network Inside a Walled Garden

86 Responses to “iTunes 10 Interface: Where Apple Went Wrong”

  1. “large majority of iTunes users are Windows users” …. I guess you forgot a tiny detail here. WIndows users that are using Apple products (as in iphone, ipod, ipad) …. ;) – other than that I totally agree (and I am mac user). iTunes needs to run perfectly fine on both platforms! Just like Flash had to run perfectly fine on Apple (well, it never did until lately, but too late)…
    But the argument is perfectly valid …

  2. Geoff Strickler

    Regarding the other iTunes 10 UI changes:

    “Stoplight” controls: They look ok, but they’re non-standard and there was no reason to change them. Given that nearly every computer ships with a wide-screen display, reducing height is more valuable than width, but there was plenty of room to include the standard window controls and have all the iTunes specific controls to the right of them, so there is no need to have the standard controls take up extra height. They would also work for the Office 2007-2011 style “ribbon” interface. However, for a window with a “normal” title bar, the vertical stoplight controls will use more height in a traditional window, and that’s a bad idea. I can’t envision a good generalized way to use the vertical controls on windows other than to move them to the right side above the vertical scroll bar (assuming you even have a vertical scroll bar).

    Gray icons: Bad idea. As another poster noted, there a a lot of color blind people, so making them more distinct in shape is a good idea, but the gray-on-gray contrast is pretty low making them difficult for everyone. There is no reason to remove color for the 90% of people with normal color vision, most people with color blindness have some level of color vision, just not what is “normal”. There are a number of tools available that will let you see what people with various forms of color blindness will see, use those to help select colors that work for normal and color impaired vision so everyone is well served. Or, for a simple contrast test, print your color image on a black and white printer, if it’s not easy to read there, chances are that some color blind users will have trouble with it.

  3. Good lord, I despise the icon. It looks like it came straight out of Geocities– or worse, from one of those “make your own banner/button” sites. Disgusting. Apple knows how to make things pretty– you’d think somewhere in the process someone would have stood up and said “hey, this is ugly.”

  4. Geoff Strickler

    I don’t have a particular issue with the new iTunes 10 icon, it’s not exciting, but it’s not notably better/worse than the iTunes 9 icon.

    I’ve looked at the replacements suggested at
    a few are very good, but most are not as good as the 9 or 10 icon.

    What I think is missing from almost all of the icons is something that indicates iTunes is about more than just music. Something that includes a TV and a phone, maybe even some game reference. Music is currently the main use of iTunes and that should still be the main focal point of the icon. Color should be distinct from the default OS X background and the combination of color and image should make it distinct from the other common icons. I’m not much of a graphic artist myself or I would attempt one, but if any of you are good with graphics, I would love to see something like I’ve described.

  5. Booger McGee

    I honestly think iTunes has been the clunkiest, most awkward and un-Apple app out there. It’s too much like what we saw with Microsoft apps that transitioned from Windows 98 to XP.

    I hope there’s a day where they just say “Let’s do it!” and tear it down completely, build something Apple-worthy, and then all these minor changes (and our annoyances) will be moot.

  6. I love my new iTunes 10, it’s faster, more simple to use, nicer, and new fetures in design are awesome for me. In addition Ping could be sometimes one of the best social networks out there (cause Apple), just realize it’s just a few days old, so it cannot be as good as facebook :). Even though it has an app for the iPhone!

  7. I hate it. The lack of color makes it so drab that I don’t even want to look at it. I find this an unnecessary change. I liked using the colors on the sidebar to distinguish which icon was what. I detest it with a passion and it makes me not want to use itunes. What I love about apple is that they are always vibrant and design savvy. Itunes 10 looks like it should be the first model of itunes and not the most current version.

  8. John Kalla

    I think the second-biggest thing Apple needs to fix with iTunes is the fact that you can’t re-download lost/missing music (more than twice). Media should be available in the cloud.

    The biggest problem is, though, that you can’t easily sync playlists, star ratings, etc… between computers. How many times have I gotten a new computer and re-rated all my music? It’s crazy! Can’t this data be included in the mp3/AAC file? And rebuilding playlists is annoying.

  9. I really like the monochrome sidebar. I think it looks nice and the colors are too noisy. We don’t need color to find an item and with so many items the colors start to be meaningless.

    I also really like the elimination of the triangles. I don’t like how when you have triangles items don’t have the same left side indent. Also, all these triangles take up space and once you learn how to hide and show, the UI look much nicer. No reason to show all these widgets all the time.

    The new icon is decent. I don’t dislike it. The old one looked very dated.

    I guess the most controversial thing is the vertical buttons. I don’t have a problem with this as long as they are happy for all developers to use this setup. The toolbar at top does look very compact – and that I definitely like. But then I liked tabs on top for Safari. The UI orthodoxy gets tiring after a certain point. Let’s allow a measure if invention even if it breaks a rule here and there….

  10. I totally agree. Adding to the article, the checkboxes take effort to notice now. A hotkey combo that I used a lot is completely GONE — the Command+2 hotkey combo specifically is no longer available for doubling the window size. I assume this is because it’s using the new Quicktime player, but maybe the new player should have the Command+2 added to its functionality.
    I hope there’s a way to hack some of the old look back.

  11. Why didn’t they just adopt the iTunes icon from iOS? I never understood why these icons were so different when other apps that are found in both OS X and iOS at least look relatively similar.

  12. The vertical traffic button is not that bad. However now you cannot differentiate which library you are in. When the buttons are on top, the title bar can show you your active library.

    I found the monochrome icons really bothersome. I think they tried to match them with the iOS navigation icons…

    The hide/show control is nice, however it is not available in Store group. I used to switch between 2 libraries, in which I use the iTunes store only with the first (main) library. Switching them on/off in preferences is quite troublesome.

    I also agree with Mike’s comment.

  13. hm yeah, I liked the colourful icons. I know where things are though, so it’s not like it’s debilitating or anything. No, what I find ridiculous is that with every update of iTunes, they seem to increase the line spacing!

    see this screenshot comp:

    if I also show Books and TV shows, and plug in my iphone or ipod, I literally can’t even see a single playlist. Boo.

  14. I strongly disagree with you in one point: The new icons are much sleeker and less chaotic. In my opinion, it is much easier now to locate and distinguish them and the new layout adds more calmness to the user interface.

  15. I agree with Twist. iTunes has become “the go to app for too much stuff.” At this late date, I’m not sure how they could split it apart again, but having a media player, mixed with music and audio book purchases, along with mobile device management, and now a Facebook-like feature makes it a muddle to use. It does too much.

    If they want a name change, I’d recommend iMess.

  16. “In iTunes 10, you have to distinguish between the shapes, which is harder for us to do and takes more time.”

    If this is the case, you need to get your eyes tested. And anyway, your a writer, you went to school; surely you should be able to read the words next to the pictures?

  17. Sadly at this point I don’t think Apple can change the name or move any of the functionality out of iTunes and into another app. iTunes is the go to app for too much stuff and making any changes would just confuse a large portion of their user base.

    Also sadly iTunes X is still Carbon and likely to remain that way to ease porting to Windows. I was really hoping to see a Cocoa rewrite like they did with Quicktime.

    Other than moving the buttons I don’t mind the new UI changes though. I always paid more attention to the names than the icons and wouldn’t mind ditching the icons completely.

  18. I think a lot of bloggers/people have forgotten that iTunes is the vehicle that Apple has used over the years to premiere new UI changes. Remember how Apple changed iTunes before Leopard (OS 10.5) came out? Come to find out when Leopard shipped, all the UI windows became more like iTunes. Remember when cover flow was adopted into iTunes? Well that showed up in Finder after that! This is not about change just for the sake of change, this looks like a glimpse of OS 10.7. Just another taste of the future.

  19. I think they went for the monochrome look to emphasize AirPlay — the icon at bottom right is nearly the only instance of bright colour in the entire UI. The functionality is no different than when it was a simple grey button that said “Speakers”, but it draws more attention to the wireless streaming functionality that iTunes has long had. Likely no coincidence the change coincides with the announcement of the new AppleTV.

  20. Er… you know that only a tiny minority of iTunes users are running Mac right?

    First they should fix iTunes so it’ doesn’t run like crap on Windows 7.

    It also broke all my podcast subscriptions for some reason. Bleh.

    • The site *is* called TheAppleBlog, so we generally don’t cover Windows.

      Performance of Apple software on Windows has always been atrocious, and no one’s sure why. They could definitely make it better, but I think the rate at which iTunes is getting new features outweighs the effort they’re willing to put into making it perform better on Windows.

      • Hmmm… Read your own conclusion again (“Change for change’s sake[…]No new features[…]”), and your defense of Apple’s bad Windoze performance is that the rate of new features is good enough so that they don’t put effort into getting it to run better on that O/S. Makes no sense.

        And of course making it run better on an O/S you don’t use is outweighed by X other priority.

        No flamewar start here, just pointing out some stuff that stood out in your arguments…

      • @gm I meant from their perspective, as in the people developing iTunes are putting too many new features in for them to consider how it runs on Windows. I think they should spend more time optimizing performance, on both platforms. I’d rather have a faster iTunes than an iTunes with Ping.

      • The “Apple” Blog should surely cover Apple products, not just Apple products that are RUN on Apple products? The vast majority of Apple product owners run Windows… Or are you saying their should be a separate blog for this majority: “TheAppleProductRunningOnWindowsBlog”? Just saying, it seems strange to ignore the biggest customer base.

      • Don;t think there is a way to get the actual numbers (will Apple release them?), but just think about all the Windows users who have iPods/iPhones/iPads and must install iTunes to communicate with their device. Given Windows’ marketshare of the PC O/S market and Apple’s marketshare in those three devices, it stands to reason (to me, anyway) that a lot of Windows iTunes installs exist.

        As to whether or not it’s a big majority only Apple knows, but I think it’s very highly likely that there are more Windows iTunes installs than MacOS.

      • No its definitely not “tiny”. there could be a bigger percentage of windows users running iTunes but sure isn’t very small. Besides that there are allot of people changing to a mac because of the experience with there iPhone’s and other Apple devices. Simple,Beautiful,Fast,Powerful and it gets the job done. Just like we all want it. i’m not saying Windows is shit. but people underestimate Mac as well as other apple devices.

        On the other hand I don’t have a good experience with Microsoft applications for Mac. they remain bad like example Messenger for Mac.

      • Yes – yes I am saying the “large” minority are running iTunes on Windows.

        Some basic numbers –

        Ok accuracy is always an issue, but it’s a good ballpark – certainly OSX is less than 10% – and that’s in the US, globally it’s much lower.

        Only Apple knows for sure, but the iPod line has sold extremely well – enough that iTunes installed base should start to match overall OS numbers fairly well. Even if more Mac users have iPods than PC users, iTunes will still be massively more widely installed on Windows than Mac.

    • I definitely agree with you about it running like crap on Windows. Before I got my Mac I had a simple PC desktop. So I know what you mean even though that was many years back.

      If I could decide what to change about iTunes it would be the name even though the name is hard to let go. And the logo does look good but it misses something unique. I design so i think there should be a little more thinking about the logo. Then again I think Apple isn’t really happy with the new logo. It was mainly meant for getting rid of the CD in the image. Further more I like the solid logo’s in the sidebar. just needs to get used to like everything does.

  21. Samuel Herschbein

    I hate the new interface. When media was in its infancy it was Black & White. Now that we have Retina displays & bright LCDs we’re going back to Black & White. WTF?

  22. The UI Changes don’t bother me so much. The greyscale sidebar icons are the most bothersome, but not so much really.

    I would agree there’s not much reason for a whole version upgrade. This is more like iTunes 9.5. Although, the download was about 40 MB smaller so I’m sure there’s a great deal of underpinnings that have changed as well.