The iPod was not the first to market, but it came, saw and conquered the mp3 players market. Key to iPod’s success was the seamless integration of hardware, software and services made possible through that formidable piece of software called iTunes.
Over time though, iTunes app has become hard to navigate, clunky and bloated. In order to chase music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, Apple tried to stitch to iTunes’ core music player, a radio streaming service that is trying, not subtly, to up-sell music. The end result is a badly executed hodgepodge of radio and music player that is mediocre at best at each of those functions.
The music player has become a secondary focus and it is almost unusable. Here is why.
Let’s say you would like to listen to that old Led Zeppelin album you loved when you still had hair or you want to play the Frozen “Let it go” song your kid in the back of the car is screaming about. You open the app and land on the Radio tab, which does not directly show any search box. Without any sign of despair, you use the pull down gesture and a search box appears, as well as your smile. Only to vanish though, after you realize that the search box lets you just search among radios.
But you do not want any “Let it go” radio, you just want to play that song and more importantly your ear bones to stop trembling under your kid’s pounding screams.
Then you try the second tab, Genius, but you are starting to become skeptical. As you should be of any creature that calls itself in such a way. Your suspects are tragically confirmed. No genius search box there, even after pulling down.
Then you try the third tab, Playlists. No exposed search box again, you pull down again and ..Yes!! the magic box appears.This time you feel it might be the right one, you type “Let it g”, you tap, music starts, the screaming stops, you start smiling again. Your ears and your nervous system are safe. Wait, that song was not in any of your playlist… it doesn’t matter. You’re back to be an accomplished parent.
In summary, as crazy as it might sounds, iTunes designers believe that searching your music is not a use case that deserves prime real estate in a music player. They also do not buy into the universal search experience where radios as well as artists, playlists, songs or albums could be returned in search results. They instead believe that the user needs to take the cognitive effort to search in context within the proper tab. Very intuitive right? Not exactly Apple’s style.
Not still convinced on the state of iTunes? Let’s take another crazy use case. Let’s say you do not have cellular or Wifi coverage…remote scenario, huh?
You are greeted by a warm message on the Radio tab and an inactive greyed out Genius tab. In this not so unlikely scenario, even if you have music locally stored on the device, the first two tabs are completely useless and just sad.
In another not so remote use case, let’s say you just do not want to use your data plan for streaming. In that case, if you want to browse only the music that is locally stored on your device, you just can’t. You would need to go back and forth in the rest of the app to tediously select only the songs that are not greyed out. Unless… you figure out that you need to close iTunes, go to Settings->Music-> Turn Off Show All Music and then come back to iTunes.
Now finally only the songs locally stored are displayed. Super intuitive Apple style. Other apps like Kindle solve the problem with a simple cloud/device toggle that you can activate without leaving the app.
Those are not the only iTunes issues. Others include a usability flawed tab customization feature, duplicate files and lost album art in addition to the issues iMatch has in recognizing audio files ripped from CDs. Due to such bad user experience, I ditched iTunes and mostly use Spotify even for listening to my iTunes music.
iTunes has long been in need of a complete re-design and re-write. We have read rumors about Apple working on a new music service integrating Beats streaming service and boosting its editorial staff with great DJs. Hopefully this is the chance for Jony to overhaul iTunes and bring back a music experience worthy to carry Apple’s brand.