Kill Legacy Apple Software


Benedict Evans pointed out in a recent newsletter, “there’s a story to be written about Apple feeling its way from a piecemeal legacy technology stack for services, evolved bit by bit from the old iPod music store of a decade ago, to an actual new unified platform, something that it is apparently building.”

I’d argue for a focused set of decoupled applications, rather than a new unified platform. iTunes has bloated beyond practicality. The App store doesn’t work well for users or developers. Here’s where I think the future of these applications lies.

Apple is neglecting its software (1)

iTunes

  • Focus on the music. Start over and build a new app that focuses solely on music. Ensure that it supports previous iTunes metadata, either as an import or reading iTunes library files directly.
  • Improve smart recommendation features. Genius works well, when it works. It only works on Apple-imported or downloaded songs, which isn’t many.
  • Improve cloud streaming. Apple Music is probably the answer to this, but I haven’t tried it. iTunes Match is another service that offers something similar, but with similarly limited adoption. Integrate cloud streaming offerings, and do a better job making it clear to the customer what they’re getting when they sign up for these services.
  • Refocus the UX on music-based workflows, like playlist-making and music listening and exploring.
  • Enable better playlist management:
    • Playlist archiving to save mixes that you’ve shared with someone, but don’t use in your day-to-day interaction with the app.
    • Playlist freezing to preserve the order of a playlist so that a perfectly designed playlist can stay that way until you unfreeze it.
  • Maintain a Radio section. Not only that, but store and highlight downloaded radio streams in that section. That way a livestream won’t come up in shuffle, but I can still keep my favorite college radio station streams close at hand.
  • Improve metadata management. iTunes can’t compete with high-fidelity-focused services when it does such a poor job of managing file metadata.

App and Media Store

  • Drive purchases through one central store. I’m terrible at naming so won’t propose a name. Allow purchase of applications, media (movies, music videos, etc.), and music.
  • Position the store as a platform. Allow the new music app to integrate on a stream-to-buy interface smoothly. Let other developers more smoothly call up their app page in the store.
  • Offer app recommendations, on an opt-in basis. The App store knows what apps I have installed on my phone. If I want, I can have it recommend new apps to me to try. Recommendations can be improved even if they aren’t personalized.
  • Improve findability and search. I shouldn’t have to know the precise name of an app to reliably find it. Improve the search algorithms.
  • Improve whatever developer interface exists. Offer more insight into the app approval process and the reasons for an app rejection. Treat OSX developers equitably with iOS developers. Improve the developer-customer interface.

Device Manager

  • Build a new app exclusively for device management. Using iTunes to manage an iPhone is a legacy embarrassment and confusing for new phone users. Liberate the device management function from the music app.
  • Improve content management. Expand the current device management interface to allow you to:
    • Add or remove apps, potentially with an app store interface.
    • Add or remove music, either with a file-based interface or a link to the new music app.
    • Add or remove photos, with a file-based interface or a link to the photos app.
    • There are security concerns to enabling purely file-based content management, but it’s worth considering.
  • Handle backups and updates smoothly.
  • Interface with the store to buy apps. If I choose, I can then download new apps for my device from my computer.

Podcasts

  • Give podcasts their own app. Highlight them in a tailored app. It could use the iTunes platform without being a part of iTunes. Having a standalone podcasts app would consider the iOS and OSX convergence that Apple seems to have begun by introducing Photos.
  • Podcasts use a subscription model, with different metadata and descriptions than is valuable for a music listener. For those reasons, they don’t belong in an iTunes focused on music.
  • Consider introducing a sharing element. Copyright and intellectual property would likely prevent snippet sharing of many podcasts, but it seems like it would add value.

Why is this so important? First of all, I’m dedicated to iTunes, yet I still hate it. Everyone has gripes about these common software programs, yet we can’t stop using them because we must. As Micah Singleton points out for The Verge:
“If you’re like me and have avoided iTunes save for the occasional Adele purchase every four years, you don’t want to go back to using a bloated program when Spotify’s app is fine, Pandora works on basically every device, and YouTube is where you spend most of your day avoiding work anyway.”
Singleton agrees that iTunes could be much improved, and adds the additional suggestion that Apple should iterate faster:
“Apple can’t wait until WWDC every June to make significant improvements to Apple Music. It should move to a more frequent update schedule to keep people engaged in the service.”
If, according to the grand unified theory of Apple products, “Apple’s fundamental goal [is to] make technology more personal,” it needs to ensure that its software is doing that as well as its hardware and operating system improvements. If “personal technology is about taking complicated tasks and breaking them down into more granular tasks,” then it follows that Apple’s software should be trying to do the same thing.
One-stop-shop behemoths of software should be a thing of the past. Instead, focus on building a platform with practical apps that interact with its framework. Our devices are the one-stop-shop, and our apps should fit specific needs rather than attempt to do everything.
Ward off the bloat, divest app functions, and bring back the love of Apple software.