iTunes is a toxic hellstew

Little late on this one, but I really liked Marco Arment's piece in response to the Apple Music hubbub with Jim Dalrymple. He takes a smart, nuanced approach to criticism directed at Apple where many others out there would favor punchy headlines and inane, sweeping generalizations.

He begins:

We’ve all heard (or said) the blanket statement that Apple isn’t good at cloud services, but that’s not universally true.


As both a user and developer, I’ve never had a single issue with push notifications, probably Apple’s largest-scale and largest-volume web service. It’s rock-solid, fast, and reliable.

Even the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library have been rock-solid not only for me, but for everyone I’ve talked to. The sole complaint I’ve heard is slow performance with very large libraries. I’ve had no issues with sync performance, data loss or duplication, or any confusion about what’s where.

Completely agree with him. I always scoff when people try to claim that Apple's cloud services aren't great (usually someone talking about how much further ahead Google is in this regard). Even way back in the MobileMe years, I never experienced issues with data sync, and my experience with iCloud has been superb (I understand that it has significantly improved for developers since its introduction, too). iMessage, as well, works with such consistency that it's a complete shock in the rare instances where it fails. I'm also particularly impressed by the speed and accuracy of voice dictation, something which has improved considerably since its introduction with Siri. But Apple is terrible at Cloud services? I don't buy it.

However, his main point (and something I also mostly agree with) follows:

But the iTunes Store back-end is a toxic hellstew of unreliability. Everything that touches the iTunes Store has a spotty record for me and almost every Mac owner I know.


Probably not coincidentally, some of iTunes’ least reliable features are reliant on the iTunes Store back-end, including Genius from forever ago, iTunes Match more recently, and now, Apple Music.


iTunes’ UI design is horrible for similar reasons: not because it has bad designers, but because they’ve been given an impossible task: cramming way too much functionality into a single app while also making it look “clean”.


iTunes is designed by the Junk Drawer Method: when enough cruft has built up that somebody tells the team to redesign it, while also adding and heavily promoting these great new features in the UI that are really important to the company’s other interests and are absolutely non-negotiable, the only thing they can really do is hide all of the old complexity in new places.

I put emphasis on what I think is the main problem with the entire iTunes situation, and what I see as the central idea behind Marco's piece.

iTunes is the aging music library application that clings for dear life. It came to prominence at a time where it was the center of your gadgets' existence, before they were set free from the tyranny of tethering. First it was a music library where you could rip CDs. Then you synced that music to your iPod. They built an App Store to sync apps over to your iPhone. They added a movie store so you could buy and rent movies. Not to mention podcasts, music videos, TV shows, books, iTunes U, ringtones, Internet radio... Wedging each new offering into the same application, over and over and over. I can only imagine that the foie gras it'd produce would be particularly succulent.

When I worked at Apple, my co-workers and I frequently lamented the state of iTunes. We prophesized a streamlined, rebuilt from-the-ground-up application with each impending major version release. Instead, we got new features wedged into the same old foundation. Sometimes there were UI changes to give it the appearance. Like an old house where the walls are coated in so many layers of paint that they've started to mold into some shapeless, terrible mass. If you started peeling the layers back, you'd be horrified at the remnants beneath.

Looking back, it's still shocking that our dreams of a new iTunes were never realized. Apple, a company that shows little to no remorse when it kills its babies, has somehow kept this thing on life support. They should've immolated it long ago and allowed something new, agile, and slim to emerge from the ashes.

It saddens me, because I see glimpses of greatness in Apple Music, now that it's here. I get a peek under those caked layers of paint when I select a tab and it loads playlists and albums near instantaneously. When I add music to a playist and it syncs right to my phone with no fuss. When I click to play a song and it streams right away with fantastic clarity. These are not behaviors I've come to expect from anything in iTunes.

But I fear we'll never see Apple Music–or any other iTunes feature for that matter–ascend to greatness while it's stuffed into the same shell with all of the other cruft (as Marco puts it), each part hindered by the individual needs of the other.

Simply put, it's time for iTunes to die.