Monday, May 21, 2012

Syncing ship: iTunes has become a bloated, unwieldy mess, and appleneeds to fix it.

Jukebox 01a by phphoto2010
Jukebox 01a, a photo by phphoto2010 on Flickr.
When Apple introduced iTunes in 2001, it served one purpose: It was a music jukebox. But that was a long time ago.

These days, iTunes is simultaneously Apple's most important and most problematic product. It's a music and video player. It's a store where you buy music, videos, ringtones, and apps. And it's a syncing system, connecting the Mac to a range of Apple devices, from the iPad, iPhone; and iPod to the Apple TV.

Apple has packed almost everything relating to media and app management, purchasing, and playback into this single app. As a result, iTunes is now bursting at the seams. The app has become a complete mess and needs an overhaul.


Confused and Confusing

I use iTunes every day to listen to music on my Macs, and it works just fine. I don't have a problem with iTunes as a music player. My issues are with all the other junk that has been grafted onto it.

As a tool for syncing media and apps on my iOS devices, iTunes is inflexible and unreliable. I can't tell you how many times I've had to delete and then resync everything on one of those devices because iTunes got confused.

Recently I connected my wife's iPad to our Mac at home to add some videos for my kids to watch. That iPad had never been synced with that Mac before, because it was set up to use iCloud and the App Store. But the moment I plugged it in, iTunes attempted to sync its own collection of apps, which is not what I wanted. When I tried to abort the syncing process, iTunes offered me a choice I'd never seen before: To delete all the apps on the iPad, or to keep them and stop syncing. The second option was exactly what I wanted to do. So I chose it--and then watched in dismay as iTunes proceeded to delete all the apps on the iPad anyway.

Given that all apps are available in the cloud now, I'm not sure why iTunes is so persistent about syncing them with devices. In fact, given Apple's aggressive moves with iTunes Match and iTunes in the Cloud, even Apple seems to realize that syncing media with a Mac or PC running iTunes is kind of a mess.

Rather than continue to patch a system that was wonky to begin with and has only gotten worse, it's time for Apple to rethink device syncing entirely. Right now, the company apparently intends to solve this issue by having every device you own automatically download everything. That's not a bad start, but users shouldn't have to pick between the cloud and their local computers--they should be able to move back and forth effortlessly. Adding a single movie to an iPad shouldn't take 25 minutes, with the risk of losing all your apps in the process.

iTunes is at its worst when it comes to managing apps. The interface is ridiculously slow. Your hard drive can get filled up with tens of gigabytes of iOS apps that could easily be downloaded instead. Syncing apps frequently makes apps and folders disappear. The interface that shows where the app icons will appear is unstable and unreliable.


If Apple is going to truly embrace the cloud, it needs to change iTunes. The program should be simplified. It might be better off being split into separate apps, one devoted to syncing devices, another to media playback; perhaps the iTunes Store should be broken out separately, too, like the Mac App Store.

The iTunes we've come to know has had a good run, but it's now a crazy agglomeration of features. If someone were to design it today, it wouldn't look anything like it does now. As a portal to iOS devices and the iTunes Store, iTunes is too crucial for Apple to ignore.

Apple boldly replaces old hardware when necessary It's time for the company to do the same with iTunes.

From the Editors' Desks

For the past nine years, I have been (with one or two exceptions) the sole face of From the Editor's Desk. Earlier this year, I took on some additional responsibilities at the company that publishes Macworld. As a result, I can't devote as much time to this column as I have in the past.

The good news is, Macworld has an entire staff of intelligent editors who have plenty of informed opinions about what's going on in the world of Apple. So beginning next month, this space will be shared by all of the editors here. I'm still around, so I expect I'll reappear in this space now and then, but I'm going to share it with my colleagues, too. I hope you'll give them the same attention and consideration that you have given me all these years.

Jason Snell is the editorial director for Macworld. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at

Snell, Jason

Source Citation
Snell, Jason. "Syncing ship: iTunes has become a bloated, unwieldy mess, and apple needs to fix it." Macworld June 2012: 7. Home Improvement Collection. Web. 21 May 2012.
Document URL

Gale Document Number: GALE|A289724582

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