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iTunes 10: Ping Me With Your Feature Creep

In case you missed it, there was an Apple keynote earlier today. A Stevenote. Yeah, no big deal. Really: they just announced a completely refreshed iPod line with new Touches, Nanos and Shuffles, a new Apple TV, HDR photography in iOS 4.1 and they previewed 4.2 for iPad. With multitasking. Oh, they also talked about Game Center and iOS 4.2 unified across all devices. But really, no big deal.

Amongst all these insignificant updates, Apple also revealed a new version for their popular music player, ehm, video player, ehm, app installer, ehm, Store - ok, they announced a new version of iTunes. iTunes 10. Not X, 10. The tenth iteration of a software which, over the years, has gone from playing music to managing your iBooks. An application that now gets a new icon (I like it, was about time to ditch the CD), new close / minimize buttons (more on this in a minute), a refined UI and…a social network. Inside the app. Another feature in iTunes.

Apple: are you sure about that?

I haven’t tried iTunes 10 yet (seems like they messed up with download links, will be available shortly) and I haven’t tried Ping. I’m not here to judge Ping (not yet) and I can’t talk about performances. I don’t even know if the app has been rewritten to support Cocoa. But considering that iTunes 10 carries over all the features seen in 9 plus one, I think that I can make a pretty strong case about iTunes Feature Creep™.

iTunes is a bloat. Slow. Unresponsive. Clunky. A huge piece of software with thousands of features in it, a couple of online Stores and now a social network, too. A few times in the past I wrote that Apple needed to move this stuff out of iTunes, or at least re-imagine the whole purpose of the app. Many said that would happen with the 10 version. Not so fast. Apple doesn’t want to change iTunes. Thus, the feature creep. Not only they left the Stores, apps, books and sync options in iTunes - they thought that adding a completely new layer of social networking would be a good idea. Again, I’m not criticizing Ping: I’m talking about iTunes as an outdated container of features.

That’s bad for user experience. Steve said people don’t want to know about sync and complicated processes (in regards to the new Apple TV) but you know what - that’s fine in iTunes. Let’s just keep on adding stuff to an app which was meant for managing your music library.

I know, times change. Apple’s grown to be a large corporation and iPods aren’t its only mainstream products anymore. They have iPhones and iPads, TVs and credit card details in the Store. Apple’s changed, iTunes evolved. What’s the difference between evolution and deterioration, though? In a way, additional features made iTunes a worse product. The addition of a social network might make things even worse.

Apple wants to keep everything in one place. I get it. You open a single app, you find everything you need inside it. The downside of this, though, is that the same “casual user” who would find an all-in-one iTunes handy is starting to see it as an unmanageable swiss-army knife for Apple stuff. Not to mention the UI: really, vertical buttons? I wonder if the iTunes design team read their own HIG at all.

Try to describe iTunes in one word. App? Manager? All-in-one(that’s three words, but still)? You can’t.

Steve Jobs said it was about time to ditch the CD icon. I say it’s about time to ditch this experience.

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