Rant: Can we fix iTunes now, please?

iTunes is a kitchen sink, and it's starting to get smelly. Can someone clean it out? Apple?

iTunes: now with 100% more everything.

You know how sometimes you get a huge mound of dishes piled up in the kitchen sink, and then something starts to stink, and it takes a long time to realize where the stink is coming from, but eventually you wash every dish and scrub the whole thing out and it takes maybe a day or two, but you're finally fresh and happy again? OK, well, iTunes is a kitchen sink full of crud, and it stinks. Apple? You need to clean that bad boy out. Trust me. We'll all feel better.

Listeners of Buzz Out Loud will have heard this rant earlier this week, but I'd like to expand on it a bit here, because iTunes is a program that a lot of people use, and it's turning into a bit of a national nightmare. Let's indulge in just a list, off the top of my head, of the tasks this former jukebox software now has to perform:

    • It organizes your music and syncs with your iPod
    • It's a music player
    • It's a video player, which necessitates that it come bundled with QuickTime
    • It indexes and delivers both audio and video podcasts
    • It's a storefront that sells music, TV shows, movies, audiobooks, iPod games, and music videos
    • It rents movies (and handles the requisite DRM-checking and so forth)
    • It's cell phone syncing and management software
    • It's the iPhone/iPod Touch App Store, handling registration, syncing, and sale of those apps
    • It's a veritable set-top box, syncing content with Apple TV for playback on TV
  • This is one program we're talking about, here. As a result, iTunes 7.7 is a 60.5MB file. Last time I did a fresh install, about a week ago, it took me 30 full minutes to download it, complete a full registration procedure (when all I was after was iPod syncing), get it installed, index my entire universe of music and its entire universe of online content, and get it up and running. When my husband recently bought an iPod Touch, it took him 45 minutes to update iTunes, re-register, and connect the new iPod.

    On top of that, with so many functions and so many possibilities for bugs, it seems like there's a new iTunes update every week. And every update is mandatory, no matter how old your iPod or how uninterested you are in access to the iPhone App Store or how unlikely it is that you'll ever download or play a QuickTime video via iTunes. It'll keep bugging you until you upgrade, or maybe stop syncing your two-year-old iPod, and when you finally do upgrade, you'll have to restart, because, I assume, iTunes has about as many functions as an operating system and has its tendrils in almost as many system files.

    Yes, you can get by without iTunes if you just want media playback. I use VLC and I won't load iTunes unless I absolutely have to. (I've had the laptop I just installed it on for almost six months, and I only downloaded the darned thing so I could get at Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.) And I know there are plenty of alternative apps I can use to manage my iPod. That's not the point.

    The seamless iTunes integration used to be the best thing about the iPod. And until people (bless you, Joss Whedon, but you're one of them) stop doing "iTunes exclusives," I'm going to need it or some other program for downloading those videos. I shouldn't have to live in fear of loading it, because it takes so long to launch, it's so bloated, and it's almost certain to drop an update grenade in my lap. iTunes has become anathema to Apple's simple and elegant persona, and it's time for a fix.

    May I suggest, for example, iTunes Lite? Give the iPod masses a slimmed-down version for managing just the device and their music, and give them an online interface for the iTunes Store. Or start carving out features to trim down the program overall. The iPhone does not need to be managed by iTunes. It's a cell phone. Get it a separate sync program that includes the App Store and let it call (pun intended) iTunes for music the way iMovie does. Build a separate media player so we don't have to get QuickTime along with iTunes.

    I know Apple thinks it's keeping things simple by offering one program with one-stop shopping. But instead, they're creating bloatware that, increasingly, people don't want to use for any shopping. Apple, get out your scrubbing bubbles. It's time to save iTunes.