Apple’s iTunes: Whatever happened to ‘It Just Works?

“The smart money said if anything were going to go wrong, it would be Beats 1: something live is automatically the most likely to fall over in some way. If someone had already taken that bet, you’d settle for guessing that massive demand would overload the streaming servers,” William Gallagher writes for MacNN.

“Yet instead, the bit of the Music app and Apple Music launch that caused problems — and continues to cause them — is good old iTunes for OS X,” Gallagher writes. “We’ve had iTunes for nearly 15 years, and every thing else in Apple Music for a fortnight but it’s iTunes for the Mac that has fallen down and can’t seem to get up.”

“What’s happening is that people’s iTunes libraries are getting corrupted. Not everyone’s, and not in a usefully predictable enough way that we can easily fix it,” Gallagher writes. “This is threatening the ‘it just works’ fan-invented catchphrase…”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Beyond the library corruption issue, Apple, especially under Steve Jobs, has shown a great and admirable willingness to cannibalize themselves. They obliterated their iPod business with the iPhone, for one example. But, when it comes to iTunes, they seem paralyzed by fear of change. Apple paralyzed by fear is not a pretty thing and it doesn’t yield pretty things, It yields hot messes like iTunes.

iTunes screams to be broken up into separate, streamlined apps. It’s been screaming that for years. But Apple seems to be scared silly to do so — perhaps 800+ million credit cards have something to do with it — so they’ve tinkered around the edges, making questionable tweaks here an there and bolting on even more bloat.

Grow a pair, Apple, and do what needs to be done already.

What about making “iTunes” be a like “Wallet” (née Passbook) which serves as a central repository for different “cards” (apps)? There’d be an app for TV shows, My Music, Apple Music, Apple Music Radio, Internet Radio, Movies, Books, Podcasts, iBooks Store, iOS App Store (on iOS devices) and the Mac App Store (on Macs), the return of the dedicated iTunes Music Store, etc.

Each app can then be tailored to deliver the best possible experience for each media type: television, music, radio, books, etc. When you’re in that app, you’re focused only on that media type. One click or tap takes you back to iTunes where you can choose another type of media or store. iTunes would simply be the container, where your account info is stored and where you login, unlocking all of your media apps in one fell swoop.


  1. iTunes is incapable of syncing an iPhone to a large music library. It simply chokes. Really disappointing, and I don’t think Apple cares, or they would have done something about that a long time ago.

    1. Believe it or not, I’m not going to rip iTunes for it’s troubles. Software is hard, and yes, it needs fixing.

      What I am going to do is rip Apple for blocking alternate programs, and alternate services since Real Networks. Oh, and for not fixing iTunes.

      1. Apple doesn’t “block” alternate programs and services. iTunes publishes an XML file specifically for the purpose of other apps to be able to access the library. A similar method is used in iOS as well.

        Real Networks was trying to bypass the DRM, and although it was in a way that didn’t facilitate piracy, it was still would’ve been a violation of the contract Apple had at the time with the labels to have not patched iTunes.

        Real Networks, like Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, etc… are all free to operate on OS X or iOS. And Apple not only doesn’t block those apps from iTunes library access on OS X or iOS, but again, Apple specifically provides them with an XML file to do so. Blame them if they’re not properly taking advantage of this and incorporating it into their apps.

    2. Define “large”. I have a 1TB iTunes music library along with a 350GB Aperture library that I’m able to sync just fine to my iPads and iPhones.

  2. I agree, iTunes is just a pain in the butt to navigate and its not consistent. Here’s the issues I have.

    1. Sometimes I can add a song to my playlist, sometimes I cannot.
    2. There’s no easy way to make a playlist on the fly w/ an iPhone…I can make it but its not at the current song that I found.
    3. I frequently get frustrated at the clunky navigation and can’t figure out where I was just a few minutes ago–its always a new search that has to be done to get back to “hopefully” where I was.

    1. Spot on. When editing the metadata information in a track, iTunes automatically jumps to another point in the list so the track that you were on is at the top of the window. VERY ANNOYING and NOT INTUITIVE.

  3. I must disagree with the MDN take. The latest iOS tossed all my audiobooks over to iBooks—because they’re not audio, or something. Meanwhile iBooks does not have playlists since books are not audio, right? Gone are my distraction-free driving playlists of “audiobook” material.

    I’m all for automation when it helps, but I hate having to go out of my way to double-think some automated and non-optional routine that does something I don’t want. If I wanted that kind of fight-with-your-technology experience, I’d go with Microsoft products.

  4. iTunes is a complete disaster from a UI perspective. I’m not sure how anyone uses it without being frustrated. Its probably the worst piece of software from a UI perspective I need to use on any regularity.

    1. Hiding the sidebar and shoving major functions into label-free gray icons on a top row so short that at least 3 lesser-used things need to be behind a “…” icon was a blazingly stupid UI decision. We have widescreens, use the sidebar for clearer hierarchal text! Hell my Dock runs along the left edge of the screen instead of the bottom.

      The one app that desperately needed functions removed from or split off from, was iTunes, and yet they chose to mangle iPhoto instead.

  5. I struggle with understanding how breaking iTunes up into separate applications for music, videos, podcasts, radio, etc. would help reduce user interface confusion. It would simply be replacing one kind of clutter for another.

    Mind you, I don’t disagree with the notion that iTunes is cluttered. I’m just very skeptical that substituting more applications would be a useful solution.

    With a couple exceptions, iTunes is a file management application. I’ve made the argument before that much of iTunes’ metadata management capabilities would be well suited to move to the Finder, which would mean that it would need a significant UI update. You can sort of manage your music and videos in the finder now – but not very well. Enhance the Finder’s capabilities and UI then you could offload those file management tasks from iTunes, which could them focus on music and video purchase, rental and streaming services.

  6. The only issue I had with iTunes 12.2 was my 973 movies had moved into TV shows, a quick select all and switch from TV Shows and back to Movies again was all it needed.

    My 11K+ music library was fine, all stored on my internal HD, I do also have iTunes Match up and running, have done since it was launched.

    1. Yeah, there must not be an “approved/standardized” way for files to keep track of what they are (movie, TV show episode, etc.). If you drag in a bunch files of former TV shows (that were in iTunes) they show up as Home Videos. If you select them all and tell them they are TV shows they get reorganized into shows and seasons. Now why Apple hasn’t been able to make iTunes ASK you what kind of files you are asking all these years is beyond me. My guess is that very few people at Apple actually use their stuff.

      And I couldn’t agree more with jwsc01. It’s now a pain in the ass that books are not in iTunes.

    1. Nope. This doesn’t help at all, because he really hasn’t thought things through.

      Much of what he’s saying is just moving stuff. For example account management. He’s suggesting that it moves to Ok, besides being fun trying to remember that. It’s not de-bloating iTunes, which already has webkit built in and would still be needed for other tasks. What you end up with is having to launch Safari to do the exact same thing that you could be doing within iTunes. And god forbid you’ve changed your default browser to something that may not be compatible. There’s simply no benefit here. It makes as much sense as also moving the license agreement and help files into Pages and the billing section into Numbers.

      “In order to manage device content, the user would use iTunes because this is where the content is. If the user wants to see a specific playlist on the device he or she has made with iTunes, then My Devices will be used for that purpose. A default setting could be implemented to automatically sync any new playlists to the device.”

      FFS, how is this helping anything? Instead of having one app to see what the playlists are both in the library and on the devices, there are two apps. This gets even more silly for people using Apple Music or iTunes Match since what’s organized in iTunes is automatically synced as being organized on the devices.

      “How many times we hear this question: I have a song that I want to put on my phone, how do I carry out thit task? Right now, the user has to copy the file to iTunes so the file gets imported into the library. Then the user has to plug the iPhone, and sync the device. Within the context of the new iTunes, the user would drag the file to the system media library and the sync process would automatically put the file to any configured devices in My Devices application. iTunes is not involved here per se. This process is much more intuitive as it looks like a simple file copy operation.”

      Not so fast. The person would need to do the exact same thing with the only difference being an extra step in the proposed split app system. Currently you do as described (unless iCloud Music is turned on in which case it’s easier). But in the proposed method, you’d need to do the exact same thing, only after adding the music and organizing in iTunes, you then have to launch the device sync app.

      “I have a song that I want to put on my phone, how do I carry out that task?”

      The real answer to this question is to learn how to use iTunes. Once you do, use it to organize your music and sync what’s on your computer with your phone. Alternatively, be chaotic and throw the files wherever the hell you want and then load them into any crappy music playing app that’s available for iOS (have fun with that).

      iTunes is not, nor has it every been, a simple basic app. The process for adding music to your iPod or iOS device has never been the most basic, simple, straight forward method. It has been fairly powerful and provided all kinds of features that provide robust and reliable management to those willing to invest a little bit of time learning how to use it.

      It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than anything else out there, and while not as easy to learn as many would like, once learned, it’s incredibly easy to use.

  7. itunes has gotten consistently worse with each release. now i couldn’t figure out where column view went without doing some searches on the web. and supposedly every time you restart itunes you lose column view. multiple windows went away a long time ago. you can’t import a cd and do something else in itunes, like edit a comment, without it taking a long time. etc. the people that modify itunes and their managers must be long-term incompetents.

    1. I disagree that iTunes has gotten worse, but I would agree that many of the defaults are wrong in iTunes, such as not defaulting to column view. But column view is still there and you shouldn’t be losing it on relaunch. That combined with not being able to import a CD and do something else without it bogging down indicates something is wrong on your machine.

  8. Unfortunately, we still need it. But it is ungainly and cumbersome, and remarkably slow, especially syncing and updating apps. (And why, oh why, can’t organizing those apps be more simple and less icon-bound?) I’ve given up trying to really set things up the way I want them because it would take me several hours, if not a whole day, to do so, since I can’t simply do things like alphabetize apps or folders.

  9. In iTunes/Preferences/Advanced there is a box where you can allow iTunes to manage and organize your files.

    I have it turned off as my media library is large and covers a number of drives and have had no problems with file corruption or replacement with DRMed Apple Music files.

    Of course I have opted out of Apple Music in favor of iTunes Match. Your mileage may vary, but when you fix your library, turn off the file management feature.

    1. I think that’s really bad advice. While Apple Music has had bugs that resulted in DRM/corruption, iTunes with just Match hasn’t and the issues weren’t related to the manage/organize feature.

      If turning off this feature works for you, then great, go with it, but… the overwhelming majority of people I’ve helped with iTunes (especially in cases of lost/duplicated items) has been with these features turned off.

      iTunes does do a great job of managing the files, and most people can’t handle doing it themselves or understanding what it means when they’ve told iTunes to do one thing, and then they do something else in the Finder.

      Again, I’m not including you in this. I had a library that exceeded the capacity of drives at the time and had to manually manage across split drives, but my main library now is 1TB and I’ve had it on one drive managed by iTunes for years without issue while I’ve been helping numerous people deal with the mistakes they’ve made in an unmanaged library.

      1. Totally agree that your best bet is to have iTunes manage your library instead of keeping parts of your library in disparate locations. But if you know what you’re doing and back up often then using the Finder in its current form is probably OK.

        But I’ll ask again. In a future OSX release why couldn’t the Finder be updated so that it could manage your media library instead of needing a dedicated program like iTunes? I don’t have a dedicated program to manage my Excel files. I have hundreds of file types on my iMac. Do I want a separate application to manage each one? Hell no!

        The Finder has smart folders that can be configured to recognize file types. It could be configured to display AAC music files by artist or album or however you want to see them in the same way iTunes does, album art and all. With enhanced metadata functionality the Finder could be used to categorize/label all your files and make it easy to search and sort. So why do I need iTunes to do this when the Finder I’m describing would be far more capable?

        Would appreciate comments telling me why I might be wrong instead of just down voting.

        1. “So why do I need iTunes to do this when the Finder I’m describing would be far more capable?

          This question is the answer to the overall question. I wrote an article way back in the early ’00s at CNET about how I thought Apple was going to do just what you’re suggesting. I even mocked it up with a semi-functional demo example. Essentially the Finder window would have a view toggle that allowed you to “iTunes” or “iPhoto” the view of the folder (along with other media types).

          Here’s the problem, and how it relates back to the earlier point of letting iTunes manage your files (unless you have a specific need and know what you’re doing)…

          The Finder is an app, just like iTunes and iPhoto are apps. The Finder is a general purpose file manager, while iTunes and iPhoto are media specific file managers.

          The Finder certainly could be enhanced to support more media type interaction, and it has over the years (try hitting the space bar after selecting a media file).

          However, if the Finder you’re talking about had the features and functionality of iTunes and Photos, it would be enormously bloated and bogged down.

          Look deep into how iTunes and Photos work. You’ll see the database files for each, and a separate directory structure for each. Now imagine that one app has to not only work with each database, but do so at the same time, and have the databases coexist such as when image files, video files, and music files exist in the same folder.

          The mockup that I did made more sense back in the early days when iTunes and iPhoto were much more simple than they are now, but even then I wasn’t suggesting that Apple abandon these apps, rather that they just loaded some of their resources so that the Finder app could take advantage of them. What I was proposing is pretty much aligned with what Apple did end up doing only without many of the controls I was suggesting.

          However now, there’s so much more meta data associated with media files, as well as meta data around how we manage the files (albums, playlists, events, faces, etc…) that having a general purpose file manager handle everything would just be a bloated (as in resources) mess and slow down everything.

          The reason why you don’t have a separate file manager for Excel files is because there’s not much meta data associate with the files, nor do the files typically relate to each other in a meaningful way… you wouldn’t do a slideshow of spreadsheets or include them in a playlist.

          However, when files do have a lot of meta data, and do relate to each other in a meaningful way, we typically do have a database to manage them, and don’t expect to do so through the Finder. We don’t often even give this a second thought… which is why in your question, the example of what you think the Finder should handle, email isn’t included. But email apps are nothing more than a collection of files managed by a dedicated database file manager.

          If you think email should be included in the Finder too, then you might want to look up OpenDoc and see how well that turned out for everyone.

          1. A lot of good info, thanks. Understand about the disparate databases. I just think that at some point down the road OSX is going to have to pull it all together into one single database structure because right now it’s just a “hot mess” to quote MDN. No elegance to be found here.

  10. I’m sure they’d like to improve it, but I suspect something is hold them back. One wonders how they may be handcuffed by the fact that they need to also serve Windows users as well as OS users.

  11. Needs a complete new interface… I dont like it…
    Apple software, all together is not in good shape….
    Messy, lots of little neglected unpolished issues..
    Some real idiosyncratic bs that is just there to be different yet ergonomically suck !

    Also on Ios.. With the advent of apple music and the new music app.. Why do we need itunes app? .. Why cant it be just another tab in the music app.

    Why cant i buy a song directly from the barrage of song discovery pages And Applemusic streams and radio.
    Why pass me off to itunes app just to buy a song.
    Why not but a simple buy song icon on player pagees.

    Back to osx itunes anyone try the app organizer tab? its shockingly bad.. And someone actually gave the green light for it? )

    Apple wake up…
    Its not just about polished hardware !!!!!

    Oh and pleeeeeeeease grt rid of the ugly PINK in ios UI .. PLEASE !

    1. “Also on Ios.. With the advent of apple music and the new music app.. Why do we need itunes app? .. Why cant it be just another tab in the music app.”

      Because so many people are bitching about how iTunes is “bloated and trying to do to many things and should be broken up”.

      This is why we can’t have nice things.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.