Down with iTunes

iTunesOne more thing before we get started with today’s Macworld Expo craziness. Regarding whatever Apple’s going to announce at Steve Jobs’ much-anticipated keynote address in just a few hours: if it’s a new device of some kind, whether an Apple-branded mobile phone, a set-top box, a P.D.A. or a space age massage chair, then I hope it doesn’t sync with iTunes.

That is, I want it to sync with my Mac, of course, but I just don’t want that process to be handled through iTunes.

Everything Including the Kitchen Sync

Already the program handles music and video playback and purchases, podcast downloading, iPod synching, iPhoto synching, Address Book synching and iCal synching. Maybe it would seem like less of a problem if its name didn’t so specifically reference music, but it’s not just a nomenclature problem, it’s a problem with Apple’s overarching approach to synching.

Even as iTunes handles so many synching responsibilities, iSync, which was once the darling of Apple’s sync strategy, continues its parallel existence as a disregarded ghetto for synching one’s mobile phone and… and not much else, except perhaps a handful third-party developers brave enough to build synchronization features into their own applications. It’s a mess. Along with the equally neglected .Mac service, Apple has shown precious little dedication to making iSync a first class experience for this increasingly crucial computing task.

As Apple progressively aligns the moons for its long-standing digital hub strategy (in which a Macintosh computer resides at the gravitational center of a series of orbiting digital gadgets), synchronization will play a greater and greater role in ensuring harmony across devices and the integrity of the Apple experience. But the strategy needs an overhaul; iTunes clearly isn’t a viable long-term solution, iSync needs renewed purpose, and .Mac needs to wake up to the modern Web. I’ve said it before (and repeated it to anyone who knows me many times) so I won’t repeat it at great length here, but digital synching, as it stands now, is broken.

  1. Given that iTunes is pretty much their only cross-platform program (save Quicktime), I don’t see what choice they have.

  2. They have to keep iTunes this way as it’s their only windows software. Everything that they need to work cross-platform will just get shoved into iTunes.

    But yeah, I would love it if iSync came back into play as the main role, it was such a great program (if they made it work like it should)

  3. I agree entirely, Khoi – although to be fair iSync needed a bit of work before it was useful on its own.

    Before switching to a Nokia I had it paired up with Salling Clicker to automate syncing with my phone whenever it came in range (and not more than once every 4 hours), and I rely on Plaxo to take care of my cross-computer syncing.

    Why couldn’t this be rolled into the main product, though? Is automated syncing too much to ask? And of course I could use .Mac to sync across Macs, but what about Outlook at work?

    I worry that Apple is abandoning the creative power user in favour of the idiot with the iPod.

    Having said that, the latter probably brings in more revenue. Ho hum.

  4. Well, the iPhone is here and it syncs with iTunes. I’d be disappointed were it not for the fact that the iPhone is totally awesome in every way imaginable. For that, I wouldn’t mind continuing to use iTunes, though I do hope that one day Apple can sort out their synchronization strategy with greater articulation. But I want an iPhone in my hands first.

  5. Well, then.
    Agreed that they’re jamming too much stuff in one place. Never mind that I also just hate iTunes.

  6. I have to agree with you Khoi. Everything syncing through iTunes just seems like terrible planning. As several have posted, it is their only true Windows app. Therefore, it gets the “sync” title. Which would explain the fractured and abandoned iSync and any former grand vision it might have been destined for.

    Given the iPhone presentation today, I have to say my Blackberry has lost much of it’s lustre. And being in Canada, I will likely have to wait well past June before the iPhone comes to my neck of the woods. When you get your hands on one Khoi, be sure to put it through the paces and post diligently about it, so that us less fortunate (or geographically challenged if you prefer) can live vicariously through you.

  7. I’m sort of wondering if iTunes will become kind of core, Finder-like, always-open software in Leopard? I don’t mind everything being dealt with through iTunes (except for the annoying nomenclature issue you mentioned), but they need to ditch iSync and iTunes phone syncing feel less tacked-on. I reckon they went a pretty long way towards that with the last iTunes update, to be honest.

  8. I agree. I think the iTunes sync strategy is pretty dumb. However, I can tell you the ONE reason they are doing it. Sadly, I think can be summed up in two words: Windows users. Let’s face it. They are going to sell millions and millions of these iPhones and they don’t want to make the Windows users try to shoe-horn that piece of genius into some “other” syncing workflow. They want to control the experience–just like they do with everything. Can blame them?

    At least that is the only reason I can think of that they would resist doing exactly what you are suggesting–revamping iSync and making it awesome.

    Oh well. Honestly, the iPhone is so unbelievably cool, I really don’t care. (Although I echo your plea for the holy grail of synchronization that only Apple could be capable of realizing. Here’s to hoping.)

  9. Khoi, I too share in your frustrations with Apple’s neglection of .Mac and iSync. Ben, I can’t help but think you’re right about Windows users being the reason for the focus on synching through iTunes; Windows users don’t have Macs . . and I don’t see them making iSync for Windows or .Mac for Windows anytime soon.

  10. What a device. I wish I could get more detailed technical information on the version of OS X it’s running. Will it be able to run full-blown Mac apps? Will it have the BSD subsytem so that I can take advantage of the CLI to SSH to my OS X Servers? If so, it truly is the UMPC we’ve been looking/waiting for.

    I agree that using iTunes for syncing is partly for the benefit of Windows users and I think it’s a good strategy. One less app for Windows users to have to install and configure and one less app for Apple to have to develop and distribute.

    But it goes much further than that. Every Windows user with iTunes installed has iPhone synching capabilities built-in and they’ve used it before with their iPod. There is no learning curve for anyone who has synch’ed an iPod – whether on a Mac or a PC. For those Windows users who haven’t used an iPod before, it introduces them to Apple software (iTunes), gives them access to the iTunes Store (to buy media for their new device), and introduces them to “The Apple WayЎ”. So it’s about much, much more than synching. Why would they do it any other way?

  11. “As Apple progressively aligns the moons for its long-standing digital hub strategy (in which a Macintosh computer resides at the gravitational center of a series of orbiting digital gadgets)…”

    As someone else pointed out, sync happens through iTunes because iSync isn’t out for Windows. There has been a shift in the years since Apple first talked about the ‘digital hub’–they’ve realized that they won’t have a majority market share in personal computers anytime soon, and that it’s much better to be a player in both worlds than be Mac-only. (Something that many software companies have dealt with for up to two decades–I think it’s hysterical that Apple itself has had to make that decision.)

    No longer is Apple’s dream to make the digital HUB–“buy a Mac and lots of gadgets”–it’s now all about the digital LIFESTYLE, which is “buy lots of our gadgets, and maybe get a Mac too?” The fact that they’re “Apple, Inc.” instead of “Apple Computer, Inc.” drives this home like nothing else. It’s not that Macs or OS X will become unimportant any time soon, but they’ve realized that they can be a player in a much larger world than just being “those people that sell that other kind of computer, which I guess is great and has no viruses and stuff, but it won’t run any software I already use, so why would I want one again?”

    (The rest of iLife–iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD–are all things that entice people to buy Macs, and won’t be out for Windows any time soon. So the digital hub is still there, but it’s much smaller. Ask anyone on the street: heard of the iPod? Yes. Heard of iTunes? Proabably. Heard of iPhoto, iLife, or iDVD? Not likely.)

    Also, Apple has long been one to force you to get one thing in order to get the *other* thing that you actually want. Have you tried to download Quicktime without iTunes recently? It’s possible, but it’s like the island in Pirates of the Caribbean–it “cannot be found, ‘cept for those who know where it is.” Every iPhone that sells = 1 more user of iTunes = 1 more potential iTMS/iPod customer, and/or one LESS person using WMP to rip their songs.

  12. Last night my wife and I watched the keynote together. She is slowly becoming initiate into the mac world. However, she amazed me with something she said as we were watching it. She said, “I’m suprised that iTunes doesn’t crash more often, because it seems to do a lot of stuff.” I had read this article when it came out (thank you RSS) and when she said it I thought Wow! she is, while not an engineer, at least pretty intuitive. I was impressed, and I told her so. That’s my story.

  13. I said it on my blog, but it bears repeating. The iPhone was the perfect chance for Apple to reinvigorate .mac as an OTA syncing solution. By refurbishing iSync to be an all-the-time live service, and using .mac, OTA syncing would have been one of the best things that they could have offered and didn’t.

    The iPhone is pretty, no doubt. And it seems like a great version 1, but it is far too hampered by Cingular restrictions.

    Of course iSync needs to be rewritten. I want it to just sync with my phone whenever my phone is idle. I want it to keep my computer and online always in sync and not have to remember to do it myself. .mac doesn’t even display all the addresses that are in Address Book! Apple should spend some of those revenues on these services, because they are definitely letting things slide.

    I actually think that they should farm out .Mac to Google and work with them on integration. Then iSync might be a Google-produced application that would work seamlessly for Macs and PCs and do everything anyone can think of. I was surprised enough that they picked Yahoo mail over Google mail.

  14. Akatsuki:

    I think the reason Apple chose Yahoo mail over Gmail was Yahoo Mail’s use of the IMAP protocol. Using the IMAP IDLE command, email can be “pushed” out to the client when it hits the mailbox on the server in real time a la Blackberry. Unfortunately, Gmail only does POP mail.

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