is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
For longer than most I was an apologist for Apple’s iTunes software. It did the job for me, even in all its convoluted mess. But the most recent versions, especially since the introduction of the woeful Apple Music, are too much to excuse. It’s now almost impossible to refute the charge that iTunes is riddled with user interface design problems—this article at The Atlantic does a decent job of enumerating many of them.
More than a textbook case in how not to design usable software though, iTunes has for me come to represent all the things that Apple is doing wrong, even as the company’s profits continue to snowball. On just one level, the application is an executional mess that speaks to the company’s worrying inattention to detail. iTunes is slow and bloated; it’s a terrible, poky, unreliable network client; it’s embedded into the operating system and yet works well with few other apps; its management of iOS devices (for those who don’t use iCloud) is painfully inelegant. And if all that weren’t enough, it just looks incredibly ugly.
That last bit sounds superficial but it hints at how Apple’s stewardship of iTunes is worse even than just an extended series of poorly executed features. You could argue that the most serious crime that Apple continually commits with every new release of iTunes lies in the software’s missed opportunities. iTunes doesn’t have to be any of these things that it is; it doesn’t even have to be a version of what it is right now that works a little better. Instead it could be beautiful.
iTunes (and its counterparts on iOS) should be a sterling exemplar of bold, ambitious software. It should be a lightning fast, empowering tool for managing one’s media and devices, and a fluid, engaging bridge to the media that Apple sells. iTunes should also be best-of-class in integrating cloud services into native software. It should combine all of the copious metadata that veteran users have accrued from years and years of use with the creativity that big data can unleash (and none of it has to compromise privacy).
Apple is doing wonderful things, no doubt, but it falls down much more often than can be reasonably expected from a company that has achieved such lofty heights. How much can one expect from the most profitable company in history? It’s certainly not asking too much for iTunes, which is in so many ways the front door for the Apple ecosystem, to be less of a shabby gateway and more of a grand entrance.+