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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Breaking up iTunes

Inspired when listening to Ctrl-Walt-Delete podcast titled "Walt and Nilay worry about Apple", I decided to speculate on a future without iTunes, and as a result, OS X. Before I dive into this, I must disclose that, as of October 2014, I own an iPhone 6 Plus, an iPad 3, a retina Macbook Pro, an iPod Touch 4, and a 2006 Macbook Pro. This transition into the iTunes ecosystem took place over 10 years; initially, I bought the Macbook Pro in 2006 to enter a world I had been removed from since I was a child (Macintosh LC II and OS 7). I loved the Unix core of OS X, and the transition to Intel finally won me back, as OS X was more powerful and open than Windows.

I had also been interested in the iPod revolution, but the device that truly struck my eye was the iPhone. Aside from being exclusive to AT&T for many years, the other factor that had kept me away from the iPhone was the closed platform of iOS and how tightly coupled it was to iTunes. Coming from Handspring and the Palm Treo, I was not interested in becoming dependent on another "Palm Desktop". When I did finally purchase my first iOS device, the iPod Touch 4, my goal was to keep iTunes out of my music as much as possible. I added all of my music using a read-only mount and opted to manually manage the content in my library. This does add an extra step when importing new music to the iPod, but I was able to keep things independent and use the iPod for what it does best, play music and run apps. When I brought the iPad into the mix a year later, I replicated my setup with the iPod, using iPhoto to synchronize events to the device. I would continue to locally backup both the iPod and iPad, but I did begin to use iCloud when it became available on the iPad. When I finally went to the iPhone, I was able to replicate my setup with my iPad, again relying on iTunes to backup the device. However, the app syncing in iTunes sometimes replicates apps that I do not want on either my iPad, iPhone, or iPod, and I was no longer using iTunes or iPhoto to synchronize content to my devices (with the rare exception of the iPod, which remains in my car and syncs maybe once a year).

Therefore, iTunes has become a device backup management platform similar to Palm Desktop, despite my efforts to avoid this. Yes, I still use iCloud to backup my iPad and iPhone, but I also like having a local backup when a full restore is needed (which has happened to me on the iPad a couple of times). This function should be integrated in OS X; now that OS X is responsible for iCloud syncing, it should also be responsible for my iOS devices when I attach and sync them to my computer. As pointed out by Nilay and Walt in the podcast, the role of iTunes should return to being solely a content store, perhaps even being demoted to a backend service that could be integrated into future apps for the desktop such as Apple Music and Apple TV. Ultimately, I should be able to go to OS X Settings -> Device Management, and access my backups and any other syncing settings from there. At this point, it is up to Apple to finally make this a reality in the next version of OS X and break up iTunes so that we can all finally break up with iTunes.