What iBooks for OS X tells us about the future of iTunes

by davidnielsen

iTunes, likely the most popular media application in the cosmos, is also one of the most uniformly loathed.

Primarily because it reeks of the 90’s, in that it tries to handle all kinds of tasks and all kinds of data in one huge application.

It is a monster that does everything under the sun with any kind of data you throw at it:
Music, podcasts, books, audiobooks, lectures, movies and TV shows.
It handles shopping for all of the above and apps.
Finally it manages, backs up and synchronizes your portable devices be that your iPhone, iPad and iPod.

iTunes presently harkens back to a time before the Internet, especially the Internet as provided by prevasive high speed wireless connections to powerful computers in your pockets and bags.

It served its purpose of centralizing your media and making iTunes (and in many cases your Mac) the organizer of your media. However the world has moved beyond this in a big way.

This makes iTunes overly complex, overly buggy and unintutitive. You know it, I know it and Apple knows it.

Which is why they have had to formulate a plan for iTunes going forth that tackles all of these issues.

We saw the first steps on iOS last year when they broke out Podcasts from iTunes into its own application along with separate applications for music and video.

Then followed the visual make over of iTunes for OS X with version 11, which fixed the ancient look and feel, or at least provided the first big step towards a modern user interface that is worthy of the 21th century.

Now with OS X Mavericks 10.9 we see Apple taking the next logical step, breaking out books from iTunes by shipping iBooks for OS X.

As a lover of ebooks I am very excited about this, mostly since iTunes is a terrible book manager but also because it will radically reduce the complexity of iTunes. It also covers ebook reading better on the Mac than it ever has been done previously (at least by Apple).

While getting iBooks on OS X is great it does raise the question of where Audio books belong in the future.

Do audio books go in iBooks using the same logic as we have seen in iTunes so far that they are books? Do they stay in iTunes following the logic that they are fundamentally sound not books? Or will audio books eventually be broken into its own application like we have seen happen with Podcasts?

I believe that for now audiobooks will stay in iTunes, but should eventually go in their own application. Regardless of the way you look at audio books, they are fundamentally a way to enjoy books not music but they are also not a natural fit with books in terms of how we use that content.

Like Podcasts, audio books seem well suited for a standalone application in that they need their own set of playback feature and the share mostly management needs with traditional books. I doubt that they would fit nicely into iBooks as things stand and by forcing them in there we would likely end up just moving the complexity problem from iTunes to iBooks. Though with the new interactive ebooks, perhaps it is not a great leap to put audio books in iBooks.

I think this is the direction we will see iTunes take for all major components. Podcasts on OS X is sure to follow, likely this year.

Another easy target could be iTunes U which is already a separate application on iOS.

The iTunes store will eventually go into the App Store, much akin to what Google presents with the Play Store. Centralizing buying content in one place would make sense.

Eventually iTunes will be back basics to it’s original music only application, with iTunes Radio and other cloud features. Much like the Music application on iOS as seen in iOS 7. At which point the question will be if the iTunes name will die. It has tremendous brand value but Apple has never been over attached to the past and maybe they will simply carry over the names used on iOS and bury iTunes with a fond farewell.

We will see Apple do this gradually rather than dumping a big reorganization and a bunch of new applications on users. Slowly easing us into this new world and allowing them to split the job up in managable bits. This will also allow Apple to keep the bug count and stability manageable, e.g. Podcasts on iOS was initially buggy and unstable but now it is great. I think that serves a good meassuring stick for the bumps in the road that can be expected with any single standalone former iTunes functionality application.

Podcasts for iOS, for all the hatred it got in the press initially is now very functional, elegant and it works well for most users. Apple were responsive in fixing issues and polish, to the point where today it is a much better experience than what iTunes provides for Podcasts for pretty much all users.

This whole process will likely take at least a couple of years to come about, depending of course on how important this is to Apple. It will likely take the course we have seen so far in being implemented on iOS first and making its way to the Mac with the big yearly updates.