Relax: Apple didn’t just spend $3 billion on Beats, only to shut down the Beats Music streaming service soon after. Instead, it’s likely that the company is working on integrating the service with some of its other music properties in what could be a long-overdue refresh of iTunes.
It sounds like we will have to wait at least until next spring before we know what [company]Apple[/company] is actually up to — which leaves us plenty of time to talk about what the company should be doing. I’ve got a few ideas; five, to be exact:
1. Break up iTunes
iTunes, the Mac app, started as an audio player capable of syncing your songs with your iPod, but it has since become a monster of an app that tries to do everything, all the time, and that can get pretty confusing. It’s a music player that for some reason also backs up your iPad apps, syncs your contacts and bugs you to finally update your iPhone’s operating system. All of these features made sense at one point or another, but have since turned iTunes into a prime example of bloatware.
The solution for Apple is to break up iTunes into a music player and an app capable of managing your devices, plus possibly other apps or web apps for other types of media. This wouldn’t just make things simpler, but also achieve a lot more consistency across devices. Syncing music via USB could be part of the media player, but is becoming less important as more people download their music directly from Apple’s servers, or even stream songs. The same goes for the store: Music purchasing capabilities should remain part of iTunes, the App Store, movies and TV shows, iTunes U and books should be spun out.
2. Embrace the web
Speaking of iTunes: It’s great to have dedicated media consumption and buying apps on your mobile devices, but on the desktop, all of this should really be available on the web as well. There is no reason why I can’t make my purchases on the web, especially if I end up consuming them on other devices anyway.
Also, no more “View in iTunes” buttons, please. [company]Google[/company] has had some challenges with keeping all of its stores straight as well (think Chrome web store vs. Play store), but it got the web approach right with Google Play, and Apple could learn a thing or two from Google’s approach.
3. Put streaming and big pictures front and center
The world is moving from paid downloads to all-you-can-eat subscriptions and radio-like services, and iTunes should reflect this by putting streaming front and center. Instead of splitting up the app into a store where you can only buy and manage your music and a library view where you can listen to it, iTunes should let users play straight from the catalog. Give users access to all tracks if they pay for the full subscription tier, highlight the tracks they already own and give them a chance to fill the gaps if they just want to purchase individual albums or songs.
This integration of library and catalog should go along with a visual refresh that moves away from square album art and the Excel-like lists of music that still dominate much of the iTunes experience to big pictures and a much richer visual experience. And before people start to complain loudly: Yes, there could always be a classic or minimal mode, to be enabled in the comments if you really like your music to look like a spreadsheet.
4. Kill the Genius, take radio everywhere
Apple has taken baby steps towards making iTunes more potent over the years by introducing additional features, but it has always treated them like add-ons. In some cases, that was a good choice — can you imagine if Ping had become a core component of your iTunes experience? But in others, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Take Genius, the recommendation engine capable of generating “smart” mixes from your library and suggesting which music you should buy from the iTunes store. Right now, Genius is still treated as a separate feature, complete with a dedicated tab within the iTunes mobile app and hard-to-find entries in the desktop app. Apple should get rid of all these extra tabs, and instead integrate recommendations right into the library.
The same goes for iTunes Radio, which currently is a pretty horrible experience. Instead of putting it into yet another tab, iTunes users should be able to launch a radio station from anywhere. Browse the library, stumble across an artist or genre you like, and start a radio station with the click of a button.
5. Kill the Beats brand — and the iTunes brand, too
It’s not a big surprise that Apple is going to get rid of the [company]Beats[/company] brand, at least when it comes to digital music. [company]Beats Music[/company] just hasn’t had enough customers, or even exposure, to make it a valuable brand for Apple. However, I think the company should go one step further and kill the iTunes brand as well.
A completely rebuilt media player that focuses on subscription music and outsources apps and device management to other apps shouldn’t have to live with the iTunes legacy. Instead, it’s time that Apple did what it’s been doing on iOS devices for some time: simply call the app Music. It would be consistent with the new Apple, a company that chose to call its watch just that — Apple Watch — and it would show that Apple is ready to take digital music to the next step.