iCloud music on iPhone, iPad and Mac

iCloud music on iPhone, iPad and Mac

This week the subject of Apple’s cluttered and bloated iTunes app has been on the agenda. Jason Snell over at Macworld originally argued that if Apple is going to embrace the cloud, like it appears to be doing, then iTunes should be simpler. Snell suggests breaking iTunes down into separate apps, “one devoted to device syncing, one devoted to media playback. (And perhaps the iTunes Store could be broken out separately too?)”

Then Federico Viticci at MacStories chimed in with a slightly different take but along the same lines. Viticci’s take moves along a different tangent and one that has been playing on my mind for a few weeks now. The basic premise of Viticci’s argument is why does iTunes need to the hub of all our media and device syncing? Put simpler, why are we still using iTunes?

It’s a great point and evidently Apple feels the same way. Since the inception of iOS 5 and iCloud Apple clearly recognises the importance of moving away from iTunes and moving away from the traditional method of syncing. However Apple has a serious challenge on its hands and whilst you could argue that Apple is the king of stripping away the unnecessaries in life I can’t help but think that pulling iTunes back to basics is one challenge too far.

Like I said though, Apple recognises the problem. When introducing iCloud Steve Jobs used an analogy he had used many years previous when introducing the idea of the digital hub. The premise of the digital hub was a Mac at the centre of a consumer’s digital lifestyle, iTunes for the iPod, iPhoto for the digital camera and iMovie for the camcorder. With time this changed and all those devices were in one device and so slowly all those functions and more were in one app—iTunes.

With iCloud Apple has made it clear that it is rethinking the digital hub strategy and is moving away from the Mac as the centre of the hub to iCloud as the centre of the hub. And Apple has followed its word, take for example just some of these changes that have occurred in well under a year:

- Movies and TV shows purchased on the iTunes Store can now be streamed to an Apple TV from the cloud
- iTunes in the Cloud allows streaming of music from the cloud to iOS devices
- iTunes Match puts an entire music library, purchased from iTunes or not, in the cloud
- Music, books and apps can now automatically propagate to iOS devices and Macs
- iOS device backups are now stored in the cloud

That is just some of the headline changes in Apple’s move to the cloud and most of them are unfortunately counter acted by a lack of change elsewhere. Take for example if I purchase a Season Pass for a TV show on my Mac, iTunes will then attempt to download a lot of data to my Mac when all I want to do is stream to my Apple TV and whilst we’re on the subject I’d like to stream to my iPad, iPhone and Mac as well.

Third-generation Apple TV showing iTunes movies

Third-generation Apple TV showing iTunes movies

The solution to all of this feels a long way off and complex. As Jason Snell argues, iTunes needs to be spun off into multiple apps. I argue that the iTunes store (probably shouldn’t be called iTunes anymore) should be a separate app much like the Mac App Store. Then there should be an app that acts a repository for all this content followed by an app that deals with managing iCloud and effectively syncing (Update:Thomas Verschoren even put together some mockups).

But here’s the thing, why sync at all?

Now I know what you’re thinking, Apple can’t deprecate syncing completely. How would an iPhone magically fill itself with music, movies, apps and books? iOS devices already have a tether-less setup process but currently it’s quick and painless covering some of the basics like connecting to WiFi, turning location on and signing into iCloud; it would be a world of pain to then have to then select what music, video, apps and books should be synced to the device.

Streaming of this content isn’t the answer, that’s a good solution for a housebound device like the Apple TV but iPads and iPhones are meant to be out and about away from WiFi and whilst a good LTE connection could easily stream a HD movie that’d be your data allowance for the month gone in a flash.

It also shouldn’t be overlooked that a recorded video on an iPhone can be very large, not even all home broadband connections could cope with uploading a 1GB video to the cloud and then back to all the over devices. Works great for photos (aka Photostream) but it won’t do the job for video.

There is no clear solution but what is needed is a continued push towards everything on iCloud and a concerted effort to stop the reliance on iTunes and begin stripping it of features. Unfortunate if recent rumours are true it would appear that the iCloud manager that is required so urgently will instead be built into iTunes 11 and not just into the OS or as a separate app.

On the bright side Tim Cook has said that he sees iCloud as a long term strategy, hopefully one day iTunes will be my go to place for playing music and that’s it.