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iTunes: Five Ways To Make It Cool Again

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iTunes: Five Ways To Make It Cool Again

Features Michael Grothaus 17:40, 10 Apr 2014

As the traditional download market declines, we look at five ways Apple could revitalise its iTunes store

If I asked you to get in a time machine and take a look at what the iTunes Store looked like in 2003 when it first launched you may be shocked to find that it looked almost exactly the same as it does today. In nine years (!) nothing much has changed with the iTunes Store, with the exception of new content (books, movies, TV shows). That is shockingly sad for a company that prides itself on innovation.

But while the iTunes Store was truly innovative at the time, the way people now want to browse and get their content has changed – and iTunes has failed to keep pace. Thankfully there are rumors that Apple may be planning a complete overhaul of the iTunes Store, and iTunes itself. Let’s hope it’s true. Here we give the company five tips on how to make both iTunes and the iTunes Store useful and relevant again. 

iTunes Radio must become a full subscription streaming service 

£0.99 a song? What?! Look, 99p downloads (or back in 2003, 69p) were great back in the day. Nowadays though streaming unlimited songs is the preferred method of choice for music lovers. The a la carte model is something that is nice for hardcore fans that need a certain artist’s every song; but the majority of music lovers are casual listeners. They may love a song and play it over and over... for a week, but then they move on to the next latest and greatest hit.

Several companies, primarily Pandora, have capitalized on the subscription music streaming service model. Matter of fact downloads on iTunes are declining at least 15% year-over-year, and in some cases as much as 50%, according to one independent label. Compare that to music streaming services, which grew at a staggering 57% in 2013. 

To counter this trend Apple introduced iTunes Radio last year. But iTunes Radio only allows you to stream stations. You can’t, for example, listen to Adele's latest album in its entirety at will. Apple needs to revamp iTunes Radio so it copies Pandora’s model. Let listeners stream stations for free with ads, but give them access to the entire iTunes music catalog at will for a monthly fee. Also, Apple should really separate iTunes Radio from the iTunes desktop and iOS apps. Many people overlook it entirely. 

A movie streaming service is a must too

Speaking of streaming... when was the last time you rented a movie? Or bought one for that matter? Bafflingly, iTunes still doesn’t offer a movie streaming service. This is crazy as most people only watch a movie once or twice. Why would they plop down £12.99 to own Thor: The Dark World when they just want to see it once? 

LoveFilm and Netflix have capitalized on movie streaming and iTunes needs to get on this ship before it sails off without them. The iTunes Store has one of the most impressive catalogs of movies and TV shows and if Apple could negotiate streaming rights for even half of them, it could kill Netflix in one fell swoop. 

Or let me put this argument another way: for those of you who own an Apple TV, what is your most frequently used channel on it? Most people I know would say, Netflix – the popular video-streaming application. Why? Simple: it offers all-you-can-eat movies and TV for a flat-rate price. You can’t binge-watch The Sopranos, for instance, on iTunes without spending well over £400 (and, yes, I know The Sopranos isn’t available in Netflix, either!).

iTunes needs a speed boost, new UI, and better account management

Though the way iTunes delivers content is a huge problem for its relevance in today’s day and age, the software itself has another problem – a cosmetic one. On the desktop, iTunes and its store has become bloated and bulky. The iTunes Store is actually just a web browser built into the desktop app, which accesses the iTunes CMS and all its content. The problem is the design of this website/store hasn’t changed in nine years and it’s very, very slow. I’m mean, really look at the iTunes Store; you’ll see the layout looks like a website from 2005. 

Clicking on media links is clunky and slow too. Accessing your account information is clunky and slow. And god help you if you have iTunes accounts from two countries or have two Apple IDs that you want to merge into one. I’m still not sure why the biggest technology company in the world can’t figure out how to let users easily manage multiple accounts.

The iTunes Store app received a visual facelift on iOS last year, but the desktop store got left behind. Hopefully we’ll see some minimalistic iOS 7-inspired design soon. 

Search & Discoverability

iTunes has an incredible amount of amazing content from movies to apps to books to games. The problem is it’s so freaking hard to find any of it. This isn’t as big a problem for movies or TV shows as it is for apps. Doing a search for a niche app is almost impossible if you don’t know the app’s exact name. And as any developer will tell you, if you aren’t in the top 25 slots in any of iTunes’ charts your downloads drop off dramatically because no one can find your app. Another problem with search in the iTunes Store is it’s slow to perform and, because of the way results are arranged, it’s slow to navigate too.

Apple has bought several search and discoverability companies over the last few years. Hopefully they keep buying more. And it’s too bad they have a rocky relationship with Google, because licensing Google’s search technology for search in the iTunes Store would fix things instantly. 

Oh, and Apple? We want tabs in the iTunes Store. It would be great to Command-click on multiple items and see them opened in multiple windows in the store.

Bring back Ping

Now before anyone punches me in the face, let me clarify this. For those of you that don’t know, Ping was Apple’s failed music social network integrated into the iTunes Store. It just didn’t take off because the layout sucked and Apple failed to integrate it with Facebook. In other words, people couldn’t easily find their friends.

But if Apple could create a really, really well designed, well-integrated social network into iTunes it would be amazing. Not to mention it would actually have a chance of taking off since Facebook doesn’t have as big a stronghold on the social networking world as it did when Apple first introduced Ping. 

A new iTunes social network – done right – would allow people to find their friends and see what they are listening to, watching, reading, and downloading. For example, I could check out my brother’s iTunes page and see the latest apps he’s downloaded and check them out for myself. Same with books and movies and TV shows. Of course, people would be able to share only their content choices that they want to. 

But such a service would greatly help with both search and discoverability – two of iTunes biggest problems. Also, this kind of integrated social network would be amazing if Apple does roll out a video and music streaming service. I can see the movies my friends are viewing and check them out for myself. We could maybe even choose a time to watch them together, even when we are apart, and be connected through instant messaging (or FaceTime) while we are watching the film so we can chat about it.

We’d love to hear from you how you think Apple could improve iTunes! Let us know in the comments!

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