Apple is planning to overhaul iTunes, according to recent reports. Hallelujah! Apple's clunky, archaic media player is long overdue for an upgrade. iTunes used to be a necessary evil for managing music on an iPhone or updating the operating system on Apple's mobile devices, but with the arrival of Spotify and the over-the-air software updates in iOS 5, there's little reason to launch it at all. Even podcasts are more neatly managed in a third-party app such as Instacast or Apple's own Podcasts app. Whether or not an overhaul is actually under way is anybody's guess. Nonetheless, we humbly offer a few suggestions.
Make iTunes More Social
Undeterred by the miserable failure of Ping, Apple is reportedly already making moves toward a more social iTunes. These include a deeper integration of Facebook into the iTunes Store and a limited music-sharing feature.
The further Apple can head in this direction, the better. Music and video are naturally social-friendly (see YouTube and SoundCloud), but iTunes has long existed on its own isolated island, far from the social networks we're glued to all day long.
As Apple learned the hard way, trying to roll its own social music product isn't the way to go. Instead, leverage existing social networks is essential, especially for music discovery and artist promotion. Spotify's Facebook integration, as imperfect as its "frictionless sharing" implementation was, is an example worth emulating.
Of course, iTunes has a different business model than Spotify (and, despite rumors, Apple doesn't plan to launch its own subscription service any time soon). Whereas a user can stream entire tracks from Spotify when they pop up in a friend's Facebook feed, iTunes may need to work out something else. Perhap's its a 30-second clip or, in a more user-friendly implementation, the song could be streamed on Facebook once prior to purchase. A similar approach could be adapted to Twitter, where some kind of easy-sharing option could help drive exposure and downloads for music, movies, apps and other content.
iTunes shouldn't play nice only with established services like Facebook and Twitter, but also make an effort to keep up with other social sites when appropriate. Maybe Instagram doesn't make sense, but Pinterest might. The more iTunes touches the social Web, the better the experience will be for users and content creators alike.
Integrate iTunes with Other Music Sources
Apple would never do this, but it can't hurt to ask: iTunes would be far more useful as a desktop media manager if users could plug in third-party content providers. This is something that open-source music player Tomahawk does very well, and it's a big part of what makes that project so promising.
Let's face it: Users stream music from Spotify, Rdio, SoundCloud and YouTube, in addition to purchasing it from iTunes (or downloading it via BitTorrent for that matter). Allowing access to numerous sources from one user interface would make for a great user experience, even if it would eat into Apple's music sales.
Play Nice with Other Apps and Services
Even if Apple doesn't offer a subscription service, it could steal a page from Spotify's playbook and launch an iTunes platform upon which third-party developers could build apps.
Spotify launched its own platform late last year, effectively outsourcing a chunk of its product development. And developers have responded, eagerly building extensions for the Spotify desktop client. Apple could do the same by introducing a similar platform or opening iTunes so developers could add functionality through browser-style plugins. Opening the iTunes ecosystem could include deep integration with recommendation engines such as Last.fm or partnering with exciting social music services with whom Apple knows better than to try to compete.
This is another suggestion that would require Apple to think of iTunes less as a gateway to its own retail storefront and more as an experience to be enjoyed by users, who would spend money on content and apps.
Redesign the iTunes User Interface
The iTunes desktop interface has undergone only subtle, incremental visual changes since its inception. In the meantime, we've seen Web-based music services like Rdio rise up sporting clean, well-designed user interfaces. Apple should borrow from these services while striving to create a more iOS-like desktop experience. An extensive visual refresh could go a long way toward making iTunes a joy to use and thus keep more content consumers tied to it.
Make the Code More Efficient
iTunes is a beast. The desktop client is a notorious resource hog, even when it's being used for the most basic activities - or just sitting there, for that matter. Any cosmetic changes to the application should be accompanied by architectural updates that would allow it to load and run faster, especially on older machines.