With every new release of macOS in the past few years, people have been calling for Apple to split iTunes into separate apps. The app has always been notorious for its bloat and its confusing navigation, which has become even worse since the introduction of Apple Music.
The official iTunes site reads "iTunes. Your music, movies, and TV shows take center stage." To me, this line seems like a self-deprecating joke about the app's lack of focus. From a consumer perspective, it has never made sense for an app named iTunes to be used for playing and purchasing movies, TV shows, mobile apps, podcasts, audiobooks, internet radio, educational courses, and ringtones, while also providing device management features.
Here comes the part where I pretend to know better than entire teams at Apple; I think it's time for the company to make some strategy changes. We all know that sometimes a fresh, outside perspective can be insightful. This is my perspective as a designer and a user of these products.
Split It Up
In a future version of macOS, let's build a few new apps from the ground up, and update a couple of existing ones. This is what we'll end up with:
- Music: A new app entirely dedicated to browsing for and listening to music. It's the home of Apple Music, but can play (purchased) audio files as well. Since the new app is dedicated to just music, there’s no more room for Apple’s original video content in Apple Music¹.
- App Store: The App Store app gets a redesign and now includes the iOS App Store part of iTunes. The Mac App Store hasn't enjoyed the same success as its iOS counterpart, partly due to developer complaints. In addition to loosening restrictions and adding some much requested features — like trial versions and upgrade pricing — the iOS and Mac App Stores are now merged. A user searching for an iOS app on macOS can now remotely start the download on their iDevice, and vice versa (it's in fact already possible to view Mac apps in the App Store on iOS 11). Apps show if they have versions for both iOS and macOS, and developers can make bundles to let people purchase an app on both platforms at a discount.
- iBooks: Look at that; books already had their own dedicated app on the Mac! A small update transplants audio books from iTunes to iBooks.
- Podcasts: A new app similar to iBooks, but for podcasts. Unlike music and iBooks, podcasts are free, so there's no need for a Podcasts Store. The app will simply let you browse Apple's directory like on iOS. iTunes U will be moving from iTunes to Podcasts.
- TV: A new app dedicated to movies and TV shows; basically the Mac counterpart of the new iOS 10 app. The Movies and TV Shows sections of the iTunes Store live here now.
- iTunes Store: Whatever's left of iTunes at this point will be called the iTunes Store. This is where you can still purchase individual songs and ringtones. Songs you purchase will appear and play in the new Music app.
- Device Utility: A new app that covers the device management features of iTunes. There's rarely a need to tether your iOS devices to iTunes anymore, but in case you do, you can use this app to sync and backup.
¹I know Apple is planning to spend $1 billion(!) on new original content, but all their OC has been really bad so far, and frankly, nobody’s asking for it. Why does Apple insist on offering non-music content on platforms named for music? Like with Ping: swallow your pride, and cut your losses. If not, at the very least offer this content on the TV app, and not as a part of Apple Music.
Now, let's get to the reason why you clicked the link to this piece. Of all the apps mentioned above, I designed a concept of one in particular: Music.
The design goal here was to create a standalone app focused on browsing for and playing music, while retaining simplicity — the very antithesis of iTunes.
I attempted to follow the design language of the latest generation of macOS apps (Photos, Maps, Notes, Safari), and also took some inspiration from iOS 11 and its Music app. This is the end result:
As you can see, the window chrome at the top is now focused on navigation. The search bar takes center stage as searching is one of the primary actions that will be performed in the app. We also have a bottom bar, dedicated to player controls. The rest of the window is dedicated to content. The app uses the red tint color also seen in the iOS Music app.
This is the screen you'll see when you open Music. It's basically a combination of the Library, For You, and Browse tabs in the iOS Music app. By hiding For You and Browse behind another click or tap, I think a lot of people forget to check them most of the time. Combining these tabs and presenting them as a starting point for exploration makes more sense.
Explore allows you to quickly navigate to your Playlists, Artists, Albums, and Songs; see which albums you've recently added to your library; see what friends are listening to; listen to your personalized weekly mixes; and browse Apple Music's recommendations — an endless supply of music to explore. Find something? Click it and it will open in a new tab.
Tabs in a music app? Hell yes. Raise your hand if you've ever lost your way trying to navigate iTunes — sidebars, navigation tabs, sub-navigation bars, content-type selector menus, back-forward arrows, Store-mode…
Browsers solved the browsing problem almost two decades ago — tabs are probably the main feature of this new Music app.
Every artist, album, playlist, etc. you click will simply open in a new tab. This makes browsing — and in turn managing your Up Next queue — so much easier. Hit Cmd+T and a new tab will open the Explore page.
Quickly see which tabs you have open at a glance with icons inside them. Have a few favorite artists or a playlist you listen to a lot? Pin their tabs (just like in Safari) for easy access.
Songs and albums can now have multiple artists attached to them, making music libraries cleaner and more consistent. This means song titles no longer have (ft. Artist / feat. Artist / vs. Artist) in them, and your library no longer has separate entries for Artist & Artist. Multiple artists can be separately clicked to open their respective Artist pages in new tabs.
In the new Music app, Search is no longer split between two modes (Your Library or Apple Music), but is universal instead. Whether artists, albums, or songs are in your Library or not, they will appear in the search results. The search field can also be used to filter the results on the current page.