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Article: Baffled By iTunes

by on September 3, 2010

I appreciate it when interfaces are well-designed. Apple has always been excellent at trying to have some sort of consistency in this department, with a few exceptions recently. Still, this is one reason why I prefer Macs to PCs and the iPhone to anything else. The attention to detail is welcomed and makes the overall experience better. While I do appreciate the speed improvements of iTunes 10, I am simply confused as to how Apple managed to make their flagship application so awkward.

I know this general topic has been complained about in a number of forums, and even other web sites have weighed in. That’s not the point. We know that iTunes always seems to play its own game when it comes to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. This version seems to be even more ridiculous to the point that iTunes 10 looks and feels out of place compared to every other application on my Mac.

From the vertical close/minimize/zoom controls, to the buttons-that-aren’t-buttons, to the dull, grey sidebar, iTunes 10 has taken everything that Apple has created in applications like iPhoto, Mail, and even the Finder and threw things out the window. The buttons at the bottom, although functionally the same, are not like the buttons in iPhoto. Why did Apple do away with buttons for the visualizer and disc burning? I get that they don’t get as much use, but are 32ish pixels horizontally too much to waste?

The sidebar is what bothers me the most, since the disclosure widgets for each section are now gone/replaced with a show-on-hover-only Show/Hide display. This goes against every Apple application with a sidebar. The grey icons don’t really bother me much, especially as the focus is the content, but the inconsistencies with how things work bother me the most.

The Sidebars on Mail, iTunes 10, and the Finder

The icon is a whole other story—I hate the execution of it. It was time to say goodbye to CDs, but the new icon is another blue, round icon that will live in the Dock. I think the music note is something worth keeping, but how about not having something that is a lot like Safari, iChat, iDVD, QuickTime, or even (and this is a stretch) Time Machine? The note itself is good, but does not match the “generic music file” preview graphic that is used in Mac OS X, nor does it match the iTunes Store icon on iOS, nor does it match the Music icon on the iPod touch. This sort of inconsistency is frustrating from a branding perspective.

The Icons on iOS (Store), iPod touch (Music app), iTunes 10, and Quick Look

I think to solve the situation, Apple really ought to revisit the iTunes icon on all platforms. Personally, I like the iOS icons—the iTunes Store app icon would look really nice (even if it were circular) in the Dock. The iPod touch Music app, although a bit blander, would also be a possibility. I think the craziest possibility would be to roll everything together into one application (Music, Video, Podcasts, Store, etc.) on all platforms, creating one iTunes application. Apple could use some variation on the music note, or even the iPod icon from iOS.

I don’t have an answer, but it bugs me when things are inconsistent when they should be. Apple has done a fantastic job of making all iOS apps work and feel the same. Apple has also made the AppleTV interface look amazing. It seems that lately, Mac OS X has taken a back seat and has become a playground for interface designs. I get that Apple is probably trying some things for the next version of Mac OS X (just as they did before Leopard was released), but some things just have a last-minute feel. Still, most iOS and Mac OS X icons are at least somewhat related (Mail isn’t, but the rest are), and it would be nice if Apple’s most-used application was, too.

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