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The Un-Apple Store

Today, iOS developer Ross Kimes tweeted the following wish list for the January Apple event:

My wish list for Apple’s media event this month (in this order): 1. Rewritten iTunes 2. iBooks for Mac 3. Unified App Store on Mac

Everything Ross mentions would be great. The more I thought about his list, the more I became annoyed at the state of the Apple app store(s) - namely how convoluted the process for managing apps, content, and system updates is for users. That is to say, the stores represent a very un-Apple experience. The problem really isn’t the actual stores, but rather the numerous avenues Apple users must take in order to administer their content. Consider someone who owns a Mac running Lion and an iDevice. Presumably, the user has music, videos, podcasts, Mac apps, iOS apps, electronic books from the iBookstore, and more.

On the iDevice, the user has the iTunes app to buy music, videos, or other entertainment content, the App Store to buy apps, and the iBookstore to buy books. It is fairly straightforward. Now when the user wants to manage their content on the Mac, things get ugly.

Music, videos, podcasts, books, and iOS apps are all managed in iTunes. That same content can be purchased in the iTunes Store - also located in the iTunes app - with the exception of books. There is no iBookstore for Mac and no way to read books purchased from the iBookstore. Users can only manage the books that go onto the iDevice. To manage and purchase desktop software, users can use the optional and separate Mac App Store. The Mac operating system, Lion, is now even offered through the Mac App Store, yet other optional system software like iTunes is not. So the operating system as a whole can be managed in the Mac App Store, but certain individual components rely on Software Update from the Apple menu. Strangely, users can even update Lion using the same option.

As you can see, things on the Mac side include a bloated iTunes, no iBookstore, and multiple and inconsistent ways to manage and update desktop software. These problems go to the heart of Ross’s list. To match consistency with iOS, Apple should offer music, videos, podcasts, or other entertainment items in iTunes, electronic books in an iBookstore for Mac, and all apps in a unified Mac App Store with consistent update behavior.

It seems at odds for a company like Apple, that has marketed itself with slogans like “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and “It just works”, to produce such a poor user experience. In a followup tweet, Ross suggested a potential reason:

The biggest problem with fixing it is having to support iTunes for Windows.

I agree with Ross here. Since there is no Mac operating system, app store, or the like on Windows, everything else gets thrown in iTunes so users can still manage their iDevices without a Mac. Really, with the advent of iCloud, iTunes really should transition to a counterpart of its iOS app, where content is the focus, instead of also serving as a tool to manage devices.

I do think that Apple is in a transitional period where they are trying to bring iOS principles back to the Mac. This results in an unrefined and mixed desktop experience - where legacy elements coexist with new unified elements. Currently, it appears things weren’t thought out well or, at best, sacrifices were made to ship a product. In either case, the result is completely opposite of that which Apple users expect. Hopefully, the issues that Ross raises will be addressed sooner than later.

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