The iTunes Store Needs a Good Spring Cleaning
With the arrival of the iPad, the iTunes Store will be getting yet another department. But shopping in iTunes already feels a bit crowded, and the act of browsing and comparing options side-by-side is cumbersome. Some sort of tabbed browsing feature would be nice -- or at least better implementation of the Wish List function.
No doubt about it, the Apple iTunes Store is gorgeous. It's packed with album cover art, subtle shading, and generally clean design. It boasts all the right elements -- pictures, screenshots, customer reviews, ratings and plenty of drop-down menus. It's got lists of popular songs, movies and apps. It's got a search field, too.
But in my mind, it's all turning into a big, cluttered mess. In fact, I'm starting to find it so irritating that I'm avoiding the iTunes Store on my Mac. I'm finding myself reaching for my iPhone, rather than my mouse, when I need to search for an app. For movies, I'd rather use my Apple TV -- and I've got a huge monitor! But why?
Neither my iPhone nor my Apple TV is truly more efficient, and yet I'm shunning the iTunes Store. What's going on here? Is it too many options? What am I, a media predator, and all the apps and songs are just a school of fish swirling around in a confusing mass?
With the iPad set to launch this Saturday, is the iTunes Store just going to get worse? Not only will there be iPad apps, but how about new iBooks? Plus, this brings up more fracturing -- some apps require GPS (so the original iPhone is out, and the new WiFi-only iPad would be out, too) and some need cellular data, so they don't really translate to the iPod touch. Then there's built-in video cameras -- or not -- so that's another angle to pay attention to.
I've been mulling this over because really, Apple's design is usually freakishly good -- and I think the problem comes down to consumers figuring things out and making buying decisions.
When I consider buying just about anything, I research it first on the Web. It could be a pair of shoes, a monitor, a camera, or even a song. When it comes to a song, listening is the key. The 30-second bit Apple gives us is OK, but usually I want to hear the entire song first, so that means a trip to Lala.com. No big deal here; Apple has only been giving us 30 seconds since forever, so OK. Nah, my problem with the iTunes Store comes with most everything else -- but mostly it's apps and movies.
Take movies. Occasionally, a new movie will come out and I know that I want to rent or buy and watch it. But often enough, I'm looking for a movie to rent. Browsing. That changes the game to one where I'm considering what will be worth my time in this particular moment. Comedy? Action? "The Hurt Locker?" In the iTunes store, I can visually browse around, and I have a cornucopia of information at my fingertips -- trailers, reviews, summaries, etc. This seems good, but what happens when I want to choose between several viable options? I want a shortlist.
The iTunes Store sucks at shortlists. Sure, there's the Wish List, but that's a relatively hidden drop-down list item that's only available on the drop-down menu next to the buy option of a movie -- hit the rent movie option, and there's no Wish List option. Then, to find the Wish List, you have to scroll to the bottom of the page for the tiny My Wish List link ... or know that it's hidden in the top right-hand corner in another drop down menu option under your account name.
I'm a big Apple fan, but seriously, this is a lousy implementation.
The Wish List option should be super easy to find, super easy to click on, and moreover, when there's anything you want from the Apple iTunes Store ecosystem, it should be easy to add, too.
Remember the simple shopping cart? It was quite handy.
Sure, some people put items in their carts and then never buy them, but at least they had a nice, simple place to aggregate things. Meanwhile, my Wish List doesn't sync with the Wish List on my Apple TV. Same account, of course, but they just aren't that smart.
In my mind, the single biggest time-saving innovation in my life is tabbed browsing on Web browsers. This lets you click on a variety of Web sites and open them up via tabbed pages all within the same browser window. So how does this work? Do a search on a particular item in Google or Bing and boom, start right-clicking or command-clicking on links and you can open up several to review.
While you're reading one, the others can be loading in the background.
There's no tabbed browsing in iTunes.
This means you have to wait for each page to load, so there's no on-demand tabbed browsing way to create an instant shortlist. If I'm trying to evaluate several GPS iPhone apps in the App Store, I've got to somehow manage it with a bunch of back and forth clicking -- or screen captures (command-shift-4 for you Mac users out there).
If the iTunes Store was blisteringly fast, this wouldn't be such a problem. But it's not blistering fast, and on a 3 Mbps DSL connection, it ought to be faster.
Even if Apple made the Wish List more friendly, there's still no good way to evaluate several items at the same time.
So as the iTunes Store continues to grow, and once the iPad joins the fray, wow ... my habits are shifting away from what should be Apple's best storefront.