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Is iTunes Bloated?

There's a collocation that's becoming increasingly common: the proximity of the words "iTunes" and "bloated." Google those words and you'll get about 220,000 results. As an author who specializes in explaining iTunes, I hear this often, yet many of the complaints I hear don't go further than hurling that invective at the program. Few people actually explain why they feel the program is bloated, and those who do have reasons that I tend to disagree with. So I thought I'd take a look at this question, and the common answers, in an attempt to determine once and for all whether iTunes deserves to be called bloated.

First of all, how do you define "bloated?" Wikipedia offers the following in the introduction to its article about software bloat:

Software bloat is a term used to describe the tendency of newer computer programs to have a larger installation footprint, or have many unnecessary features that are not used by end users, or just generally use more system resources than necessary, while offering little or no benefit to its users.

With this in mind, I asked the question "Do you think iTunes is bloated?" on my Web site in June 2010, and I have also asked the same question on several forums I frequent. I've taken into account many of the answers I've seen, and the following is an attempt to address this question.

How Big Is iTunes? While the Wikipedia definition of software bloat is partially valid, I think the first part of it to discount is that of a "larger installation footprint." The iTunes 10.0 application on Mac OS X takes up 146.6 MB. In these days of terabyte hard disks - or disks offering several hundred gigabytes on older Macs - this is hardly a large application. Without looking at large-scale application suites such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Suite, I have several applications on my Mac that are larger than iTunes. Adobe Reader takes up 219 MB; Bento is 188 MB; and two of the iWork programs - Pages and Keynote - each exceed 290 MB.

Some people say that larger applications take more time to load, yet this is not necessarily the case. When you look under the hood of iTunes, you find some interesting numbers. The actual executable of the program and its libraries make up about 33 MB, which is by no means huge. The majority of the iTunes application is, in fact, made up of language resources. These are files containing texts for menus, alerts and even help, in the different languages the program supports. If you're an English speaker and remove all the language resources you don't need, the program becomes a mere 65 MB.

(You can use the free utility iCleanLanguage to remove language files from iTunes and your other applications. Doing so could save you as much as a couple of gigabytes, depending on how many applications you have installed.)

Now I'm discussing the Mac version of iTunes here; on Windows, things are probably similar, but I haven't looked at the actual file sizes on Windows. Journalist Ed Bott seems to have made a career out of railing against iTunes in that world, and he updates his "Unofficial guide to installing iTunes without bloatware" for every new version.

While Bott's approach is a bit obsessive, it is true that Windows users do have to download some software elements that Mac users don't. Things such as QuickTime, Bonjour, and Software Update are an integral part of Mac OS X, but need to be installed by the Windows version of iTunes for basic iTunes functionality to work. But worrying about a few dozen megabytes of software installed on a capacious, modern hard disk seems like overkill. The only reason I could see to go to the trouble of following his advice is if you want to run iTunes on a netbook with limited disk space, and want to save as much space as possible.

RAM usage is a more complex issue. On Mac OS X, applications often ask for a lot of RAM, even if they don't use it. And the amount of RAM they request depends on how much memory the Mac has. If you have, say, 8 GB of RAM, any program will ask for more RAM than on a Mac with 2 GB. On my 4 GB Mac mini, the Finder is currently using 140 MB RAM; on my 2 GB MacBook Air, only 84 MB. iTunes, on my Mac mini, regularly asks for 200 MB or more, which, out of 4 GB, seems acceptable; when I launch the program on my MacBook Air, with a much smaller library, it asks for only 63 MB. So what you see is not always what you get: you may see iTunes claiming it's using a lot of RAM, but once other applications need that RAM, iTunes will give some back.

How Fast Is iTunes? The second factor to consider is speed. This can be seen in two ways: the time it takes to launch a program, and the time it takes to perform common operations. On my Mac mini, with a library of nearly 60,000 items, iTunes launches in 7 seconds; on my MacBook Air, with a much smaller library, it takes only 4 seconds. In my opinion, neither of these is problematic. I remember when I was using a certain word processor back in the late 1990s, and it took some 45 seconds for the program to open. People who cannot wait 7 seconds for a program to open may need to rethink their priorities.

The speed of certain operations is a more important issue. With today's multi-core processors and copious RAM, software should be able to do things quickly - not all tasks, of course, because some are very complex. But basic tasks should never take too long, though the definition of "too long" is subjective.

I've seen people complaining about the speed of ripping CDs with iTunes, or about the time it takes to sync an iPod or iPhone. Alas, neither of these tasks depend entirely on iTunes itself. While iTunes performance when ripping CDs is perplexing - sometimes it goes very slowly, other times more quickly, for no apparent reason - the two main factors affecting CD ripping are the speed of your optical drive and the speed of your processors. Back when I owned a Mac Pro, I bought a CD-only drive that read discs at up to 52x because I buy and rip a lot of CDs. This led to rips that were almost twice as fast as with the Mac Pro's internal 24x CD/DVD drive. With my current Mac, a Mac mini, I bought an external CD drive for the same reason.

Syncing iOS devices depends, in part, on how long it takes iTunes to scan your library (bigger libraries naturally take longer), but file transfer is limited to the throughput offered by USB 2.0. The only way to make syncing more rapid would be for Apple to move to the soon-to-be-available USB 3.0 or a similar data transfer standard.

Some people will find that iTunes lags a bit with large libraries. This was a notable problem back with iTunes 7, and one that I wrote about on my blog. But when iTunes 8 came out, Apple changed the way the iTunes Library file is written, reducing it in size by about 75 percent, and changing the way iTunes works with the library file. Operations that lagged back in 2007 and 2008 are snappier now (and I'm working with a slower Mac), though there are still some slowdowns with large libraries.

There may be some operations that take longer than a user wants, but does one now expect everything to happen immediately? I find that changing tags for a lot of files takes some time, but that's because the files are being written to disk. Saving downloaded files produces a slight delay of a few seconds, but this is likely related to the size of my library and the speed of my Mac mini's hard disk.

But iTunes Certainly Seems Bloated to Me -- One comment I have seen often is that iTunes is bloated because it does so much: that Apple should separate it into different applications. I would call this a subjective feeling of bloat, because all those features you don't use don't affect performance; the program runs only the code you need when you need it.

However, this is a valid complaint. From being initially just a music player, iTunes has added the capability to manage and play videos (movies and TV shows) and podcasts. More recently, iTunes has also added apps and ebooks to its library. Many people suggest that the name itself should be changed: that iTunes has gone far beyond tunes. Alas, that will never happen. iTunes is a brand, not just a program. Apple has developed the iTunes brand over nearly ten years, extending it even to the iTunes Store. At least Apple shortened that name from the original "iTunes Music Store" after adding videos and avoided the iTunes name when creating the App Store and the iBookstore. (For more on Apple's success in the branding arena, see the 2002 series "Branding Apple.")

But what about all these content types and features? And the iTunes Store itself? Surely the presence of the iTunes Store is part of the program's bloat, right? Actually, it isn't. The iTunes Store is simply a Web browser in iTunes: pages from the iTunes Store - and the new Ping - are merely HTML pages that are rendered in iTunes using the same WebKit framework in Mac OS X that also renders HTML in Safari, Mail, and many other applications. While iTunes Store pages may be slow to load at times, this is more because they are graphically complex and require a certain amount of time to be downloaded and rendered, just like any other Web page.

The thing is, many people want a program to do only what they need it to do. If you don't listen to podcasts or buy movies, you may think iTunes should handle only music. If the presence of these different libraries in the iTunes sidebar bothers you, you can hide them. Choose iTunes > Preferences, and in the Show section of the General preference pane, deselect the libraries you don't want to see. Want to get rid of the iTunes Store? In the Parental preference pane, select Disable iTunes Store. You'll have a minimal iTunes interface. Does the program now seem more svelte?

That Syncing Feeling -- Another common criticism of iTunes is that it syncs many different types of content to iOS devices. While it makes sense that iTunes would sync the music, videos, apps, and ebooks in its library, the program also manages photos, contacts, email accounts, and more. Some people suggest that the syncing part of iTunes should be a separate application, such as the existing iSync. Others say that to sync even music, one should be able to mount the devices and just drag and drop files to them.

To the former argument, I wonder why people would want to have to use two applications to sync an iPod or iPhone? Even if the syncing application handled the transfer of media files, there would still be one program for managing those files, and another to sync them. Surely one integrated program is better than two that would frequently need to be used in quick succession?

The drag-and-drop argument is commonly mentioned by those used to doing that type of synchronization with MP3 players back in the day. I've always found this a confusing idea: every time you change tags in a file, or add new music to your library, you need to remember which files you've changed or added to be able to sync them. Isn't that what we have computers for?

I think one of the reasons the iPod was so successful early on is because iTunes handles all this for users. When you buy music, rip CDs, or add other content to your media library, you don't need to manipulate the actual files. You don't need to know where they're stored, and you don't have to worry about moving them: iTunes takes care of all this for you. The file system becomes an abstraction, and, in fact, disappears behind the iTunes database.

Creeping Featuritis -- It's certainly true that iTunes is a complex program. I've been using iTunes since the very first version, and I've been writing about the program for many years, notably for Macworld, where I've written dozens of articles about how to get the most out of iTunes. (To be fair, you could accuse me of having a vested interest in the complexity of iTunes.)

The program has a lot of features, and this feature list is often criticized. iTunes does a lot; it offers you unequaled features for organizing and managing media. Yet many people feel that it doesn't do enough, hence the success of the Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes Web site, with its oodles of script to enhance the program's functionality.

iTunes is one of those programs that offers a wide range of features according to how a user wants to interact with his or her content. For basic users, it may be enough to dump media files into their libraries and sync their iPods. Their libraries may be smaller than the capacity of their iOS devices, so they don't even have to worry about choosing what to sync.

For others, though, the small but growing percentage of users with large libraries (I count myself in this group), the capability to create complex smart playlists based on tags gives great power in organizing content.

The Verdict Is? I think it's fair to say that this whole question is a bit moot; it's a geek debate. For most users, iTunes is simply a program they use to manage an average-sized media library and some apps. Those who are confronted with the more-complex features have much larger libraries, and have different ways of working with media files.

I can understand that many people have a subjective feeling of bloat when looking at iTunes because of the many types of media it manages, but it seems no more bloated to me than, say, a word processor that contains finicky page layout features. There have been ups and downs over the years, as I mentioned earlier, but Apple has resolved most of those issues.

And if you still have that nagging feeling of unnecessary features staring you in the face, I've explained above how to change the iTunes interface so you don't have to see the types of media you don't use; this alone can make the program seem more simple.

Don't get me wrong. Although I think Apple has done an excellent job over the years of grafting new types of media and new features onto the program, it is by no means perfect. Valid criticisms can be leveled at specific features and interface elements - iOS app file sharing, I'm looking at you, along with the way iTunes 10 removed all color from the sidebar in favor of a drab, uniform gray.

But in the end, I suspect that people accuse iTunes of being bloated because it has evolved from a simple music player into a complex media and device management program designed to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of users. To become more comfortable with iTunes, therefore, may require learning a bit more about how it works in order to master those features you use every day and turn off those you don't.

[Kirk McElhearn is a Senior Contributor to Macworld, an occasional contributor to TidBITS, and writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. Kirk's latest book is "Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ."]


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Comments about Is iTunes Bloated?
(Comments are closed.)

Jeff Edsell  2010-09-27 07:11
I've been a big complainer about iTunes "bloat" — in my case, the time it took to sync my iPhone (which made me late to work a couple of times) and the spinning rainbow wheel that seemed to appear pretty much any time I clicked anything.

But to be fair, The situation has improved recently. I stopped using iTunes to manage my podcasts altogether, using Alex Sokirynsky's "Podcaster" app, and that alone made a world of difference. Also, updates to iTunes seem to have helped the ubiquitous spinning rainbow wheel problem.

Still, I have some issues. I still fight with iTunes over photo management — even though it would mean using two apps, I think I'd rather use iPhoto for this task. And I envy Android users' ability to add files to their music libraries any time, anywhere.

Still, it's getting better. (But I'd love it if they rewrote iTunes in Cocoa…)
Dominic Dunlop  2010-09-27 07:21
I agree that the cruft has usually been added with elegance and care. But the whole thing has the musty whiff of Mac OS Classic due to its Carbon underpinnings. For example, there's no undo at all in many cases. Delete a playlist? Bam! It's gone. Too bad if you made a mistake. Want to sentence-case a song title with a Mac OS X service? Nope. Can't do that. Want to do something else while it's changing tags? Sorry. It's modal. I really hope there's a Cocoa rewrite in the offing.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 07:38
Delete a playlist, then press Command-Z; it undoes.

As for services, yes, they don't work, but there are plenty of AppleScripts you can use (
Johannes  2010-09-27 08:25
The point is that iTunes apart from the 'tunes' provides a syncing and update service. Syncing and updating already exist in Mac OS and should be expanded to the other media. The Update service should be part (an app) on each iOS device. iTunes should be restricted to the iTunes music store and music management. The iOS apps iTunes, App store and iBooks are nice examples for Mac OS.
As for your argument about sync, all current Mac OS sync data is managed by separate apps and synced automatically via the sync system service. So that wouldn't do from your point of view.
But syncing is the feature that's required and it is logical and transparent to provide this as a system service.
Also (i)OS updates should be done on each (i)OS device and not on a central hub, simply because its a hassle.

iTunes is now tunes + movie + books + iOS updates + content sync, but should be tunes with several apps for movie book and other content combined with Mac OS (iOS) sync extension and an iOS update app.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 08:37
There is no "iTunes music store;" it is the iTunes Store, and it sells music, videos, apps, and provides podcasts. You can't limit iTunes to just syncing music if the Store provides other content; that's not logical.

As for the other syncing services, they sync to the cloud (MobileMe), or to a handful of third-party devices. I don't think iSync has the innards to handle all the content iTunes does.

But if it does; how do you sync? You choose your playlists from iSync? You select podcasts from iSync? There is a logic in iTunes handling all these types of content. If you have to use it to sync music and videos, why not use it for the other content that iOS devices can handle? Multiple apps would just make syncing harder for users.
Your name  2010-09-27 09:54
Why isn't it logical to segregate music, apps, and books more? That's part of the confusion. iTunes implies music, not iPhone apps. That's two steps removed. I rarely listen to music on my iPhone, so I rather not have to deal with all the music stuff when I'm doing iPhone stuff. iTunes takes time to load my music collection and shows the collection when I go to sync. That should be hidden. I want to deal with apps or maybe books.

Apps appear in at least three places. On the left as Apps, under iPhone in a tab called Apps (what's the difference between these two?), and when you go to the iTunes (music?) store to look for apps, but if you search you get other stuff.

I'm sensitive to this now because I've got some kind of syncing problem with iCal with dups that keep popping up. But I've long felt that iTunes is a poor way to manage an iPhone.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 09:48
As I said in the article, iTunes is a brand; forget that that word has anything to do with music. Apple won't be changing the name of the program any time soon.

Segregation only makes things more complicated, because then there is a need for multiple apps. Some people seem to think that's the solution; I don't see it as helping anything.

As for iCal and contacts, it makes a lot more sense to sync them using MobileMe; Apple should make MobileMe free to those with iOS devices, or at least the sync part of it.
Johannes  2010-09-27 12:16
The iTunes icon on my iOS devices links to the iTunes music store. No other store can be reached from it. The app store etc. can be reached via other icons. So Apple made this distinction on the iPhone, iPad and it could very well do so on Mac OS X. The other stores are well known because all iOS users use them already.

I didn't say iSync could already do the syncing I had in mind. But sync management will be done from the managing app and not from iSync. ISync is the service thats implements the syncing and should be transparent for the user.

iTunes as a name can never replace the meaning of 'tunes', so this will always introduce an illogical and confusing discrepancy in the users mind. This can only be resolved if the correct name for the category is used.

Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 12:54
It's easy to have different "stores" on an iOS device, because the content stays on that device (or syncs back to a computer). On a computer, the content is a) played on the computer, and b) synced to one or more devices.
Johannes  2010-09-28 02:32
Syncing should be possible for all media types and each iOS or Mac OS X device should be able to select what media is synced. It should work the same as iSync but with added media types like music movies etc. iOS devices should get a sync app and syncing should of-course be via WiFi.

Erik Burggraaf  2010-09-27 09:17
Kirk, How can you compare a media file player to a business level word processing application and say ITunes isn't bloated because it's half the size of the word processer? Compare ITunes at 185 mb on my macbook pro to vlc at 48 mb. Then add the size of my database at 54 meg, and you can see that ITunes is clearly much bigger. you're an advanced ITunes user and you feel that it should serve everyone, even as you say that different users have different needs. I for example, hate the genius. I deplore the store. I loath rating my music. I can't stand the parental control features, and the list goes on and on. Basicly, ITunes is a huge swiss army knife filled with tools, none of which do as good a job at any given task as a tool designed just for that purpose. It even forgets where my library is after every single update and about once a month in between. Size vs usefulness, ITunes is bloated. The whole idea is badly implemented and cumbersom. I'm glad it works for you.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 09:51
As I tried to point out, the majority of that size is language and help files. Now you may still see it as the actual size of the application, and you're not wrong, but given the size of hard disks, I just don't see that as an issue.

VLC is smaller because it has fewer localizations, and smaller help files.

Don't like Genius: turn it off. Don't like Parental Controls? What's the problem; they don't do anything if you don't turn them on. Don't want to rate your music? No one's forcing you to; don't display the Rating column if it gets in your way. Don't want to use the store? Hide it, from the dreaded Parental Controls preferences...
Brian M  2010-09-27 10:39
But what would be better?
That is the problem most people have, they can complain about it, but can't give suggestions about how to improve it.

For me I use Ratings along with BPM, Genre, and Smart Playlists to get just the music I want, easy to access and loaded on to my iPhone that only has 16 GB of space. (My full iTunes library is over 30 GB) Also by using these methods, I almost never hit "next" while listening to music.
Your name  2010-09-27 09:22
My complaint is the confusion. I want to deal with the apps on my iPhone or is apps at the iTunes store. iTunes store to purchase apps.

To see the apps on your iphone, you have to have your iphone plugged in and then navigate to app. Is it in the list below iPhone or one of the tabs. Oh, and the sync starts automatically (well certainly changeable, but there should be an easy toggle) and if you're having a problem syncing it's difficult. It used to be you could click on the sync symbol in iTune, now that seems to activate eject. I rather have the my list of apps stay alphabetical but it goes back to something else each time.

In other words it's a very confusing app and I assume the main reason is that Apple only wanted one app for Windows, so we're being drug into this morass because of Windows.

I don't think music and iPhone management have that much to do with each other. Of course they're linked, but keep them more apart.

Search on the store defaults to everything, not apps.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 09:53
What I'd like to see for apps is that they are hosted on the Store, and not downloaded to iTunes. That for each device you own you sign into the Store, and you get a list of apps to download to the device. Now, that might mean that it takes longer to get them the first time, but it would make a lot more sense than having to navigate through them in iTunes.

Since you're allowed to redownload apps, having them "in the cloud" like that is certainly feasible, from a commercial point of view. As to whether Apple wants to pay for all that bandwidth, that's another story, but, again, most people don't have that many devices.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-27 14:50
Also, if apps were only in the cloud, restoring from backup would be even slower, especially if you had a huge app like Navigon that's over 1 GB in size on its own. It usually makes sense to cache data locally when possible.

And if you didn't have a local representation of apps, it wouldn't be possible to have iTunes provide an alternative way to arrange the app icons; sometimes that's easier than manipulating them on the device directly.
Your name  2010-09-27 09:31
I ran out of space. By the definition you used, iTunes may not be bloatware, but it's a lousy app. It is trying to do too much and making it a confusing application. Maybe all the functions can be kept in one app, but the experience must be improved.

One thing I noticed in using the iPhone. The apps are like widgets and that works for me on the iPhone, but I never use widgets on the Mac. In other words in some environments we want single function simplicity. And the iPad works that way. And watching my 91 year old father and other non-geeks use a Mac, I'm beginning to think that most people will be happier with the simpler widget approach. I'm not ready to give up multi-function apps on the Mac, but iTunes is one that could probably have its functions segregated better.
Joseph S  2010-09-27 09:44
I just think it needs to be renamed to iMedia...
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2010-09-27 10:06
Try loading it on a 6 year old iBook. You'll be back to the 45 sec load again.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 10:14
Is that a fair test with any software though?
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2010-09-27 11:43
Yes it is. It's the only computer I have & I guarantee there are others in the same position.
Brian M  2010-09-27 12:15
Older computers generally load newer software much more slowly, if the newer software is even compatible (this iTunes 10 is likely the last PowerPC compatible version)

new versions of Firefox loads pretty slow on iBooks as well. or Photoshop, etc...
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2010-09-27 13:08
Agreed. With the help of Tidbits & others I've managed to customize Firefox so it runs adequately (mainly no Flash). Safari was causing problems so I switched to Firefox. But there is no substitute app for iTunes that I know of.

BTW thanks to Kirk for mentioning iCleanLanguages. I'm dry running it now to see if that will help.

But, a new computer is scheduled for next summer finally.
Michael Cohen  2010-09-27 10:30
Great article, Kirk.

What a lot of the people responding to this article who are complaining about iTunes "bloat" and "feature creep" don't get is that they are not iTunes' primary audience. They are too sophisticated in the ways of computers; they know too much.

I spend a good part of my time dealing with more unsophisticated users and, for them, iTunes is just the thing that they use to play stuff and get stuff onto their iDevices. They would be flummoxed if they had to use one program for syncing music, another for syncing contacts, another for syncing photos.

The sophisticated foodie knows all the specialty shops and the best places to get artisan bread, gourmet cheeses, and imported spices. Most people, however, use the supermarket. Sneer at them all you like, but you can't deny that the supermarket provides a great convenience and utility for people who just don't want to go to the trouble of going to store after store to stock their refrigerators and cupboards.
David Shaw  2010-09-27 10:49
It's bloated. It's full of features that are neither core to its basic feature nor useful to many of its users.

Look at the "Genius". It's probably useful to someone who cares what it has to say. In my experience, it's never offered me a good suggestion, so I turn it off.

Look at the new "Ping". This has absolutely no place in iTunes. It is by its very definition bloat on a tool whose purpose is to get content from our Mac to our devices and back. I'm sure people all use iTunes differently, but honestly for me, it's only purpose is to seed my AppleTV, my iPad, and my wife's iPhone with content. Anything that it does aside from these things is bloat.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 11:47
"It's full of features that are neither core to its basic feature nor useful to many of its users."

See, that's the thing. Ask ten users which features they use, and you'll get probably a half-dozen different answers. Tossing out a blanket statement like that suggests that you've never really been in contact with people who use the program differently from you.

I see many, many different usage scenarios on forums and mailing lists. And the type of questions I get from readers cover the full spectrum of features. So just because you don't use certain features doesn't mean that others don't use them either.

This said, it's the most common sort of criticism of any program: I don't use the feature so it's worthless.
David Shaw  2010-09-28 06:10
It's not that the features are worthless. It's that the program tried to do too much, and as a result does none of them as well as it would otherwise.

iTunes is slow, and the interface is cluttered with a dozen icons along the left side. Each one has a feature that may or may not be useful, and in many cases (Ping) makes no sense in the context of the application.

My wife can't even get music on her iPod without help anymore, and she's a Doctor, so she's no idiot. For as much press as Apple gets on usability, iTunes falls way below the mark set by Apple's other offerings.
britmic  2010-09-27 11:34
There was a reason Steve Jobs culled SKUs upon his return to the company - laser like focus.

What, exactly, is iTunes nowadays? It will lose in a broader marketplace of more specialised services; that have laser-like focus.

It's called the Brand Extension Trap and I'd be surprised if someone in Apple isn't fighting against it. Adding "Ping" shows they are in the minority.

iTunes is fast becoming the Colgate of media players/stores/libraries/social/sync etc etc; unless it finds a new category of its own to sit in (AppleTV?)
Michael Cohen  2010-09-27 15:54
False analogy, Britmac: Apple in the 90s had too many different SKUs on the shelves so stores had trouble deciding which ones to stock and customers had trouble deciding which to buy.

iTunes, on the other hand, is only one SKU. You don't have to decide which one to get: there is only one.
What's an SKU?
Hans Trygve Jensen  2010-10-05 18:35
SKU = Stock-Keeping Unit. ;-)
barefootguru  2010-09-27 11:46
I'm with Kirk on this: iTunes does seem overloaded but how would you split it? e.g. Move books to a separate app and you'd have to launch two apps to sync. Separate syncing from playing music and you'd end up with two views of your music library.

Apple does seem very aware of this, removing lesser used options/features in every major release. Probably why we don't have both Genius and Ping.

At least being Carbon the dialogs are all old-school standard ones, not like the awful photo Info panel in iPhoto 8-)
How is it that books can be automatically synced, but iBooks is not a core app? It's an add-on. Do my Kindle books get synced by iTunes? Why not?
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 13:04
My guess is that iBooks being a download has two reasons: first, it's not available in every country, so this prevents Apple from making country-specific versions of the overall iOS package. Second, I wonder if there aren't anti-trust issues regarding bundling (like the Internet Explorer issue on Windows back in the day).

As for the Kindle, like all third-party apps, it stores its own files. It could provide file-sharing access, but my guess is that Amazon doesn't want to do that. Note that this means that you cannot add non-purchased books to the Kindle app, as you can to the Kindle device.
And if Amazon wanted to sync with iTunes, you believe that Apple would allow it to?

This all-in-one solution (iTunes) is an Apple-only game. That may be one reason to break it up into multiple tools. Or rebuild it as a framework that other vendors can plug into.
barefootguru  2010-09-27 13:47
I see allowing 3rd party access to iTunes as a separate issue. Whether it's one program or more Apple still decides who can share.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-27 13:52
As far as I know, any app can use the file sharing framework and allow users to add/transfer files. It's clunky - it's not ideal for, say, a lot of ebooks - but it's possible.
The size of the iTunes application is irrelevant because the iTunes store part of it is basically a web application. Type in into your browser and see how long it takes to load the site. Now click on the iTunes store icon in iTunes and see how long that takes. This is what is causing all of the complaints, I'm sure. They need to split up the program. If the USSR could do it, so can Apple.
barefootguru  2010-09-27 13:43
Tossing out comments about bloat and splitting the program is easy. Can you give an example of how you'd achieve this which wouldn't complicate things for ma & pa?
Gilles Le Pors  2010-09-27 14:36
I'm not sure it is bloat per se but one downside of the way feature have been added to a music program is that iTunes, as far as I know, has no idea what a director or an actor is. It will gladly tell me what the album of my TV series is! I don't think you need to be a power user to find that confusing.

I enjoyed reading your article nonetheless.
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2010-09-27 16:40
In many ways iTunes has become a part of the operating system by default since it is Required for interface between iOS and MacOS.
Brian S.  2010-09-27 17:38
Thanks for the article Kirk. A few comments:

(1) iTunes is a large app, there can be no doubt. My own shareware apps are focused and use small amounts of resources ( 8 MB Ram, 630K disk space ). Each type of app has its adherents.
(2) iTunes 10.0.1 and its predecessor leaks memory which is a sign the developers didn't take the time to run it through Instruments. This is not a sign of poor coding but illustrates how small but important things can be overlooked in such a large app.
(3) Parts of your description of ram usage are technically inaccurate although the conclusions are reasonable. What is requested by the app ( via memory allocation calls such as malloc() or requests to create an object ) is typically a predictable if not fixed size. Only a amateur/new programmer would allocate memory that is not needed. In the case of frameworks calls, the programmer is mostly at the mercy of the framework. Also, just because a user hides a feature does not necessarily reduce the ram footprint
I certainly like Kirk's approach of analyzing what people actually mean by "bloat". Like him, I've found the accusation is often largely vacuous. But there are two aspects of iTunes that I find a bit annoying or illogical:
1. Since there is already an application of the Mac for handling photos (iPhoto), I think I'd prefer that app to handle the syncing of photos.
2. The store browsing bit of iTunes is not very functional. For accounting reasons, I recently had to take my iTunes Store balance down to exactly zero, which meant some complicated math and looking at all the paid iPad apps for various price points. When I was on page 20 of the app list, I found a couple of apps that interested me. Since there's no tabbed browsing, I clicked on one of the apps to check it out and then went back to the list...and found I was back on page 1. Another problem is finding the full names of apps without clicking them. Do a search for "the elements", for example.
VicDiesel  2010-09-27 18:45
Bloated shmoated; it's just really badly coded. Probably because of a many year accumulation of cruft.

Data point 1. I just ditched a dual G5. It was able to play dozens of tracks in Logic in real time, but changing the star rating of a playing track could easily take a minute because of the spinning cursor.

Data point 2. I now have the i7 iMac. The music files are on a separate drive. And still iTunes will stop playback if a/ I switch which speakers it plays through 2/ I do any sort of editing on the file info.

Data point 3. I noticed that the processor on my laptop was going crazy. Turns out that the rental period for an tv episode was over and iTunes was popping up an alert for that, on a different Spaces desktop. Does that modal dialog have a spin loop behind it? Why on earth does it need one full core of my MBP?
Brian S.  2010-09-27 18:53
iTunes is NOT 64-bit. This tends to support( but not prove ) the cruft comment.
Jorge Hardfort  2010-09-27 21:24
It is not only the beauty, which lays in the eyes of the beholder it is everything else.
Said that, I have to mention that I am working in the computing field since over 40 years by now, have designed and build systems since 1968. I also was actively involved in a fairly large authorized Computing Service and Sales organization and served thousands of clients over the years. Now I am retired and still am involved in a very active Computer User Group with hundreds of members.
I believe I can give a pretty good judgment about what people expect from computers to do for them. I also believe that I can make some comments about these “bitchers and moaners” who criticize almost everything they believe to have the right to do. But be sure, over 90% of them just want to show off (Go get a life…).
Lets be earnest, if any of them –and there are a few, find something they may do not like, they find a way to circumvent the system and get it done anyhow.
In addition, 90% of these critics are mostly incompetent people, because if they would be so good –and have the right too, to criticize, they would be constructive and would help companies like Apple to make the product better. But again, most of them have no idea what is involved and how to, and so they only show off, on issues they have no understanding about.
However, keep in mind, Apple has proven over all these years that they know pretty well what customers want and that it is impossible to catering to everyone whatever they may like. Apple has a very good sense what people want or need. Mostly Apple is far ahead of all the other similar industries and its success is not build just on its name but mostly on its knowledge how to.
No one is perfect, and yes, there are some issues, which need to be polished up, but all over all any Apple product is especially far ahead of anything related too PC’s or Windows. Be clear, Windows is nothing else than a cheep and stripped down copy of the Apple OS. No wonder that it has so many problems.
Finally, speaking of “bloating”, take MS Office (any version) and show me any individual who uses all the options and gadgets included in it. I have not found anyone who uses MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) in any way to its full extend. Even the best computer wizard would by now (after several years working on features of the MS Office suite) have not mastered more than 60% of its abilities.
So, speaking of bloated, that is a program which is surely bloated and should be broken up into sections for users to buy Plug-Ins for what they really need and scratch the rest (at average 95%).
Criticism is fine as long as it is constructive but all these bitchers and moaners are at best not constructive at all and have no idea what or how to do what they criticize. As I said before, they should go out and get a life… or show that they can do a better job than Apple or anyone else in this matter.
Your article is very well balanced but by writing it, you have fallen for the comments of people who better should be ignored because they to often do not even know what they are talking about. And who want to be on their level?!
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-28 03:39
Microsoft actually tried the plug-in approach on Windows, with, I think, Office 2003. I don't know if they still do it, but when installing the software you could choose from a whole bunch of features that would be installed or not. If you needed features later that were not installed, you had to find your installation discs to use them.

In my limited experience, this was far more trouble than it was worth. Perhaps others who use Windows more have other thoughts about this, but I found it a big hassle, especially because the default installation did not include many of the things I needed.
All in all a surprisingly fair article in my opinion, considering that I am usually one of the first to call iTunes 'bloated'.

Still, I agree with lots of comments here that iTunes just tries to do too much. And I know, I can switch most of it off, but it's still a shame that I basically need iTunes for nearly all iPhone/iPad syncing - there are lots of companies which don't give out iPhones as business phones exactly because of that link.

And furthermore, a performance issue I'm surprised no one mentioned before: Considering that QT as well as VLC have no problems playing any HD video, while iTunes doesn't even play a normal music video without nearly 100% CPU load, buffering, pauses etc., I have to say iTunes is bloated. Or at least not the right tool for the job, although it likes to be it.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-28 08:30
I believe Apple has a special version of iTunes for enterprise customers who can't allow employees access to the iTunes Store and such, but I don't know the details offhand.
Robert Peterson  2010-09-28 09:12
I have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. It's the app that I use to get music onto several iPods as well as my iPhone. My wife also uses it in this way. It's a shame that we can't have a single library with shared access to all of our music. At this point the library is on an eternal drive with over 55k tracks.

I also find the Genius lacking when facing obscure tunes. It seems that if Apple doesn't sell the track, it doesn't exist.

My suggestion is to recode it in Cocoa for Leopard (or better). I recently moved up to a Core i7 iMac from a G5 since Creative Suite 5 was Intel-only. Surely Apple could mandate the same. It would simplify the app, by not having to serve the PPC Macs that are nearly six years-old. It's inevitable as the other software companies abandon PPC support. I realize that not everyone can afford an upgrade, but at some point supporting the old Macs becomes too much of a hassle.
Turner Bain  2010-09-28 11:40
This is somewhat related to this article, as I couldn't find any way to pose these questions before. I would appreciate yet more bloat by having iTunes being able to detect duplicate ALBUMS (not songs) when I reload backups of former libraries to make reintegration less labor intensive. The other addition I could use is by being able to designate an album/song under several genres, for example, Billie Holliday's rendition of 'My Funny Valentine' under my own genre of JAZZ vocalists and JAZZ ensembles, or JAZZ big band, depending on the recording.

I would like to be able to remove some of the features, such as the star rating, as it uses valuable screen space and I think it is silly. The new layout is still clunky, but they're getting there.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-28 12:28
Multiple genres would be great.

I don't understand about removing star ratings - do you mean the ratings column? Press Command-J and uncheck it.
Alaska Jack  2010-09-29 17:10
Kirk -

Good article. I like iTunes; I wouldn't exactly say my frustration with it is due to all the features; it's more because Apple keeps adding *marginal* features while not improving the core business of managing and listening to music.

To expand on Turner Bain's comment: iTunes should completely ditch that horrid "genres" paradigm and just let us *tag* songs. The example I always go back to is the Ry Cooder tune "Feelin' Bad Blues" from the "Crossroads" soundtrack. I want to be able to tag it: "blues delta slide instrumental mellow soundtrack 1986". Maybe with an automatic BPM count. Then use that info to develop some awesome, specific playlists.

After that, Apple can do what they want. I can't imaging anything else I'd actually want the program to do.

- AJ
I really think photo syncing should be part of iPhoto. That's where I arrange photos into albums, edit them, etc. I should be able to push a button to sync them to my device.

Instead I have to load iTunes which isn't a photo management tool. Even worse, if there's not some enormous amount of free space on the device it won't sync them anyway and I'm forced to delete and then re-load gigs of music or video.

I find it annoying that I can't separate music that's usually classified by composer from that usually classified by performer and have different view settings for each. I'd use multiple libraries, one for classical and one for everything else, if iTunes wasn't so stupid about handling them.

Speaking of stupid what's with storing music files in one central place, but storing the album art and index elsewhere on a per user basis?

I've spent hours loading album art into iTunes, but I'm the only user who can see it.

Finally, the Finder can play FLAC so why can't iTunes?
Kirk McElhearn  2010-09-28 14:16
So you need to launch iTunes _and_ iPhoto to sync photos to your iPod?

The Finder can only play FLACs if you've installed something (is it Perian?). FLAC isn't supported by QuickTime.
While I'm frustrated that iTunes isn't snappier, I largely agree on all points but this one:

"While iTunes Store pages may be slow to load at times, this is more because they are graphically complex and require a certain amount of time to be downloaded and rendered, just like any other Web page."

While the WebKit constructs might be the same, the iTunes Store does not load as quickly as other Web sites with complex JavaScript and high-resolution graphics (e.g.,, Whether this is an infrastructure or programming or WebKit configuration issue, I don't know, but the iTunes Store is slow and always has been.
Kirk McElhearn  2010-10-04 00:56
The iTunes Store is highly graphic - not only static graphics, but those bits that you can horizontally scroll. I'm not saying it shouldn't load faster, I'm just saying that it's a pretty complex "page" to load.
The reason I call iTunes bloated is because it becomes completely unresponsive whenever it is downloading podcasts or music, though I suppose some less polite invectives might be more accurate. I should not have to wait 10 to 20 seconds after every mouse click to have the program respond. This appears to be a common problem for people with large libraries and none of the solutions I have seen on line solve the problem. Having to use iTunes destroys what could be a wonderful experience using Apple products and I am surprised that they are unwilling to give the user interface a higher priority than whatever background processes it is running. That is just poor programming!
Roger D. Parish  2010-10-02 15:35
What sort of Mac are you running on? I run iTunes on a MacBook Core2Duo 2.4GHz and Snow Leopard and it doesn't do what you describe. On my old G4 Sawtooth running OS X 10.4.11, however, I experience just what you describe.
Brian S  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2010-10-01 08:50
As other posters have noted, iTunes has expanded to become 'iMedia'. This clearly increases the processing, code complexity, and more importantly, functional complexity for the end user. IMO, it is bloated. A rewrite is overdue ( see my last post noting it is NOT 64-bit ). A 64-bit rewrite is overdue and a segregation of the media options ( i.e. keep iTunes for songs and put videos etc. in another app ) is desirable but probably less likely due to Apple's strategic goals to control the market on both Mac/Windows platform
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-01 09:27
So let's see, we would then have:

* iTunes for managing songs (and podcasts and audiobooks?)
* iPhoto for managing photos
* iVideos for managing videos
* iBooks (Mac version) for managing ebooks and PDFs
* iStore for browsing and purchasing all of the above
* iSync for managing syncing of all of the above

All of the above would be installed as part of Mac OS X, of course, so there's no disk space savings. You wouldn't have to run iVideos if you didn't watch videos, for instance, but that seems similar to turning off TV Shows and Movies in iTunes now.

And if you did purchase items from the iTunes Store on an iOS device, when you connected it to your Mac, you could end up with all four storage apps launching, much as iPhoto does now when you take pictures.

Setting up syncing, where you might need to tweak what's in a playlist that you want to sync, could easily require jumping back and forth between multiple apps too.

I just can't see such a split happening.
Surely going this way leads to the conclusion that iStore & iSync should be services you can access from other apps - just like open/save dialogs are. (Yes, nightmares of Adobe Bridge might occur to some! ;-))

We all ready have iPhoto, iTunes (A/V organsing, audio playing), Quicktime Player (as iTunes doesn't work so well), iCal, etc. There are lots of apps.

The complaint against iTunes is it does a lot of work for these other apps.

Why do I organise addresses into groups in Address Book but decide which of those groups to sync in iTunes? Sounds like I'm using two apps.

Yet to organise music into groups and decide which to sync I do in one app!

This is logical?

Let's try Kirk's argument another way: remove everything from iTunes except music/video organise and play. Put all the removed features into Address Book (it feels lonely, it doesn't get used as often). Now the argument in the article holds the same - just replace "iTunes" with "Address Book"
Kirk McElhearn  2010-10-04 00:53
iTunes was the first program used to sync to iOS devices (called iPods back then), and it only synced music. If it had been Address Book, and the first things synced were contacts, perhaps things would have gone that way.
The whole argument in the article that keeping syncing/purchasing/renting/iOS updates together in one iTunes app is best seems to be based on a flawed assumption: the logical place for all these features is a music player...

Nowhere do I see a suggestion that photo acquiring from a camera, organising & editing should be in iTunes, why not? Photo sync is. If you want to organise you photos and then sync certain ones you need to use two apps!! How confusing!

Surely the article's argument would make more sense if it either proposed (a) iKitchenSink - edits photos and cooks your tea! or (b) iPlayer - the audio/video play & organise features of iTunes. The current argument doesn't make sense unless you add photo organising & editing to iTunes.

(and of course iPhoto was just an example, you need to add the features of all the other apps iTunes does sync/purchase/etc. for to iTunes to make the "one app is better" argument
Kirk McElhearn  2010-10-04 00:54
Personally, I think it's quite logical. There was a photo app (iPhoto) before photos were synced to iTunes. So adding the syncing via iTunes naturally depends on that app, which already had its own organizational features.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-10-04 05:40
Also, I imagine that many people have thousands of songs and tens of thousands of photos, whereas no other data type that's involved with syncing is present in such quantities.
More photos than music? Then shouldn't sync be in iPhoto...

Let's not forget Sharing. iTunes has sharing control, you decide which playlists to share. Along comes iPhoto and adds sharing as well, you decide which albums to share... holy duplication batman what dastardly scheme is this! Let's kick sharing out of iPhoto, we've iTunes for that!

Kirk McElhearn  2010-10-05 10:18
Well, you're talking about sharing from one copy of an application to another copy of the same application. I don't see the issue.
I see your point.

iCal events on the Mac are shared with the music player on my iPhone, while of course iPhoto's photos go to the calendar on the iPhone. I should have remembered that!

Kirk McElhearn  2010-10-05 10:17
I actually have far more music than photos, but I'm probably an exception.
Tony the Tech  2010-10-08 18:39
I've just recently listened to this podcast and I was compelled to offer my two cents. I would like to see iTunes split up, but not in ways I've seen suggested here and elsewhere.
There should be a media management back-end and server that downloads podcasts, streams media, syncs to other macs (or perhaps a central repository). This component should be capable of running headless, and should be shared by multiple users on a machine.
The other part is the GUI with all the wonderful stuff you see in iTunes today. It doesn't make sense to have to log-in and fire up this GUI in order to stream media to your apple-tv.
Doug Grinbergs  2010-10-11 16:48
The iTunes app is getting to be a bit too much. Wondering if they could rearchitect functionality to separate iTunes Player and iMedia Sync (or iSync?) apps.
Your opinion is certainly biased based on the hardware your running on. Windows users suffer dramatically with iTunes terrible performance issues, even on modern hardware. There are far more windows users of iTunes than Mac users and for them, it is practically unusable, easily qualifing it with the bloatware tag. Does it have features I don't care about? Yes. Do those features cause performance problems? Yes. Bloated. It's as simple as that.
I do agree they don't need to be separate apps and that its about more than music, but the end result is that its a terrible music player.
Quite honestly, the worst piece of software I use on a daily basis.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-04-23 09:11
Kirk has revisited this topic, and updated this article, on his blog. Read it at: