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November 21st 2011 8:35 pm

iTunes: What's in a name?

My daughter recently acquired a new iPod touch. As she was enthusiastically going through the process of adding music, videos, apps, and photos to her device, she asked me a question that has lingered with me and one which I think merits sharing with my gdgt community.

Her question was "How come there are two different stores on my iPod?" She pointed out that while on the computer all available content can be downloaded from the iTunes application, on iOS she has to go to the iTunes application for music, podcasts, and videos, but to the separate App Store for applications.

This got me thinking about the relevance of the name "iTunes" at this time, given that the content of the iTunes store has expanded well beyond music. If iTunes is the brand that encompasses the entirety of Apple's downloadable content, why differentiate between the App Store and iTunes on mobile devices? The term Appstore has now become even more muddled given that on the Mac there is a separate Appstore, different from iOS apps, that sells OS X applications. Why the divisions among stores? Why not just have "one store to rule them all?"

My hypothesis is that Apple has realized that the iTunes brand has stretched to the limits of what it means, and is having some difficulty taking the next step. Such a powerful brand identity as that established by iTunes is not something you want to transform hastily. Perhaps we have to take a look at some of the competitors to see what direction Apple should take in the future.

Android Market was smart in that they did not identify the brand name of their store with a particular type of product. Granted, iTunes, having come first, emerged at a time where the idea of downloadable music seemed preposterous, never mind books, movies, and applications; Google and Android had the luxury to develop their market after many years of iTunes' dominant presence. Under the Android Market umbrella, they have steadily been developing sub-stores for the different types of media they sell. Most recently they added the "music" category to an expanding list that previously included apps, movies, and books. With the exception of the Chrome Store, which seems to be relegated, along with the Chrome OS, into bastard-child territory, the Android Market provides a very unified experience.

By entering into the tablet space with their latest product, Amazon too has managed to make their brand name, Amazon, not be uniquely tied to one type of product. The Kindle Fire is their first device allowing consumers to purchase all consumable media through one device, regardless of the product. It is also a portal for tangible consumer goods that can be purchased through Amazon and shipped for free through their Prime program. In the Android world Amazon supports three separate ecosystems for media consumption: Amazon Music, Amazon Appstore, and Kindle Books. However, the unified experience being given to consumers in the Kindle Fire may be a harbinger of what is to come to Android in the future.

Where does this leave Apple? Is it time to retire the iTunes name and consolidate its offerings under one moniker? Or is this fragmented and inconsistent approach the way to continue?

Is the iTunes name too valuable to let go? Or is this the dawn of the iStore?

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8 replies

Hmmmm. Never even thought of that before. Your rationale seems sound to me. I think it is a question of when - and not if - the iTunes brand is retired for something more inclusive. But then I've no data to support the notion one way or the other. It **seems** straightforward, but I wonder how strong the emotional connection is to the iTunes brand. And emotion is at least as important as logic when it comes to this sort of thing. And this is why tech geeks don't get to name products . . . or shouldn't be allowed to do so! Anyone in marketing/advertising care to weigh in?
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I think it's super confusing that on a computer, "iTunes" is everything, while on an iOS device it just means the store. I keep telling people to open iTunes when I really mean to open the "Music" application.

I do think some consolidation would help; the mobile experience really should match the desktop experience.
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I rather like the idea of the iStore, but Apple could take things a step further and turn iTunes into an Apple Store, encompassing software, hardware - everything. Would be cool, no? The whole shabang would of course include apps for Macbooks, iMacs and Mac Pros, as well as accessories and such.
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Apple has never been afraid to kill things in their prime before once they decide to switch gears, and I doubt they will fear killing iTunes when its time comes. It seems like lack of vision and foresight, but that would be out of character for Apple, so I am also confused as to why they linger in this limbo state. I suppose they are merely riding out the fumes of inertia while they finish up some higher priority projects. Surely, they must know that this situation needs to be resolved before they can even think of entering the tv market. Who, other than existing Apple users wants to buy "The new Apple TV with iTunes"? If anyone at Apple is reading this and thinking, "oh yeah, why didn't we think of that?," then you should really offer me a job in your marketing department.
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Yeah, it is a really confusing set of labels to anyone who hasn't been around for the whole evolution of the iPod and iTunes (as a music player) into the iPhone/iPod/iPad and iTunes (as a music/movie player and music/movie/app store).
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Pull the App Store out of iTunes?
It appears that Apple is gradually moving away from the iTunes does everything mentality. Notice that in Lion, it has its own App Store application. They could have easily stuck this functionality into iTunes, but didn't. Notice too, that by making incremental changes, they are in fact slowly training the user with new functionality. Will they ever take the App Store out of iTunes? Perhaps, but Apple will have to create a Windows App Store application as well. They will also have to resolve how the mobile applications are backed up and managed as well. Would that still be an iTunes function or should you run a separate application to manage the apps on your mobile devices?
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Interesting idea. On the OS X side, would you incorporate the mobile app store (currently in iTunes) with the OS X App store? And would OS X Apps be included on the mobile version of the App Store? I think the issue of using the computer being synced to as a repository of content is what starts to cause problems when you try to make these experiences be the same in all devices. Perhaps its more of a convergence of devices issue; as mobile computing and desktop computing become more alike, the ways to access content for these devices will also converge.
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My personal preference is to keep everything related to my mobile and non mobile devices in separate applications. However, I can also see having separate applications for music, video, and applications regardless of device type. Based on what apple has done on their iOS devices, i suspect they will eventually split iTunes into two or three applications. It all comes down to execution and experience. Also, whether you sync to your computer locally or to the cloud should be essentially transparent to the user.
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