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Why isn't the Mac App Store part of iTunes?


See this? It's a standard iTunes link. Thing is though, that iTunes link doesn't direct to iTunes. It goes to the new Mac App store. Do you know why?

First, there's the obvious reason: the Mac App Store isn't part of the standard iTunes suite because there's no point in providing its features to Windows users. Here's the less obvious, going out on a limb, thinking-about-this-in-too-much-detail reason. Although the App Store for Macintosh is a whole separate application, in its secret behind-the-scenes-superhero-identity, it's basically just an iTunes browser.

When you look at App Store, the application, there's really not much there there. There's no preferences, no application management (which wouldn't make a lot of sense, as you have Finder sitting right there behind the app, whose job it is to do exactly that), and not much of anything else other than its core feature: browsing and searching for apps, and purchasing them.

That's not all too surprising because iTunes, in both its standard and Mac App Store forms, is mostly a web browser. These applications request HTML and XML data from Apple servers, display that data, and provide ways to offer secure transactions and data transfer to and from that site. In that sense, iTunes isn't really that different from Amazon's retail website, and even Amazon offers you a little standalone application for doing downloads for its MP3 purchasing service. iTunes and Mac App Store offer similar retail services.

It's not as if the Mac App Store is revolutionary stuff. We've seen lighter non-iTunes clients for this already, even if it hasn't looked that way. The iBooks store is very similar to the Mac App Store in being an iTunes browser with transactions. All the data you see, all the listings, are changed and updated live from Apple's end.

All the client has to do is allow browsing, purchases, and downloads. The new web pages you can visit on Safari do much the same, albeit without the option of buying anything directly. Instead, you're redirected to a standalone client application on your computer.

iTunes has, over time, become a bloated application trying to do too many things with too little focus on its core raison d'etre -- organizing and playing back your media library, and synchronizing content to your playback devices. These days, you can also go shopping, manage your application libraries, interact with your social network -- quite frankly, iTunes is showing the strain.

What the new App Store application shows is that Apple has the option of restructuring iTunes into separate stores and applications that make more sense. The simple technology underlying the store can easily be spun off into new browsers, with task-oriented management features added in that make sense for that purpose.

iBooks for Mac and Windows, App Store for Mac, iOS Device manager, and so forth could theoretically become standalone solutions. I have no doubt that Apple can develop the frameworks and libraries that would do so without limiting users' abilities to access and manage their media. It might be a hard sell on Windows, though, to promote an iTunes breakdown of services into too many new apps.

There is also a true iTunes interconnectedness problem when it comes to iOS devices. They feed off of music, books, movies, and so forth. Having to go to five applications to manage each of these items would quickly become tedious. And that's why I personally feel that iTunes' core services need to be integrated directly into the operating system rather than being presented as standalone applications. Again, that's a big problem for Windows users, but it's a natural progression for OS X.

If Apple is going where I think it should be going, we'd be seeing devices and device management move directly into Finder in Mac OS X Lion. If so, each store could live on its own, decoupled from the ungraceful giant we currently know as iTunes. We'd see stores that are more single-purpose, with library features that are better tuned to the data they're managing. Devices could then opt into a higher level of playlist-style choices, based on the individual libraries and elements they wanted to subscribe to.

This isn't a certainty, of course, but what we're seeing today with the Mac App Store standalone application surely is suggestive.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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