iTunes: tuning to the darkside of Perpetual Beta

Gone are the days that you need a floppy disk or a CD to update your system software or applications on your computer. Since the dawn of Web 2.0, software updates, patches, modules and support have become convenient as a click of a button. Web 2.0 has allowed companies to significantly reduce time consumption in developing major new software releases, extensive testing with beta periods and shift away from the tradition software release cycles. There is a greater interest in “Perpetual Beta” where fewer features/updates are developed with more frequent releases using the web as a platform. Most advanced and popular web application utilize the benefits of the state of perpetual beta for a wide variety of reasons. In which they:

  • Aim to reduce risks and defects of the application
  • Improve relationships with the users or the customers
  • Provide real time support and information
  • Allow quicker reactions to market changes and demands
  • Incrementally create new applications
  • and develop better technologies for continuous service improvements

However, the downside of having frequent updates, patches and constant beta features are the danger of excessiveness and application overload. Similarly, the music application giant iTunes has fallen into its own success. Since its inception in 2001, iTunes had adapted the function of beta development more accurately as it made file management a core competency in the application. It created new products such as Genius, Ping, Match and iTunes U that improve the efficiency and convenience of the application.

But with aggressive update releases, iTunes has reached its bloatware status. iTunes architecture has become unnecessarily complex with additional features and inconsistent layers of patches, that its application management interface is unstable and inefficient. According to Jason Snell,

Apple has packed almost everything involving media (and app) management, purchase, and playback into this single app. It’s bursting at the seams. It’s a complete mess. And it’s time for an overhaul.

With every beta update, iTunes has focused on improving on its features and services rather than structure and architecture. Additionally, these frequent updates force the users to download and re-install the entire program bundled with updates for other software, rather than releasing patches. Thus, turning iTunes into an operating system with a messy file management and a clogged hard drive.

iTunes has reached the point where its a agglomeration of features and functionality with repetitive updates, development and fixes. If iTunes is to continue with frequent release cycles, it should incorporate a discipline built, deployment and support processes.



12 comments on “iTunes: tuning to the darkside of Perpetual Beta

  1. Great post as usual. However, since you mentioned that iTunes is currently defined as Bloatware (which is entirely correct mind you) I’d like to point out certain things. Currently, iTunes is used more to interact with Apple mobile devices more then as a portal to play/buy music. There is a surprisingly large amount of people that simply do not know of features like, Genius, Ping and especially Match. More so, for iTunes to work on a Windows OS it needs to install several other software components:

    iTunes – The Program itself
    QuickTime – To play video’s through iTunes
    Apple Software Update – To actively alert users to update and patch their software
    Apple Mobile Device Support – To allow users to do things such as sync music and apps with a Windows computer
    Bonjour – This is a form of networking that Apple uses however I do not know what it does for Windows users
    Apple Application Support (iTunes 9 or later) – This includes features for the hearing impaired for example.

    The reality is the above programs is what iTunes so bloated on a Windows Machine (as opposed to the constant and annoying updates). The great news is unlike every other Apple Update you do not have to pay for these ones. (http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/522331_3825193552238_1349740513_3563309_1405327917_n.jpg)

    • Good point there Colin. But I think the main concern or the irritable issue with these updates are that, the whole program need to be re-installed rather than just installing these updates as patches or something similar. If that make sense?

  2. I really liked this blog too. As a marketing student, it’s interesting to think about how many benefits almost instant updates can have for massive corporations! This means that marketers can essentially instantly market and upgrade their product or service without any lag time. That’s definitely not a side of software updates that I thought about until I read this blog!

    • Thanks Lisa, Yeah thats a great benefit for applications or services to advertise themselves in real time. It would be a great aid in promotions that need to be completed in a short time or with set parameters.

  3. Interesting to hear your views on iTunes, I was going to discuss it but felt that it was restricted to Apple and I personally was looking for an application that was across all platforms – another O’Reily design feature 😉 I have written about Spotify which is a free online music app, please take a look and feel free to comment. http://nicoleeastgate.wordpress.com/

    • Yeah, it’s true that iTune’s is quite specific to Apple and Apple has a quite a monopoly over the music store market. However I thought iTunes was a good example for the perpetual beta pattern as it has equally positive and negative uses of beta state.

  4. Interesting blog post on iTunes, iTunes is great when you are locked into the apple ecosystem, which I have since my first iPod 3rd gen 20GB purchase back in late 2004. The only thing I hate about their implementation of a Perpetual Beta for their new “Revolutionary” integrated services and features, is that the user has to sign-up as apple developer joining their iOS & Mac Dev Center’s which are two separate yearly fees, which then give a developer access to their beta iOS and OSX software builds and online beta services e.g iCloud before it was released to the public. Everything released through apple update to mac user is deemed Gold Master or stable for public use, which is the next phase after beta testing.


    • Thanks for the comment Dave. I didn’t know that there were two different yearly fees for standard and developer access, mainly because im a windows user. I guess they are trying to maximise their financial gains through the perpetual beta state, much like any other technoloy firm that would try to gain the maximum profit from a product.

  5. Thanks for the post Hasitha!

    I really like iTunes and using its cool features but was not aware of these issues that you outlined. As a user myself it wasn’t as noticeable to me until you pointed it out. Therefore, I think that iTunes will still go strong even without some balance in their software.

    Don’t get me wrong, this is something they need to work on. However, I don’t feel that this is a massive issue for the users (like myself) who just click ‘Update’ thoughtlessly and continue navigating the interface with no dramas. With the help of feedback and user reviews/blog posts (such as this one), it does help the industry grow to expand to the publics needs and expectations 🙂

    • Yeah i guess. It’s one of those subconscious things that you ‘click install and let it be’, while you are doing something else. I think thats why so far iTunes being able to fly under the radar, without catching too much annoying attention from the users. But for how long would they be able to keep doing this?

      But as you said, on the other hand it does help the software and the industry to grow exponentially with user input. So it is pretty give a negative perspective on the perpetual beta process iTunes is using!

  6. Nice post Hasitha, I’m a massive apple fan so I found your blog really interesting with respect to perpetual beta. I had never thought of the negative aspects that constant updates would incur to the users, and I must admit it does get annoying having to approve every update iTunes develops. However, I guess in saying that – they’re only trying to improve the software I already love so much, definitely a small price to pay!


    • Yeah thats true Caitlin, among all those constant updates their main focus is to improve the software for users. But I think they should consider, ‘where would user draw the line’ of saying no to so many updates and installs; and decides to switch to another software. So I guess iTunes is walking on a fine line (at least on some users mind).

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