Product Management and iTunes 11

Green Goblin

Just to start – this isn’t another post written just to whinge about iTunes. It’s a post written to whinge about iTunes and its relevance to product management.

Is the following situation familiar? Product manager or marketer wants to add new features, use-cases and options to their product, based on customer feedback, that they think will attract new customers or at least keep existing customers happy. Engineers have a different point of view – “We’ve got to go back to formula and do a re-write”. Now I think the Green Goblin’s reaction here, is a little over the top, but many product managers are filled with dread at the prospect of an engine re-write, or at least any sort of work that doesn’t expose new value to customers. I mean, what’s the point of re-writing the application to support some new framework or methodology, if it’s not going to make any difference to customers?

And then you get iTunes 11. As outlined here, and I’m sure, in a story familiar to all iTunes sufferers, Apple have done another UI overhaul, whilst leaving the core engine seemingly untouched. Sure it looks cleaner and prettier now:

iTunes 11

But – I don’t know if Apple have tried to put the product “on a diet”, as the review says, but it still has the massive imprint on memory that the previous versions have all had.

This means that as soon as you try to do anything, for example, plugging in an iPhone and trying to select files to copy over, every click takes, what seems like, an eternity.

As I say, this isn’t just a straightforward moan about iTunes – I’m sure there’s enough of that around on the web. The point I wanted to make was regarding product management. As I mention above, normally I’m firmly on the side of “Please leave the engine re-write alone: customers don’t care what framework it runs on, they want the fancy new features”. But I think this is only the case up to a point – iTunes is an example of a product where I actually take the complete opposite point of view. There aren’t any more features they could add to the product (it’s basically a way of transferring music from my C: drive to my iPhone) and I’ve no interest in a pretty re-design.

However, the fact that the thing is so achingly slow to respond and so painful to use, is one of the primary reasons why I’m looking to dump my Apple devices and move back to an Android phone. Of course it’s not just iTunes, it’s iOS 6 too – another example of bloatware where, actually, what the users need is a re-write to make the thing faster, not just look prettier (and actually, I preferred the look and feel of iOS 5).

But my point is that, for certain products, the best thing a vendor can do to get more sales, or retain existing customers IS the engine re-write. I think you need a ground swell of problems for this to be the case Рand I suspect the work to re-write iTunes is not an insignificant piece of work Рbut I do think it would be the best thing that a product manager at Apple could do.

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