Apple fans can finally stop holding their breath. At long last, iTunes 11 is here.
The latest update to the software that is now the world's largest music retail store has been hotly anticipated since it was announced way back in September. It was supposed to land in October, but the company delayed it, citing some engineering issues that still needed to be fixed.
Finally, though, it's here. But while many Apple fans will rush to download it, I have to confess that I'm not one of them.
It's not that I have anything against Apple products. We now have a MacBook, iPad, two iPhones, iPod Touch and Apple TV in our house.
But in the last year I've almost completely stopped using iTunes. That was a big surprise to me. Getting an iPod and then iTunes in 2006 completely changed the way I bought and listened to music.
However, the reason for me is simple: Spotify. I've become a big fan of the subscription music service. But beyond that, it's really about the rise of the cloud and other media streaming services. All these have again changed the way I purchase and listen to media. By comparison, iTunes has begun to feel like yesterday's model.
I did sign up for iTunes Match, the service that allows you to sync the songs you own in the cloud and access them across a wide range of devices. It's OK, but frankly, I've found it un-intuitive to use and cumbersome to manage.
But more than that, the notion of having to own and store songs, or other kinds of media, is no longer appealing. I have a couple of hard drives filled with songs, podcasts and movies I downloaded. With Spotify, I just punch up the songs I want and stream them, without having to worry about filling up a hard drive. And the $9.95 a month I pay feels entirely reasonable.
Yes, you have to worry about wireless network connections, but that's true with iTunes Match.
In addition, the iTunes software has become huge, and can take several minutes to launch on my home PC. Spotify's client pops right open.
The same thing applies to movies. When we watch movies, whether it's on the iPad or Apple TV, we generally stream them from Netflix or Hulu Plus. Yes, the selection is not perfect. But we supplement it with a couple of Netflix DVDs by mail each month, and that still gives us just about everything we want.
Bottom line: I don't have to keep track of where all this stuff is. I don't want to buy a whole album or movie when I might only listen to it once or twice. With streaming and subscription services, it's just there when and how I want it.
With iTunes 11, Apple has attempted to close the gap with streaming services. Features of iCloud are not built in. When you purchase a movie or song, it's now available on all your devices. And if you start watching a movie on one device, you can start from the same place on another device. Of course, with Netflix, you've been able to do this already.
To be clear, Apple is probably not in any kind of crisis over this yet. But it's going to have manage this transition to more cloud-based services carefully. As more people get their hands on iTunes 11, we'll see whether they've struck the right balance for now.