Stretching the iTunes concept

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Movies, Music, Technology
October 17th, 2005 • 3:59 pm

I don’t know what Apple’s position is on this particular issue at this stage, but it seems to me that there is a slight problem with the word “iTunes” itself—and this problem is only going to get bigger.

There was a time when, following the success of the original iMac in 1998, Apple was coming up with all kinds of new product names starting with “i”: iBook, iChat, iCal, iMovie, iDVD, etc. Steve Jobs himself was even described, at some point, as the “iC.E.O.” of Apple, due to his somewhat unclear status.

In essence, the “i” in “iMac” was meant to denote both the fact that the iMac was an Internet-ready machine and the fact that it was a personal computer with a cute, consumer-friendly personality that made the end user (the “i” in “I am the user”) feel in control of the machine, and not the opposite. This same concept could easily be extended to other types of products, and Apple certainly didn’t refrain from doing so.

The company has continued to use the “i” prefix since then (thankfully more sparingly), most often in association with its consumer-level products. Obviously, both iTunes and the iPod have become flagship products for the company, to the point that Apple is now the one and only company that makes consumer-friendly products whose names start with “i.”

The “iPod” name turns out to have been a good choice. It is unique, simple and yet flexible enough to allow Apple to expand the feature set of the product it describes without stretching the concept.

With “iTunes,” on the other hand, things are not as simple. The use of the word “tune” in the name of the product clearly associates it with music. But now that it can be used to purchase and play not only music videos, but also movie trailers and animated shorts and TV shows, where is the connection with “music”?

As far as I know, there is nothing particularly tuneful about an episode of Desperate Housewives or a Pixar animated short.

Right now, these are still peripheral aspects of the iTunes experience. iTunes is still primarily a tool to play and organize music. But what if this downloadable TV thing catches on? What if the iTunes Music Store becomes a store that sells thousands of TV shows and movies in addition to digital music downloads? Will it still make sense for Apple to call it the “iTunes Music Store”?

It suppose it would be fairly easy to switch to “iTunes Media Store” at some point in the future. It wouldn’t be too disruptive, especially since many people confuse the iTunes Music Store with iTunes itself and use “iTunes” by itself to refer to both the software and the on-line store.

But getting rid of the “tune” in “iTunes” would be a different matter altogether. It cannot be easy to change the name (and branding) of a product, especially when its popularity is soaring and it has already firmly established itself in the public consciousness.

Yet if this downloadable TV shows thing catches, something is going to have to change. The software itself, for example, will have to lose its heavy focus on music and start organizing things differently. After all, what is the “Artist” or the “Genre” or the “BPM” for an episode of Desperate Housewives?

iTunes would have to become, in other words, a much fancier version of… QuickTime Player. It would be rather ironic, wouldn’t it?

Then again, maybe I am just seeing a problem where there is none. It is quite possible, after all, that, like many other words before it, “iTunes” will gradually lose its association with the thing that part of it denotes, i.e. “tunes” (music). Maybe it already has…

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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