When are iTunes and the iPhone going to grow up?

I believe Palm and Windows Mobile devices have had the ability to install applications over bluetooth for at least 10 years, probably longer. My history with S60 is shorter, but there has never been a time when I was unable to install something over basic bluetooth or USB. Apple has severly limited (as in removed) this functionality and as anyone who’s used the iPhone can attest, you can’t use bluetooth access to send and receive files or any data for that matter. Rememeber beaming? Palm invented (in 1992 I believe) that nice feature to make it simple to send your business card to another user … As an interesting footnote in gadget history, the Palm also cost $299 when it was released.

iTunes has a lot going for it. It’s the dominant media management software thanks to the market dominance of the ipod. With the iPhone Apple delivered what is probably the strongest sync solution of any mobile phone. Other’s have similar desktop solutions, but the simplicity with which iTunes is able to handle all your data is stellar.

So what could possibly be changed?

The strength of iTunes desktop sync is actually its biggest weakness. While you can have up to 5 computers authorized to play your media content from the iTunes store, you can only sync your device with a single machine. What’s the point of this silly limit. It’s hardly difficult to move files around via the broader internet if you like and maintaining basic playcounts and similarities within a library are not that hard. Though with iTunes you essentially have to hack the system in order to even manually copy files to a mobile device – forget sync. Media is an easy target as that effects more people and the limit is probably driven out of a paranoid legal department wanting to appease the ignorant MPAA and RIAA.

What I don’t understand though is why other parts of the iTunes sync system are simply blocked because your iPhone is already associated with another computer. I have 5 systems in my iTunes world. There are actually more if you count the additional OS installs I’ve done on the netbook, but regardless I have 5 computers authorized to play content. I’d actually like to sync some data on 3 of the 5 and this is impossible if you play by the rules.

With the current restriction, I am unable to install or backup anything outside of my main desktop, period. In my considerable experience with other mobile platforms (years of Palm and S60 devices) this rule has never applied. Going back to my early palm days I used to use the device as the actual conduit between machines to maintain the same data in multiple (work and personal) systems. With S60 my plan evolved a bit thanks to the evolution of server sync. Today the bulk of my PIM data comes through exchange but with the iPhone I am also syncing personal data through my home config which includes multiple iCal calendars.

You get the point, there’s a mix … There is however no mix of where my device data can reside. Apple has decided that for me based on where I first did my sync. I purchased the iPhone 3G S on my way to work last week and because I wanted to have some media on it for the commute home, I did a sync (and backup) with my work pc. When I later connected the iPhone to my home computer, I received the following warning:

itunes bs

As you can see, you will actually LOSE the data that’s on your device in exchange for the right to sync with another one of YOUR authorized systems. WTF? It’s my data yet I have no control over how I use it? Right … I’m currently beta testing Pocket Universe (as noted in my previous post). The only way to install a beta app is via iTunes … and as you can probably guess at this point ONLY the main iTunes. If you want to install from a different machine, iTunes will actuall ERASE the apps you have on your device in exchange for what’s on the desktop. Um, NO! How about this … since iTunes is the sole conduit for applications do a damn backup and since you know there won’t be any surprises with where things have come from – applications and downloads are even all connected to your apple ID which of course drives the iTunes ecosystem.

I’m used to being in control of my data – how I access it, where I back it up and when and where I want to change it. When is Steve going to allow the iProduct to actually be myProduct?

17 Replies to “When are iTunes and the iPhone going to grow up?”

  1. yeah. maybe the whole liver transplant thing wasn't such a good idea for us customers..

  2. Great article, but again, you are coming from the POV of a power user. For many of us, we just want something simple that simply works. The popularity of the Apple App store is testament to this.

    Also, you can install and remove apps.. download movies and music and podcast over WiFi… all without syncing to the desktop. There are also apps that allow you to transfer files to and from the iPhone and your PC/Mac… like AirSharing, MightyDocs, MediaShare, iStorage, etc. That is the power of the App store. More file transfer iPhone apps: http://bit.ly/9tLih

  3. haha… and we love you for it. I get better tech coverage and a better tech perspective from simply following you than I do the “formal” media outlets 🙂

  4. There's no question that Jonathan is a power user, but why is syncing to multiple computers considered being a power user? Most people don't carry the multiple devices around like Jonathan, so they tend to have one phone that is used for both work and personal.

    But they plug that phone into both their work and personal/home computers; wouldn't they expect iTunes to “just work” on both of them rather than this quirky setup?

    The popularity of the appstore is as much a testament to its being the only game in town as it is to the simplicity of use.

  5. The iPhone app store certainly is not the only game in town. When I had my Moto Q, there were two app stores that I used to get apps for that device (Handango and I can't remember the other). Both those stores and that device had every opportunity that the iPhone had to become popular. They even had Motorola and Microsoft behind them to throw money at marketing the thing. And this was years and years ago. I had a Treo, and that also had a couple online app stores. Handango, MobileTopSoft… there were others, and these still exist. I do not know what Apple did *right, but they did something… and I think it is a testament to the device + the store + the company just simply *doing it right* for the first time.

  6. I have heard this complaint before but I've been syncing my iPhone and iPod touch to three different computers all along. When I sync to a computer, it asks me if I want to upload purchased apps to the computer. I do. The only hitch is that if I want to delete an app I have to do it separately on each machine, or the app will keep coming back.

    But why does syncing to multiple computers work for me just fine, but not for other folks (including self-professed power users)?

  7. To answer the question in the title… Probably about the same time that Apple introduce the iPhone with LTE support.

    Though Apple's policy of one iTunes library per iPhone doesn't really stand in the way of what I personally need to do, I would really like to multiple user accounts on the iPhone and Time Capsule backup support. Surely it's technically possible?

  8. love to know more about your settings … I've tried a few different things and it's not working. I used to be able to sync and then manually manage a device with an iPod, but not with the phone.

  9. it would be really nice to add media from a second or third location. My work machine is authorized as well as my netbook yet my main sync system is a macbookpro at home. If I want to get a movie while traveling or add some tunes at the office… I can't.

  10. Seems like a smart idea to just link everything to your Apple ID, but who am I?

    Power usage aside, why can't I just put pictures on the damn thing? And no, I don't mean 'sync' pictures because then iTunes will just resize and convert them to a more “iPhone friendly” size. No, I want to put my ORIGINAL, hi-res images on it so I can actually make good use out of the pinch-zooming novelty and have my GIF files animate properly. Is that so much to ask?

  11. Why do i enjoy reading your articles so much? is it love at first site or i just begin to hate iPhone? The sure thing is that i am tired of reading excellent comments about iPhone, i feel that someone is trying to brainwash me.

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