A usability study of iTunes

Apart from the iTunes of today being very slow and being the ICQ bloatware of media managers, let’s have a look at its sub-par usability feats and the myriad of subtle bugbears. It is quite incredible: Apple is an amazing company churning out highly usable stuff like the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod. Yet: the iTunes software, being the front-end to millions of Apple customers managing their devices, delivers such a terrible user experience.

Poor usability is very expensive. For example, think of the billions of combined app update cycles iPhone/iPad owners will experience. Now, why does a user by default have to manually initiate an App update for an iPhone? Obviously updating stuff should be the default. How many customers would not like to free-of-charge enjoy a better, improved version of something?

A usability look at a couple of iTunes screens ahead.


A Program layout not compatible with non-standard Windows DPI settings.

B Non-standard Action button layout. What says this is an Action button? The link text is not underlined.

C Non-noticeable text. Obviously this information was put here because this layout space is used by the programmer only to fill a screen void.

D These buttons are not usable in the App view, so why are they visible? They don’t look disabled when compared to the “54 apps” text mid bottom.

E Why is this text right-aligned? I have to move my eyes a VERY long way to the left to find out what this information corresponds to.
This layout space is used by the programmer simply to fill a screen void.

F Why are these controls visible in the App view? Obviously they are meant for use to control audio play. Poor inter-mixing of Media player and Library capabilities.

G These filter buttons are barely noticeable, as the user focus disappears in the forest of App icons.

H Why would I want to view my Apps in cover flow mode?

The good

1 A Fitt’s law menu!


A What does this checkbox do? The column header isn’t very informative, as it merely tells the user “This column is a checkbox!”

B This entire column header space is not used – yet the album title (left) is cropped due to its tight column.

C What is this? It doesn’t seem to do anything. Is it a button?

D Apparently this an Action button to show Equalizer. Layout different to all other Action buttons. Does this icon look like it would show an Equalizer?

E Why is there a big space in between the music controls and the volume bar?

F Why is this show/hide Action button down here and not on top of the actual side bar?

G If I was to create a playlist for the first time, I wouldn’t look down here for such actions. I would look for such features somewhere in the Playlists section.

The good

1 Context-aware search!

Updating apps

A A non-standard Action button layout. Is this even a button? Why can I click the text? Why does the icon look like an App icon?

B Why is this Action button visible? It does not do anything until you have actually downloaded the updates.

C This box layout is not used anywhere else. Why here?

D These focus Action buttons look disabled due to the grayish typeface.

E Why are the Action buttons this small? Again: a non-standard Action button layout.

The good

1 A decent update-app summary.

Updating apps: None found

A Why is this text HUGE compared to other Itunes text?

B This button is the lazy programmer’s way of not having to bother with state.

C Why is this text showing just about everywhere?


A There is NO WAY a user would think these dots are actually a way of ranking this podcast.

B Why is the cover art draggable?

C Why is there a Podcast Directory non-standard Action button down here?

D Why is this valuable screen estate not used? Why not put the podcast summary in here, eliminating the need for the grey barely-used bar screen estate at the bottom of the screen.

E Settings for what?

F Why is this text 1.) not larger; 2.) not above the album art instead of to the right of it, enabling the album art to be about four times as big?

G Refresh what?

Ping: Init

A Surprise – a different Action button layout!

B This layout is different from other informational pages, like the no-Movies start page. There, the information is boxed in a fieldset.

Ping: Welcome

A Yet another non-standard Action button layout.

B Yet another non-standard Action button layout.

C Why is this filter not shown as regular Apple show-all button filter?

D Why does this filter look different from regular Apple button filters? The background color is different and the selection BARELY shows.

E Why am I able to go backwards, when the previous screen was a Ping Registration page? Obviously I donÆt want to double-post. Reason: lazy programmers!

F Why is this link text regular when the above link text is bold? Also, why does this link feature an angle bracket, when the above links do not? This link features a underlined hover text, whereas other links do not.

G Why does the header text have the exact same color as the links? The ôSearch for Peopleö section above features a different color for its link text.

H Why is this text link-colored when it is not a link?

I What says this is a link, as compared to the text above?

J Why is this text italic and barely readable due to its very light color?

K Why is this text super-tiny? This makes hitting the links very hard. ThereÆs loads of room here.

L Why are these links underlined when hovered, but the links top right are not?

M Do I really need to know Rihanna has exactly 366’034 followers? How about 366k, or 350k+? Also, why is the number text not formatted properly with a thousand-separator, as a string of digits is hard to read.

N There is no need to show a ‘Back’ Action button when viewing the first page.

Itunes Store

A This drag bar is barely noticeable, as it melts in with the cover art.

B When clicking this link, I am immediately ‘upgraded’ to something called Itunes Plus. Why am I not given the chance to read about it first?

C When entering a ôstoreö, the first and foremost thing a user looks for is a search input field. Why is the search box up here, out of focus?

D Different link layout compared to Album details link.

Itunes Store: Top songs

A There is no way to enter the Song Detail view from here.

B When clicking the arrow, the popup menu expands to the right = not visible.

Itunes Store: Top albums

A This is a link to the Details View and hence the text should be in BLUE link color.

B This filter drop-down menu contains only three items and hence could easily be shown as an expanded button filter as there’s loads of white space here. One less click.

Itunes Store: Album Detail

A Non-standard Action button layout.

B Not link-colored text. Also a VERY small typeface for link text.

C Why is this non-link text blue-colored, as in link-colored?

D This text does not contain links, yet the layout of the link text below is exactly like this.

E This looks clickable, yet when hovering it does not show a pointer cursor.

Itunes Store: Album Pre-order

A If this functionality is unavailable, why show the Action button at all?

B At a glance, what does this do? Why not name it ‘Ping’ ?

The good

1 Different Action button color for non-purchase!


A Why are these default playlists visible when there is no default content to fill them?


A Why are these options available, when the Itunes Store for my country does not feature any Film or TV content?

B Yet another Action button layout. The icon could mean its actually a web link, pointing outside of Itunes. However, it is not.