Friday, 13 April 2007

Is iTunes really pointing to Leopard's new UI?

Now that Leopard is officially delayed for autumn, people have started wondering again about its secret features. A popular secret feature rumour is that Leopard will sport a brand new UI style. I've already laid my view on why I believe that we're not going to see drastic changes in Leopard's UI so I won't repeat them here.

I think that the changes will be subtle, in the same spirit of the changes that occurred with OS X's previous updates. What I don't think is that we can use iTunes latest (v7.0) chameleon change as a guide of what's coming as some people have suggested.

iTunes is a strange application. Some claim that it's a programming feat since it's not just a simple application ported between two completely different environments (Windows and OS X). It seems to be carrying over a number of OS X's core technologies to Windows; iTunes store's WebKit presentation engine, QuickTime's full media stack and probably numerous Cocoa components that were torn out of their natural habitat in OS X and made functional in a completely different technical infrastructure. And it does all this while managing to work almost exactly the same between the two platforms.

And look almost exactly the same too. You might complain that there are too many different visual styles in OS X nowadays (Brushed Metal, Unified, Aqua and in some Frankenstein cases a combination of them), but iTunes sits in a realm of its own. The first time I saw it, it seemed to me like the result of a half-finished morphing transition from classic OS X Aqua to classic Windows Luna style.

iTunes is in the difficult position of having to be consistent between two different worlds. One has to look at iTunes under the iPod halo prism. iTunes acts like OS X's ambassador in Windows' land. It has to look new and interesting and full of promises about where it's coming from. On the same time it has to also look and behave somewhat familiar to what the user already knows. And the user already knows how Windows land is. Hence the "half-morphed" UI and the "OK" and "Cancel" buttons in the Preferences window. No other OS X application (iLife or not) looks like iTunes and no other OS X application has confirmation buttons on their preferences windows (correct me if I'm wrong). It's a trade-off of this slightly schizophrenic nature of iTunes' purpose.

What iTunes wants is to make the Windows user interested in OS X land enough so he makes the switch.

Imagine you never had a Mac. You do have an iPod though. And you like it so much how easy it is to work with iTunes that you decide to take the big step and switch. Now, Macs might be easy, but they are different alright. Imagine that iTunes acts like you first friend in this new town called OS X. Among all those new faces and concepts you have a familiar face with known shortcuts (that happen to work in other applications as well).

That's what iTunes is all about, not about testing and previewing new visual styles. Sure, it's about helping you organize your music and managing your iPod and downloading music and videos. In the end though, it's also a promise that where it's coming from there's more of the good stuff.

As for us already in OS X land, well, we'll have to deal with it.


  1. iTunes does not use WebKit. On both Windows and Mac OS X it uses a custom XML-based format which it translates into it's own interface. At no point is WebKit involved.

  2. You're right, I made a mistake :-$ Thanks for pointing that out :-)