THE BLOG
12/05/2012 11:33 am ET | Updated Jan 29, 2013

Ingenious: iTunes Should Be an API

The Internets are abuzz once again with news that Apple will release a new version of iTunes today, after Apple senior vice president of Internet software and services Eddy Cue dropped a hint to the Wall Street Journal.

What will it be? Actually, that's not much of a surprise, because Apple lays out its vision pretty clearly with some screenshots.

New Library View (focusing on album art and reminding us of We Are Hunted):

apple new itunes 11

Expanded view (what happens when you click an album):

Recommendations, Song Queuing (iTunes will recommend stuff to buy based on an album, artist, genre, and will allow you to pick songs one by one in order to add them to the play queue more easily):

That's a brief summary of what Apple intends to release later today (or possibly over the next three days, because it has also said the announcement is happening in November).

But what should it release?

Our pal Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing has a great idea about what Apple should be doing instead, rather than reshaping iTunes yet again. It could reinvent the whole thing as an API, sort of like Twitter, allowing purchases to happen all around the cloud without people having to run iTunes.

"I wish iTunes were a skinnable, interpret-able service with an API, like Twitter is (for now, anyway)," she writes. "Imagine if you could use any third-party client you wanted to access the service, as cleanly and free of cruft as you please."

With Twitter, you can use any client to access messages, which not only gives users a tremendous range of choice in interfaces and functionality, given that any developer can make a Twitter client, but also allows Twitter (and Facebook for that matter) messages to worm their way into the web. You can put a Facebook Like button on everything in a service, and shoot that information to Facebook, all without sending actual users away from your service to Facebook.

What would it look like if Apple were to do the same thing with music purchasing?

[caption id="attachment_28542" align="alignright" width="219" caption="An iTunes API would replace "view in iTunes" with "buy," not only on apple.com (pictured), but everywhere else too."]itunes 11 api

First, it must be said that this would be a very un-Apple thing to do. Apple likes control, and to enforce its own design principles. Allowing iTunes purchases to happen everywhere would be insane from the traditional Apple perspective. (We should also mention that iTunes has APIs, although none of them do what we are talking about here.)

However, a decentralized approach like that could be just the thing to keep iTunes (the music store) relevant as streaming-from-the-cloud replaces (in some capacities) music downloads.

Yes, iTunes lets you put your downloads in the cloud, but they're still downloads. An API could be a better cloud strategy, because you'd be able to buy anywhere in the cloud without going through locally-downloaded software.

Countless websites and apps already integrate deep links to within the iTunes application -- examples include everything from purchasing a song heard on Pandora to Apple's own website, which includes a link to every song and app within the iTunes desktop application (example). An API version of iTunes would take that to the next level.

Want to buy a song in Spotify, Pandora, a music blog, or anything else that streams? Click a single button, or maybe two, and you'd be able to buy that song without waiting for lumbering old iTunes to fire up. An API-based iTunes would reduce friction, and that tends to increase sales, and could make iTunes an even more dominant force among people who pay for downloaded music, while maybe even encouraging a few more to do the same.

Why would developers of other music services and sites want to integrate an iTunes music API like the one Xeni envisions? Simple: the affiliate program.

Twitter is already the biggest iTunes affiliate in the world, simply by adding its own affiliate identifier to iTunes links that pass through it, even in the absence of an API that would let the transactions happen without sending customers to iTunes.

If Apple were to release a more official method for any other service to do the same -- and to have the transactions happen on Twitter itself, and everywhere else, rather than sending everyone to iTunes -- it could only be a good thing for Apple, music, developers, and fans.