The mess that is media management with Apple devices

Media management across Mac OS X and iOS is a mess.

If you want to find TV Shows on your Mac, you go to iTunes, but on an iPhone or iPad, you go to the Videos app. Podcasts? Also in iTunes on Mac, but in your iPhone they've moved to the Podcasts. Photos? Try explaining the difference between iPhoto on Mac and iPhoto/Photos/Camera on iOS to regular people. Looking for a book? That's easy, you'll find it in iBooks across all your devices. Unless you haven't "moved books from iTunes". Then they'll be in iTunes on your Mac. Well, some of them. Some will be in iBooks depending on where you purchased them from or if they're PDFs.

Hang on... what?

A week ago I was having a coffee with a friend who's not technically savvy. He has been a happy Mac and iPhone user for years, but he's not the type to spend hours figuring out his gadgets and he couldn't care less about things like application preferences and other nerdy stuff like that. He just wants things to work. He is, what most would call, normal. 

Of course, as with most of my non-geek friends, I've become his personal Apple Support assistant, and every time I see him he remembers something geeky he needs help with. Last week he raised an interesting point.

He complained that he just couldn't get his head around where his stuff was at any given time on his Mac and his iPhone.

By stuff he meant media content. Things like music, podcasts, TV shows, movies, books, and photographs.

During the holidays, he downloaded the free content from Apple's 12 Days of Gifts app, and he got confused with where things had ended up. I can't blame him. Even reading the FAQs from the 12 Days app would confuse many people:

Where can I find the gifts I’ve downloaded?
On your computer, you can find your music, TV and film content in your iTunes library and books in your iBooks library. On your iOS device, you can find your music in the Music app, your TV episodes and films in the Videos app, and your books in the iBooks app. Apps will appear on your home screen.

That's messy to begin with, but it gets worse once you start digging deeper.

For example, music videos live in iTunes on the Mac, but on iOS they appear in both the Videos and the Music apps. In Videos they're clearly labeled as music videos, but in Music they're just in there with the rest of the songs. In a way, I guess it makes some sense.

However, books are where things start to get really confusing.

Books, like everything else, used to be in iTunes on the Mac, but the latest update to the Mac OS brought iBooks to Mac OS. You'd think all books are now in iBooks and sync across OS X and iOS. That's true for books purchased from the iBookstore (although you might have to tell iBooks to move them over from iTunes), but it doesn't work as seamlessly with books from elsewhere or with PDFs. Those you have to manually add to each device or sync via iTunes which pulls them from iBooks. See? Confusing.

Even worse, audiobooks aren't considered books apparently, or at least are not worthy of iBooks. Audiobooks stay in iTunes on Mac and in iOS will be in the Music app, which just does my head in.

As I was explaining how all this works go my friend, I drew a version of the table above in an attempt to clarify things.

That's when I realised just how broken content management across Apple devices currently is.

Normal people must be really confused. My mom is currently travelling and can't figure out Photo Stream on her iPhone so she keeps sending us photos via Messages.

I believe the right approach is one app for each media type with a Mac and an iOS version and everything kept in sync via iCloud. Audiobooks should be in iBooks. Photos should make sense to users. And you should be able to read purchased magazines full screen on your 27 inch iMac.

The introduction of dedicated apps for iOS makes me think that's the direction Apple is headed. Maybe we're just in transition at the moment. Maybe in the next OS X update we'll see a counterpart for Music, Podcasts, Videos, etc. But what will be the fate of iTunes then? It's an interesting dilemma.

Halfway through my explanation my friend just gave up. Too hard, he said, and changed the subject.