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Consumers Don't Dig Apple iTunes

Posted by: Helen Walters on January 13, 2010

Forrester just released its annual Customer Experience Index, a ranking of some 133 companies across 14 industries. The firms were rated by regular users according to three principles: whether the service met the customer’s needs; how easy it was to work with a firm, and how enjoyable a customer’s interactions were with the company. Barnes & Noble topped the list, with Charter Communications TV and Internet service provider taking last place for the third year in a row.

Bruce D Temkin is VP and Principal Analyst of Customer Experience at Forrester and responsible for compiling the report, and he pointed out a surprise in the ranking, which is determined by votes from 4,600 U.S. consumers. While online retailers and eBay did well, weighing in at #4 and #14 respectively, Apple’s iTunes came in much further down the list at #46.

Interesting. iTunes is often held up as being the cornerstone of Apple’s innovation, way more important and influential than the beautiful looking music-playing devices themselves. And it’s the iTunes system that has enabled Apple to disrupt the music industry so thoroughly. But on a user experience level, this cross-section of the American population is voting thumbs down (or, at least, not deeming it entirely excellent — it just scrapes a “good” rating in the survey). iTunes can be confusing, overwhelming and often less than entirely elegant. As such, it really doesn’t live up to the sophistication of the company’s other lauded design and branding elements (mind you, the offline company experience came in at #35, also a “good” verdict). Temkin points out that many of those participating in this survey are casual users, not the hardcore tech geeks so often associated with Apple products. But even so, Apple’s branding watchwords of simplicity, elegance and its intuitive design appear to be MIA in the iTunes context. What do you think?

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Reader Comments

B Rodman

January 13, 2010 06:20 PM

Personally, I have not used iTunes for years. I prefer not having any extra software on my pc. I buy from Amazon. I didn't like their early restrictions on the music file. I can move my Amazon files anywhere I want on my PC. Much easier to manage. Undoubtedly many people use iTunes because its linked to their iPods for convenience, not for its user friendliness.


January 13, 2010 06:26 PM

I find it simple to use, my only gripe about it is that it is very slow to use.


January 13, 2010 06:46 PM

I think (based upon Apple's iTunes sales) that this "study" is a biased effort to discredit iTunes. Something smells rotten.

Simon Steinhardt

January 13, 2010 07:16 PM

Whether by coincidence or confluence, I came across a post yesterday about tagging iTunes files as an example of headache relief via organizing metadata (tags):

At times iTunes is simple at the expense of being intuitive -- it can group songs by artist with one click, but it doesn't do a particularly good job of accounting for syntactic variations (as the author of that post points out, the subtlety of "REM" vs. "R.E.M." or "Beatles" vs. "The Beatles" gets recognized when it ought to be ignored).

At other times it's elegant at the expense of being simple -- when adding files directly to the library, you never know where they may end up (unless you set them to play automatically and therefore become highlighted), so you get the benefit of instantly organized files with the trade-off of having to wild-goose-chase them down.

Looking at iTunes within the context of popular design-minded discussions like the importance of data curation and the rise of crowdsourcing, I wonder how we can achieve streamlining when the crowd is king, or in lieu of that simply make user-curation an easier and more pleasurable experience. This issue goes much further than iTunes, and will likely become more prominent as more and more of our personal collections become digital (see: e-Readers).

W Fontaine

January 13, 2010 07:23 PM

I agree. iTunes is not intuitive and is hard to operate. I use Apple everything and Apple has a long way to go to make iTunes user friendly.

Bruce Temkin

January 13, 2010 08:06 PM

I took a closer look at the results for the three online-only retailers. The Customer Experience Index is based on consumer feedback in three areas: 1) meeting needs, 2) being easy to work with, and 3) enjoyability. Apple iTunes is well behind in all three areas, but is particularly far behind when it comes to the second area, being easy to work with.

For more on the results, visit my blog "Customer Experience Matters" at


January 13, 2010 08:31 PM

Tom: You think that because of iTunes sales? Nobody sells iTunes...


January 13, 2010 11:59 PM

Studies like this are pointless. The truth of the matter is that people are turning to piracy to get there music which sadly seems to be increasing as time goes on.

notebook computers


January 14, 2010 02:37 AM

Apple ranked highest for PC makers coming in at 35 with closest rival HP way below at 62.

Comparing something like Amazon to iTunes is a stretch. I buy a lot from Amazon and I think it's great but Amazon sells paper books, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners etc besides digital downloads. iTunes is a digital download service. Looking at the index I don't see it just comparing digital downloads so it seems like comparing apples to oranges. There are more chances of customer frustration dealing with digital and computer gear in genera due to complexity and lack of knowledge from the customer (ask Google about it's Nexus One customer service headaches ). As Apple Insider points out for online music sales iTunes has 69% of market. If Amazon is so superior won't the numbers for Amazon be better?

Andrei Timoshenko

January 14, 2010 07:11 AM

iTunes is bloated. Always has been, and always has been viewed as such. It is good for finding and downloading music, however, as well as for syncing your iPod/iPhone.

What is more interesting is the apparent confusion in the business world about the strengths and relevance of iTunes. Anyone who seriously believes that iTunes is "the cornerstone of Apple’s innovation, way more important and influential than the beautiful looking music-playing devices themselves" profoundly misunderstands Tech.


January 14, 2010 09:36 AM

I'm confused about why companies like Barnes & Noble, Charter Communications, and Ebay are being compared to a product (iTunes) instead of Apple as a company.

Josh Kunz

January 14, 2010 09:43 AM

Well, iTunes as a program is ok... It is slow at times but getting an iPod to work on any other program can be a hastle (and with iPhone apps I don't know of any other way than to use iTunes), I do not use the iTunes store though. Also I disagree with the part about 'disrupting the music industry' apple mearly gave the music industry a method of online distrobution, something which they desperately needed.


January 14, 2010 09:58 AM

Who cares if you haven't used iTunes for years?
It was announced about a year ago that music publishers gave Apple the green light to sell DRM free tunes. This was a year after Amazon was allowed to do the same for mp3s. I totally agree with you on the DRM but harbor no ill feelings toward iTunes and find it the most capable player of my library of over 20k tunes. But if you are on Windows I'll concede it's not the best port, isn't really a typical experience, and can be a bit crashy and slow. On my now aged Mac Mini it performs admirably though and I find the interface to be fine for browsing my library. As for the iTunes store, yeah, it stunk for a while but I find the recent tweaks very accommodating to the user experience of shopping, browsing, discovering.


January 14, 2010 10:10 AM

@Tom: Not really, you're just pointing out what's the result of the link between it and the iPod.


January 14, 2010 10:10 AM

Something seems off about this "study". iTunes is quite good. There is nothing else like it. iTunes offers so much utility and functionality. Possibly many of the 4600 persons are not too tech savvy.


January 14, 2010 10:17 AM

comparing apples and oranges.. Amazon sell many many different things from blow up beds to pots and pans. iTunes sells only downloaded apps, music and movies. Unless you are asking them to compare similar business I don't how this makes any sense.


January 14, 2010 10:37 AM

iTunes is incredible, probably the best free program available anywhere to do anything. I do use it on a Mac, it's not as good on a PC. I have found people who had no idea how to use it though, in that regard, it's like a lot of software.

It's by far the best solution, and a free one at that, for managing your music in just about any way imaginable.


January 14, 2010 10:40 AM

Try comparing iTunes to any alternative in a survey, rather than mixing software and companies into one vague and misleading category.

Or, compare iTunes to MSFT's 'playsforsure' program. (The one that they cancelled making all purchases worthless.) or the MSFT 'Windows Media' program. See what that shows...


January 14, 2010 11:57 AM

I hate to point out the obvious here, but apparently it is necessary to do so. I would rank Amazon higher on the list as well because of the "meeting needs" criteria. I purchase much more on Amazone than I do on iTunes. That said, when it comes to buying music or apps for my phone, iTunes is a much better and more convenient product.

You can't compare Apple and Oranges and expect to be able to take away any meaningful data. The fact that iTunes continues to be the leader in music distribution (and phone apps) should indicate that consumers do in fact "dig Apple iTunes". Honestly, this is just common sense.


January 14, 2010 12:02 PM

As usual, another meaningless Forrester "survey."


January 14, 2010 12:03 PM

As usual, another meaningless "survey" from Forrester. And this is called research? LOL


January 14, 2010 12:04 PM

I use iTunes all the time and find it extremely useful and user friendly.

I've bought over 15,000 songs plus apps plus movies, tv shows, etc...and have done it painlessly.

My only complaint is that the Wish List replacing the shopping cart is harder to edit with the new iTunes Version.


January 14, 2010 12:05 PM

I've been using iTunes since it was first released. It has indeed gotten a bit bloated and slow along the way. But in general, it does what it needs to do. I agree with the sentiment of the article that it falls below Apple's usual standards for ease of use though.

One real obvious thing I've always wished for was the ability to set up default content at the Store's initial screen. I'm a 47 year old white male, so I'm probably not very interested in Miley Cyrus or Ke$ha, am I? I get the feeling that I have missed out on a lot of great music over the years due to the lack of relevant information provided. I see they have provided a tiny little "Genius Recommendations" section within the home screen that you have to scroll down to see and most people probably won't even notice.

I'd like to see the iTunes Store be more of a tool for my use and less about marketing junk. Please don't turn this into RADIO all over again Apple!

George P.

January 14, 2010 01:31 PM

Amazon and eBay [and to a bit lesser degree Barnes and Noble] provide a wide range of on line services. iTunes does one commercial thing, allows you buy digital media. It has other functions as media manager, iPhone/iPod/Apple TV interface, CD ripper, playback window, etc. Amazon in purely on line doing lots of stuff. Therefore I would value Amazon higher than iTunes for on line business [similar ebay], but value iTunes as desktop app and oh by the way a store as an after thought.

So I suspect the survey does not properly assess either in their user context. There is no claim made that Amazon music and movie digital service is blowing iTunes away [in fact the opposite], so again echoing an earlier comment apples and

Dan Ashley from Chicago

January 14, 2010 01:37 PM

The difficulty with iTunes is you get lost in it. Unlike a normal browser where you can have tabs, you can easily open a new window, and you can cut and paste the search results (into an email for example) by copying the URL, iTunes:
1. Has no browser tabs,
2. Has no bookmarks, and
3. Has no URL for your searches for music so you can replicate a search and all the hits you got from that search.

If you are looking for music, it is easier to search in Amazon. Then you can double check in iTunes to see the rating or popularity which Amazon does not have.

Also iTunes does not allow you to search within other things. For example, if you want to search within Podcasts for a certain style of music, that is not possible. You go into podcasts and perform your search, and you get all sorts of results most of which are not podcasts. Frustrating!

- Dan


January 14, 2010 02:17 PM

iTunes is great. It keeps all my music perfectly organized. Thats all I need.


January 14, 2010 03:57 PM

If you want to see what you just added to your library, sort by "date added".


January 14, 2010 04:00 PM

I'm sorry, but this looks like some useless information. It appears they are comparing web sites and the services they provide.

What does iTunes mean in this type of comparison? We're comparing apples and oranges.


January 14, 2010 04:40 PM

Zune is so much better than iTunes. People use iTunes because its tied to their ipods. If they would be willing to look, they would find that Zune offers a much better and elegant choice:

stacy thorne

January 14, 2010 04:43 PM

iTunes as a shop is appalling - thank goodness someone has finally quantified this. The greater surprise, the user experience of iTunes-the-shop was actually downgraded by virtue of the recent update. Quite astounding coming from Apple. It established a foothold courtesy of the ipod which for quite a while wouldn't play anything else... maybe in light of the fantastic iPod the good folks at Apple mistook market share of one thing for valuing another.


January 14, 2010 04:46 PM

This survey is BS. It's a small sampling, not to mention its not a survey specific to the usability of iTunes.



January 14, 2010 05:16 PM

I'm put off by Apple's constant updates, which affect look, feel and complexity, as well as having become a constant maintenance chore.

Why should anyone spend the time to constantly re-learn the interface?


January 14, 2010 07:09 PM

I have never experienced any of the randomness and hardship any of you are describing? iTunes is the best MP3/organizer I have never used. Of course no one here actually has listed what they use instead. No ONE. I use iTunes on mac and windows and find them equally useful. If there is a better way to deal with thousands of music files. I'd like to know it. Window Media what ever is total junk. I try it every major update and it's always a major pain. Just trying add one song to the playlists in an act of insanity. It takes like 5 to 10 steps to do so, assuming it actually works. In iTunes it's ONE. drag the song on the itunes icon. Done.


January 14, 2010 09:46 PM

Wow, this blows me away. I thought iTunes accounted for 85% of Apple's valuation and they have this "problem" with it? Sounds like a door being left open for a competitor to offer something better?


January 14, 2010 10:15 PM

It is obvious that many people here are conflating two different things: the Tunes application, the iTunes on-line store.

The iTunes application is well-designed and powerful (though tending towards bloat), and I use it extensively.

The on-line store, on the other hand, started off as a crazy mess, and has only gotten worse over the years. I agree with the author, that the store tries to do and be too many things, which is at odds with the overall Apple philosophy of simplicity and focused purpose.

As a side note, I am amused by the author's description of "hardcore tech geeks so often associated with Apple products." I remember the days when the "tech geeks" dismissed Apple as a dead-end toy.


January 14, 2010 10:20 PM

I agree that this is probably an apples to oranges survey. iTunes is good at doing a few things vs. the sell anything stores like Amazon. The sound quality of Amazon's MP3s also isn't as high as Apple's AAC Plus.

This may also highlight the fact that iTunes works better on a Mac, but there are many more people using PCs.


January 15, 2010 04:26 AM

This article is such bull. First off, if you are going to compare Apple sales to Amazon or Ebay, compare all of their sales, not just music. The reason you don't is cause then the whole purpose of your article could not be expressed, that is to attempt to make it appear as though iTunes and Apple are failing, when in fact Apple trounces both of them in overall sales. Second, Apple cares about hardware sales more than anything. Once these wanna-be tech writers get that in their head, then they can understand Apple's strategy and why it continually outpaces the industry in bad times as well as good. Apple does not care about market share, more so than it cares about sales. Apple owns less than 8% of the US market in PC's yet it is the most profitable. Now ask yourself, if you are a shareholder, would you care more about how many widgets you sold or how much profit you made? This guy puts up a small slice of Apple against the whole of Amazon and Ebay, what a crock.

James Bogard

January 15, 2010 08:57 AM

This "research" doesn't add up.

"There are lies, damn lies, and statistics"

Benjamin Disraeli


January 15, 2010 09:16 AM

Amazon sells music files, plain and simple--no extra software needed, and no hassle at all. I will not use iTunes because I don't want to have to be bothered with Apple's required software. If they would just sell the music files, like Amazon, I'd check out what they have to offer. The selection on Amazon is good, so iTunes isn't even worth my consideration in its current form.

Vincent Matyi

January 15, 2010 09:53 AM

I agree with the Survey, iTunes is mediocre at best. However, take it out of the holistic world that Apple created and it becomes sorely missed.

The cornerstone of Apple’s innovation was developing an ecosystem of services and products that, together, meet and/or exceed a need.

The success story here is one of a very smart company exploiting a dire need for music fans of all shapes and sizes to live in our digital age. Reinventing the music industry is a wonderful byproduct of this. How we as humans collect, organize and experience music was the objective.

The success of iTunes was never due to it *alone* being amazingly usable software and it's certainly not.


January 15, 2010 03:54 PM

I use iTunes on both Mac and Windows and find them "Brain Dead" simple. And never experienced the crashing and slow downs on my Windows computer as some claim. I think they may be blaming iTunes for Windows slow down problems.

Bruce Martin

January 17, 2010 03:07 PM

Based on the timing of this survey, it appears that the data was collected around the time of the release of iTunes 9, which was the most dramatic change in the appearance of iTunes since the introduction of the iTunes Store, which apparently is what the survey intends to be discussing.

I found the new appearance to take a little time to get used to, but now am comfortable with it. But if I had been surveyed in the first week or so if adopting iTunes 9, I also might have rated it as merely "good".

This so-called report in Business Week is shoddy journalism, as it lacks the context to indicate if the standing of iTunes is similar to past years or different this year. Not to mention lacking a clear summary statement of how the question was phrased, and how the Store experience was intended to be distinguished by respondents compared with the other useability features of iTunes. If they can't even be clear about what they are asking about, how can the responses have any meaning at all?


January 18, 2010 12:24 AM

I question that research. According to BrandWeek: "A whopping 97 percent said they would recommend the (iPhone)phone to someone else." And has both the iPhone and Apple brand both in the top 10. You'd think with a "disliked" iTunes that would rub off on both iPhone and Apple. BTW, Forrester is the organization that in '95 said that 10% of all groceries would be bought online in 2000. ha!

james M. Anderson

January 18, 2010 10:42 AM

Apples and Oranges, but iTunes could use some slimming down, but considering the amount of content, it works pretty good and much better than any other site.


January 19, 2010 12:59 PM

I agree with some of the previous comments about the nature of this research. The research is either biased or rigged. The proof is in the fact that iTunes is widely popular, keeps growing, and is used by kids and grannies alike (that's how easy to use and navigate iTues is. I have been an iTunes user for about 5 years now and I NEVER had a problem. I love my iPod and iTunes. In fact, I like them so much that I trashed my PC and bought a Mac and I am not looking back. Actually, I am planning to soon replace my Mac for another Mac. GO APPLE!!

Rachel S.

January 19, 2010 04:57 PM

I find this point interesting and I'm perplexed by how it is relevant: "Temkin points out that many of those participating in this survey are casual users, not the hardcore tech geeks so often associated with Apple products."

I am curious why it would be better if the "hardcore tech geeks" found iTunes easy to use. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the user experience should be based on the casual user, not the tech geeks. To me, "innovative" is not synonymous with "only understood by geeks."


January 26, 2010 04:05 PM

In the survey Apple iTunes is listed as a 'retailer.' I would be interested to see a study that divides iTunes user experience based on usage as a software program to store/catalogue/play music and user experience related to the searching and purchasing process in the iTunes store.

The retail experience in the iTunes store is different from daily use as a music player. "Consumers don't dig Apple iTunes" seems to be an oversimplification of user experiences that should likely be studied separately.

Wallamboklang Rynjah

February 4, 2010 02:27 PM

I Agree Markus. I don’t understand why they are comparing companies with products.
Itunes as a product is good and serves right to the customers. Being an iTunes user for years, I truly agree that yes, initially it may be complicated to use and navigate, but with two to three times of usage, one would find it easy to navigate and operate.

Probably, most of the people who took the survey are initial users and haven’t had hands on experience on the product.
ITunes has become the industry standard in media players, largely because of its connection to iPods and the iPhone.

To me, iTunes as a product under the Brand Apple, it
1. Does meet the needs 2. Is easy to work with and 3. Is enjoyable


February 12, 2010 04:06 AM

If you are fond of listening to Podcasts, which I am, I cannot think of any other software which does subscribing to podcasts as beautifully. And who has a directory so varied and wide-ranging? The only one I know of is Juice which sucks in usability (I still have not figured out how it works).

Marla Black

February 24, 2010 01:03 AM

iTunes is so slow. It reminds me of how frustrated I used to get with dial up. It ends up being a good thing for me because I spend a lot less money on music. After listening to the demos, Im so frustrated, I just log off.


March 22, 2010 09:48 AM

find this point interesting and I'm perplexed by how it is relevant: "Temkin points out that many of those participating in this survey are casual users, not the hardcore tech geeks so often associated with Apple products."

I am curious why it would be better if the "hardcore tech geeks" found iTunes easy to use. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the user experience should be based on the casual user, not the tech geeks. To me, "innovative" is not synonymous with "only understood by geeks."


April 19, 2010 10:26 AM

I am curious of the age group of the users that are mentioned in this article. Do you think that Apple does a great job at marketing directly to the upcoming consumer group - Gen Y?
Panel discussion at NYU explores the presitge brands that Gen Y Love. Will Apple make the cut?

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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