LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Apple's iTunes music service is still the market leader in music downloads, but its use is declining. Last year saw its largest drop, with music sales down nearly 14 percent. Many analysts say the decline is likely to continue this year, as fans move over to streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora or YouTube. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, users say they're leaving iTunes because it's actually not that easy to use.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: It was nearly 14 years ago to the day, January 9, 2001, that Steve Jobs first introduced iTunes. At the time, the most popular music players for computers were RealJukebox and the Windows Media Player.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
STEVE JOBS: There's something that pops out right away. They are too complex. They're really difficult to learn and use.
SYDELL: Then Jobs unveiled what was to become the most popular music software for over a decade - iTunes.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOBS: Because instead of having to put up with this, we're going to give you something that looks like this - really clean, really simple, far more powerful.
SYDELL: And iTunes was simple compared to everything else. For a generation of music fans, it was the place to buy music. Alexa Newsom was 13 when she purchased her first song, a few years after iTunes launched.
ALEXA NEWSOM: I downloaded this song by Liz Phair, where it's like - why can't I breathe without you?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY CAN'T I?")
LIZ PHAIR: (Singing) Get a load of me. Get a load of you. Walking down the street, and I hardly know you.
NEWSOM: I thought it was, like, super-cool because it was my first grown-up sounding song that I've gone after myself.
SYDELL: Newsom, now 21, is increasingly frustrated with iTunes. For example, recent upgrades moved the playlist feature around.
NEWSOM: You can still kind of go do things the old way, but you have to go out of your way to do it. And it's clearly not the way that they expect you to do it.
SYDELL: Newsom's not alone in her feelings. Jason Mosley is a web designer who specializes in user experiences. The last update of iTunes he used, version 11, had you hover over a song to bring up a temporary menu before you could take an action.
JASON MOSLEY: And it gives you all your options. You can go start a radio station using their new radio service. You can add it to a playlist. But I was shocked to see that they had this all nested within another link. And, you know, as rule of thumb for user experience, you want less clicks to get to an action.
SYDELL: Mosley says part of Apple's problem is that the basic design is old.
MOSLEY: It was built for older things, and I think it's just kind of been added onto since then. And that's just going to make it heavy and slow. And, you know, Spotify, these new applications, they have the advantage. They are starting fresh.
SYDELL: And, of course, iTunes is more complicated because it sells movies, TV shows, and podcasts and music. Mosley now pays 10 bucks a month to use Spotify. James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester, thinks Apple should be given credit for breaking open a new model for music with its mix of software and the iPod - the first easy-to-use MP3 player.
JAMES MCQUIVEY: The reason iTunes was adopted so well in the beginning was really not because it was great software. It was because it was connected to this hardware that was unlocking your music access and letting you take it with you on the go. And that was such a novel sensation.
SYDELL: McQuivey thinks Apple got a little overconfident.
MCQUIVEY: They dominated digital music for so long, and maybe they thought, well, this is good enough. Look, it's working for people. It's going to replace the CD. We might as well just sit on it.
SYDELL: Meanwhile, services like Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud were perfecting a new model - one that's less dependent on hardware and more on increasingly ubiquitous and fast wireless that can access millions of songs - simple.
This past year Apple purchased Beats, which, along with its popular headphones, has a streaming service. Many think that streaming service could become part of iTunes this year. The question is whether Apple can make something that's old new again. Laura Sydell, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.