TAOI: Searching for iTunes in macOS Catalina

The architecture of information:

Starting with macOS Catalina, Apple deprecated its long-standing iTunes media management app. In its stead, we got three new applications: Music.app, Podcasts.app, and TV.app.

I just upgraded my laptop to Catalina. After cleaning up some random post-upgrade changes, I set out to do some work. Before starting, I thought I’d get some music going in the background. So I did what I always do to play music on the computer: I typed CMD-space to open the system Spotlight search field and then itun-RETURN. This sequence of keystrokes usually launches the iTunes application. I’ve done it so many times I now do it reflexively, without even looking at what the system is doing.

Which is why I was confused when I saw an unfamiliar app welcome dialog pop up. I knew iTunes had changed in this release, but the dialog wasn’t what I expected: I was onboarding onto the Podcasts app. My first thought was that perhaps the Music app opened with a description of the new apps that replaced previous iTunes functionality so that I wouldn’t be lost entirely. But the welcome dialog said nothing about Music or TV — it was all about Podcasts. When I closed it, I realized I had actually opened the Podcasts app. I was baffled.

So I typed CMD-space again and then the word itunes:

Note the system has (reasonably) mapped the term “iTunes” with the new apps that supplant its functionality. But I find it curious that Podcasts is shown as the default choice. Surely playing music is a much more common use case for iTunes. The terms aren’t in alphabetical order. What’s going on?

There are two possibilities: it’s either an intentional choice or a weird oversight. I say “weird” because I find it hard to believe it’s the latter given how much attention Apple pays to details. If it’s the former, that must mean they’re promoting the Podcasts app over the other two.

In any case, I was confused for a moment. We often focus on the impact of broad information architecture decisions, but this is an example of how IA can affect a user’s experience in subtle ways.