September 13, 2017 Last Updated 7:35 am

Apple separates apps from iTunes in 12.7 update, but move has serious drawbacks

The latest version of iTunes is now dedicated solely to media, and acknowledges that most device owners update their apps in-device rather than through iTunes, but… the move means users will back-up their devices less often, discovering new and updated media apps just got even harder

The iPhone event often brings a slew of app updates from Apple as they prepare for the release of the new versions of iOS and macOS. Digital publishers, for instance, usually are eager to see if iBooks Author will receive an update, and are usually then disappointed to see no such update.

Today, the only app being updated is iTunes, and for me, this causes some real problems — but most consumers likely won’t be inconvenienced.

The big change with iTunes 12.7 is that now apps are no longer part of the program. From now on, iTunes is just for media — music, movies, TV shows, podcasts and audiobooks.

For years, since the launch of the iPhone, device owners would hook up their devices to their Macs or PCs and have iTunes power up, and then sync. Over the air syncing came later, and for many device owners this is the way they currently get their app updates.

I don’t do this, however, because I like to see the updates not only for the apps I have on my phone but the apps I don’t have on my phone — all those digital edition apps. So, this causes me real problems, as you can imagine.

(The old way of doing app updates, importantly, would allow the user to keep even those apps not on their devices up-to-date. Now, one finds the apps previously purchased under that tab in the on-device iOS app store, and they then redownload it in-device.)

But there is another problem that I think WILL effect everyone. Why sync your phone regularly now when there will be no app updates to find? The answer, of course, is for syncing media, but when you could also get app updates a user would sync more often and so their back-ups would be more current.

Apple is clearly pushing hard to get people to use iCloud for their back-ups rather than their Macs or PCs.

But this solves a problem that really didn’t exist. iPhone owners will still want to connect their device to their Macs and PCs because they will still want to sync music, and if they have created a ringtone it remains the only way to add it to their device.

When you have updated your version of iTunes and reopen it you get the message seen above warning the user that they won’t find their apps in iTunes anymore.

OK, you won’t find your apps in iTunes anymore, so does the program dump those now useless apps from your Mac or PC?

No, they are still there under Mobile Applications in the iTunes folder. Why? Wouldn’t they be backed up through a normal back-up sync? Seems to be that you now will be left with a lot of dead and unupdated apps on your Mac or PC for no reason. (I have over 24 gigs of apps in my folder.)

(I literally have hundreds of apps on my Mac because I have been downloading digital edition apps for TNM since January 2010.)

I don’t think Apple thought this through.

So, is the App Store any better today than it was yesterday? Again, no. The subcategories in Magazines & Newspapers are still broken, with the New section not sorted by Release Date but by alpha, letting bogus apps continue to game the store. It’s just a little harder to see that this is happening now. Call it Eddy Cue’s way of hiding his continued incompetence from the CEO.

How does this effect publishers? I think it does, and if Apple had hired me long ago (not only would I be making more money and living back in California) I could have told them why publishers would object.

To repeat, when you update apps through iTunes rather than in-device, you see the update for apps that are not on your device. What if, say, a newspaper or magazine makes a great update, adds an incredible feature, lowers their prices, adds iPad or Apple Watch support? You would see that in your updates and say “hey, I like this, I’ll add this app back on to my device!”

But now you will never see that update. In the App Store on your device you are not notified of updates for apps not on device, and in the “Not on This iPhone” section that app only show an iCloud symbol, nothing about whether the app has been updated recently.

In other words, once a user removes an app from their iPhone or iPad it will be damn near impossible to get them to add it back in again.

What will this mean for TNM, which has been looking at new apps from publishers for over seven years?

To be honest, other changes Apple has made, like getting rid of the Newsstand, has meant that TNM has written a lot fewer app stories than in the early days of the iPhone and iPad app stores. But there were still stories about new digital magazine and newspaper apps. The process to discover and write about them now is definitely more difficult.

Complicating matters, publishers and digital platform owners are terrible at promotion. I get infinitely more press releases from porn websites promoting a new hardcore video than I get from, say, Mag+ or Adobe promoting a new app being released by one of their customers. (Exact Editions is one of the few to regularly promote their customers.)

Still, this site has evolved over the years and moved away from looking often at mobile apps. Apple’s latest move simply supports that evolution.

Note: If I am wrong about any of my observations here I’d love to hear from somebody. I know I won’t hear from Apple, and once again Apple’s press team is unavailable for comment.

Update: I’ve been able to create a workaround using an older MacBook Pro that I have. It’s a long process, but if you need to be able to managed your apps through iTunes I can tell how I’m doing it.

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