Commentary

R.I.P., iTunes: We Knew Thee Well, Before You Got So Darn Complicated

Apple confirmed Monday that iTunes' industry-disrupting run has come to an end on its own platforms, and the obituaries were decidedly mixed. Observers remembered both its promising youth as well as the many unendearing traits it developed on the path to its demise. 

“Dearly beloved,” Kevin Roose eulogizes  in the New York Times. “We are gathered here today to say goodbye to our friend iTunes, who went to the great trash can in the sky on Monday.

“It was a gentle, dignified passing. iTunes was surrounded by family and friends at Apple’s annual developer conference when Apple executives announced that it would be dismantled, and its features would be split among three apps: Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple TV,” Roose continues.

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“The move to phase out iTunes didn't come as a total surprise as the company has been pushing users toward its Apple Music subscription service. After all, Apple can charge a monthly fee to boost revenue rather than wait for a customer to buy a few songs,”  Samantha Murphy Kelly points out for CNN Business.

“The Apple Music app is focused on music and personalized recommendations, the Podcasts app lets you search with the help of machine learning and the TV app will blend content from networks such as HBO and Showtime, along with original programming from Apple,” Kelly continues.

And iTunes will still be available on Windows-based PCs, at least for the nonce, and the iTunes Music Store will be available in the sidebar in Finder on Catalina, the new operating system for Mac computers.

“Few will mourn the passing of the bloated mess that iTunes has become,” observes  Jon Porter for The Verge, “but it was precisely this catch-all approach that made the software so compelling in the first place. iTunes was the interface to Apple’s Digital Hub strategy, which Steve Jobs unveiled back in 2001. It envisaged the Mac as the hub that sat at the center of everyone’s digital lives, linking together digital cameras, music players, and ‘handheld organizers.’”

“This became the driving philosophy behind iTunes, a piece of software that could contain all of your entertainment. iTunes got support for video in May 2005, Podcasts in June 2005, and Books in January 2010. Alongside its support for managing iPod music players, iTunes also became Apple’s companion software for the iPhone; up until iOS 5 you had to use iTunes to activate the phone, and it could also be used to install and manage apps,” Porter continues.

Phew. If that sounds like a hot mess, it was.

“In recent years, it had become a laughingstock among tech journalists and design buffs, who ragged on the software for its increasingly crowded, clunky interface and apparent irrelevance in the age of cloud-based storage and on-demand streaming,” writes  Daniel Arkin for NBC News, linking to the observations of Wired’s Brian Barrett to illustrate the point.

“But hating on iTunes at this point makes for cheap sport; Wired’s been at it since at least 2008,” Barrett tells us. And he cautions the assembled to not “write iTunes off entirely:

“In its earliest iteration, iTunes revolutionized how and where people could access music. Its later bloat tells the story of how digitization ate the world. And in the negative space of its obsolescence, you can see a fourth age take hold, in which streaming reigns.

"iTunes is dead. Fine, good riddance. But also farewell, and thanks,” Barrett concludes.

Thanks for what?

“‘It completely changed the way that people buy and listen to music,’ Amy Wang, Rolling Stone senior music business editor, says. Amid rumors last week, Wang penned a remembrance for the ‘clunky but world-shattering’ innovation. As Wang explains to NPR’s Ari Shapiro, iTunes was a game changer in more ways than one,” writes  NPR’s Kat Lonsdorf.

“‘There was also a brief period where the music industry was terrified that people were just going to download things illegally and pirate music,’ Wang says. ‘So, iTunes came in and did two things at once. It moved the model from retail stores onto the web and it also sort of helped ease those fears that Napster would take over.’”

In other Apple news, 9 to 5 Mac’s Ben Lovejoy gives his take on all of the announcements during the keynote presentation at the WWDC conference, including iPadOS, iOS 13, HomePod music handoff and multi-user features, macOS Catalina, watchOS, tvOS, SwiftUI, The Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR.

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