People have been complaining about iTunes for ages. The bloated and confusingly arcane piece of software has been updated and repurposed and jury-rigged to handle new tasks for the past 18 years, and one developer says it won’t live to see its 19th birthday. It looks like Apple is finally about to kill iTunes and release separate apps for music, podcasts, and books. Rest in peace, iTunes, you digital dinosaur.
I wrote an obituary for iTunes four long years ago. That tome was pegged to the launch of Apple Music, a streaming service that replaced much of iTunes’ utility. Apple Music, a service that comes pre-installed in every macOS and iOS device, has also gone on to become the most popular streaming music service in the United States. It’s worth pointing out that iTunes likely has hundreds of millions of users since it’s been the default way to listen to music on Apple computers since the application launched in 2001. And now, it looks like Apple might finally going to kill iTunes so that newer, more elegant apps can thrive.
Developer Steve Troughton-Smith recently said he’d found evidence that a new suite of media apps appeared to be in the works ahead of Apple’s annual World Wide Developer Conference in June. And quite conspicuously, it looks like the new apps do all the things that iTunes does.
Troughton-Smith added, “And yes, this means the much-discussed and long-awaited break up of iTunes. Finally!”
Now, this news is very thin. We’ve got a single developer saying he’s found evidence of three new apps that might replace iTunes, but he’s also saying that he doesn’t want to share the evidence. However, Troughton-Smith is a known Apple software sleuth. He was the guy that found an iPhone X icon in the firmware of the HomePod last year. Within a few weeks, it was confirmed that the iPhone X icon was legit, which means Troughton-Smith gave us our first pixelated look at Apple’s most significant iPhone overhaul in years. But even if you trust Troughton-Smith’s prediction that Apple will release new Music, Podcasts, and Books apps, for all we know Apple will release new apps and keep iTunes around for shits and giggles.
I hope that doesn’t happen. It’s time for Apple to let iTunes die. One could argue that Apple should have let iTunes die back when it launched Apple Music, instead of letting it languish and confuse users for years. Apple also could have prevented the app from becoming a bloated mess by breaking out new services into new apps as the company expanded its media offering. In the beginning, iTunes was just the player for music on your computer. When the iTunes Music Store came along, the app began to handle music purchases. Then came TV shows and movies and podcasts—all stuffed into this old music player. And while iTunes is technically a macOS application, it causes problems all over the place.
Let’s say you want to watch a movie on your iPad. Sure, you can go to iTunes on a Mac to find music, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and podcasts. And you can buy stuff there and access it on other devices. But you’re on the way to the airport, and you just want to download Speed Racer so that you can watch some live action anime racing on the plane. To buy the Wachowskis’ cult favourite on an iPad, you have to go to the iTunes Store app, which is not the same thing as the regular iTunes app on a Mac. Once you’ve purchased it, you have to watch it download in that same iTunes Store app and then it will disappear, because you can’t watch movies in the iTunes Store app. To watch your newly purchased Speed Racer—a film that has aged very well, by the way—you have to go find it in the TV app.
Here’s something else that doesn’t make much sense. You still have to go to iTunes to manage your iOS devices. The only time I ever open iTunes is to back up or restore my iPhone. Why can’t you do this in Finder or a devoted app for mobile devices. After all, there’s the Watch app for iOS, and that works fine. But no, you’re stuck using iTunes to manage your phone, because some Apple employee, probably Steve Jobs, decided back in 2007 that it would be easier to keep device management in iTunes since people were already used to dealing with their iPods in iTunes. These days, using iTunes to back up your iPhone feels hilariously backward.
This labyrinth of hardware and software connections is likely why iTunes still exists. The app is essential for a lot of random tasks thanks to its legacy as well as Apple’s inability to develop a more elegant solution. It also doesn’t hurt that iTunes is installed on hundreds of millions of devices. But now, if the rumors are true, we might finally see the end of the iTunes era this year. A new Music app for macOS would handle Apple Music and any songs you actually own. A new Podcast app would handle podcasts, and a new Books app would have all your book stuff. Then the TV app would be all of your watchable stuff. And if this workflow sounds familiar, that’s because this is how this already works on iOS devices. Apple could bring that simplicity over to your Mac, and that would be beautiful.
In truth, it will probably take Apple a few tries. That “next wave of Marzipan apps” that Troughton-Smith mentions in his tweets refers to the new universal framework Apple introduced with macOS Mojave. Code-named “Marzipan,” this project enables developers to bring over UIKit apps (that is, iOS and tvOS apps) to macOS. The first round of Marzipan apps included News, Voice Memos, and Stocks, all of which launched with Mojave. But some argue that the first round of Marzipan apps show just how poorly Apple’s mobile apps translate into its desktop operating system.
It’s nevertheless clear that Apple is going through some necessary growing pains as it shifts towards selling services that work on all kinds of devices, including those not made by Apple. The idea that more people will be subscribing to these services without access to a Mac makes the death of iTunes even more sensible. Apple Music subscribers might just download the Apple Music app, while Apple TV+ subscribers would just need the TV app. Even iCloud would factor into the ecosystem, since it already works on both Mac and PC devices. Heck, managing backups and whatnot with iOS devices is already becoming the standard for iOS devices. Who needs iTunes anyway?
On the other hand, Apple might just double down on its convoluted iTunes strategy. The company announced that an “iTunes Movies and TV Shows” app would soon be coming to Samsung TVs. Hilariously the too-long name of the app barely fits on the mocked up icon Samsung revealed in a press release. This announcement also happened well before Apple’s big TV+ announcement last month, so it’s possible that Apple will still ditch that iTunes branding. Which it should because it’s time for iTunes to die.
Who knows. At this point, we don’t even know if Apple will launch three more apps alongside the new TV app. It would make great sense for Apple to update the way it lets people listen to music and podcasts and watch TV and movies as the company continues to shift towards a more services-oriented business. It’s also possible that the next round of Marzipan apps—whatever they are—will work better than the first.
The one thing that does seem glaringly obvious is that Apple needs to kill iTunes. I don’t care if it gets replaced with five new apps that each do their specific job well. I hope that happens! Anything would be better than suffering another year with iTunes.
Featured image: Illustration: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)