It feels like I’ve been waiting years for iTunes to die. (A quick search of the Gizmodo archives reveals that I have, in fact, been waiting four years.) The bloated software was confusing to navigate, annoying to use, and increasingly obsolete, so you might imagine what a treat it was when I finally fired up macOS Catalina to discover how it feels to use Apple software in the post-iTunes world. It’s blissful.
You’re going to love it, and you’re never going to look back.
The death of iTunes happened quietly at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) last month. In between announcing some slick new security features and an absurdly expensive Mac Pro, a cheerful Craig Federighi rushed through a quick history of iTunes and all the joy it brought to people’s lives over the years—and all the features Apple kept stuffing into it. And then, Craig made a funny little joke about how Apple should add even more to iTunes like a calendar and email. It’s funny because iTunes had become a nightmarish behemoth of an app, and the only civil thing to do would be to kill it. So that’s what Apple did.
In macOS Catalina, there is no more iTunes. Instead, you have dedicated apps for Music, Podcasts, and TV. Device management, meanwhile, got moved into Finder, which is where it should have been from the start. It’s almost shocking to see a Mac handle an iOS device much like it would any other accessory, although the Finder approach still maintains the same granular management options that you had in iTunes. Everything makes total sense, which is not something you could say about the past few years of iTunes’ existence.
Each of the new experiences feels vaguely but refreshingly similar to their old iterations in iTunes. The Music app looks like a stripped down version of iTunes, except now there are dedicated sections for Apple Music and your music library on the left rail. This means there’s no more baffling commingling of the tracks you own and what’s streaming on Apple Music. It’s also important to note that Apple did not kill the popular Genius feature in the new Music app. You can still do Genius Shuffle and create Genius Playlists.
The Podcast app is virtually identical to the music app with dedicated sections for podcasts you can stream from Apple Music and your library of podcasts that you’ve downloaded or subscribed to. Although I haven’t yet tried out the new Podcast app in iOS 13, I can say that browsing podcasts in macOS Catalina is no longer the cursed chore it used to be.
What’s most refreshing, surprisingly, is the new TV app. The layout looks a lot like what you see if you’re browsing movies or shows on Apple TV, which means the thumbnails are bigger and easier to scan. The app also opens up to a new “Watch Now” tab that gets you to the content more quickly. Unlike the Music and Podcast apps that make you look to the left rail to navigate, the TV app has a menu on top that lets you look at just movies, TV shows, kid stuff, or your library. I love the Library vertical, too. In it, you get a simple feed of all the stuff that you own and can watch without spending money. There’s also another level of navigation on the left rail that lets you sort by movies, TV shows, rentals, or genres. The whole setup makes sense, which I would never say about the movie- or TV-watching experience in iTunes. I can’t tell you how many times I rented something and then couldn’t find it because the iTunes navigation is so clunky.
Bear in mind that my enthusiasm for the new iTunes-free media experience in macOS comes from using a bug-ridden beta version of the software. (Installing beta versions of software can lead to a world of pain!) These apps don’t even work well yet, and already, I like them so much more than iTunes, which I hate more than ever. It’s tough to go back to my non-beta machine and try to find a good R&B playlist because even the janky beta of macOS Catalina makes iTunes look like a toddler designed it.
Speaking of bugs, I expect the full release of the new Music, Podcasts, and TV apps to come with some growing pains. Folks who have spent years meticulously organising and labelling their iTunes library might be frustrated to see certain features missing from the new apps, but I can’t say which features might change between now and when the software ships. People might also have trouble migrating their old libraries over to the new apps. I didn’t have any trouble, though, my media library is admittedly pretty small and disorganised. I look forward to organising it more easily with macOS Catalina!
Despite all this banter about the death of iTunes, however, the app isn’t actually dead. Apple says iTunes for Windows will continue to exist in its current state. We can also assume that the iTunes app that Apple built for smart TVs made by LG, Samsung, and Sony will also continue to exist. Meanwhile, the iTunes Store lives on in macOS Catalina, but I’m not entirely sure how it will work in the long run. I rented a movie through the TV app, for instance, and the iTunes Store fulfilled the purchase.
When I tried to figure out how to buy music through the Music, however, I was steered to the Apple Music streaming service constantly. Despite reports that the iTunes Store would have its own section alongside Apple Music on the left rail, it’s not there in the iteration of the app I’ve used so far. I was able to access the iTunes Store by right-clicking on music I already own and then opening it in the iTunes Store. That appeared to bring up the same version of the store from macOS Mojave.
So, despite the progress made, it will take some time before we truly live in a world without iTunes. For now, macOS Catalina feels like a magical little leap into the future, where everything is a little bit easier and prettier. In a few months, all Mac users will be able to go there for free. And I’m sure there will be some iTunes enthusiasts that don’t want to make the switch. They should. Without iTunes and its years of baggage, the Mac world is a better place.