The 5 things you need to know about the death of iTunes

A screenshot of iTunes.
A screenshot of iTunes.
By Viola Stefanello
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Apple announced it's going to scrap iTunes, its historic media service. What does this mean?


After 18 years of honoured service, Apple has announced it will dismantle iTunes, the media player, media library, Internet radio broadcaster, and mobile device management application it first released in January 2001.

The announcement was made at Apple's annual developer conference during one of the longest keynote speeches in the history of the company.

1 - What did iTunes do?

iTunes was initially conceived as a "digital jukebox" allowing users to import CDs, burn their own mixes and organise their music libraries.

It was the "wild west" years of the Internet, months before the first iPod was even launched, and file-sharing apps for Windows were so full of bugs and malware that Steve Jobs himself one said giving Windows users access to iTunes, with its straightforward interface and clean look, was like "giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell".

When Napster crumbled under the weight of too many lawsuits in 2001, iTunes was uniquely positioned to establish itself as an alternative to Napster, Limewire and the other file-sharing services that crowded the music industry in the late 90s.

In April 2003, iTunes added its first new feature: the iTunes music store, allowing users to buy songs for as little as 99 cents. For a while, it was one of the best options out there for people who didn't want to risk illegally downloading music. Then came the cluttering.

2 - What happened to it?

Slowly but steadily, iTunes began shifting away from its original music-centred purposed from as early as 2005, when it started supporting TV shows, music videos and podcasts.

As music streaming services like Spotify rose in popularity, opening in country after country, iTunes fought back. In 2015, Apple launched its own paid music streaming service, Apple Music, causing confusion in many users who had a hard time distinguishing between the two.

Through college courses of iTunes and Genius Mixes, iTunes turned into what iOS developer and Tumblr founder Marco Arment called, in his personal blog, "a toxic hellstew of technical cruft and a toxic hellstew of UI design".

Its initial virtues - the elegance, the simple interface, the speed - were slowly lost.

3 - How was it announced?

"Customers love iTunes and everything it can do. But if there's one thing we hear over and over, it's 'Can iTunes do even more?'" Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, asked jokingly at Apple's annual developer conference.

The announcement came shortly after Bloomberg published speculation claiming that the firm would launch a trio of new apps for the Mac – Music, TV, and Podcasts – to replace iTunes.

Furthermore, some Reddit users had also noticed that posts on the iTunes Instagram and Facebook accounts had been deleted before the news was made official.

4 - What comes next?

Users will notice the changes in Apple’s upcoming MacOS 10.15 software update, but the company assures that users who have bought content on the store will still be able to use their purchases and that the new operating system will keep allowing users to update their phones without having to launch a separate app.

A subscription to Apple Music currently allows users to access songs they bought from iTunes — it is thought the company will take steps for users to manage downloaded content via this app.

5 - What does it leave behind?

Although tech experts and users have been complaining over iTunes' sluggishness and clutter for years, its cultural significance cannot be overstated.

Social media users are calling its death "the end of an era", sharing fond memories of their first iPods and concerns over the future of their current music libraries.

Specialised tech magazine like Wired are paying their respects too, writing that "In its earliest iteration, iTunes revolutionised how and where people could access music. Its later bloat tells the story of how digitization ate the world".

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