Back in May 2019, we were told we’d have to say goodbye to an app that had become as ubiquitous as Apple itself. iTunes, the sometimes loved and sometimes hated music player, podcast player, iPhone hub and all the other roles Apple assigned to it over the years, will end with the next major update of Mac’s operating system (OS X Catalina) this year.
iTunes launched in January 2001 and helped legitimize the consumer shift to mp3s and digital music with the launch of the iTunes Music Store in 2003. It later became Apple’s conduit for activating and maintaining iPhones and installing Mac OS X software updates. Apple even tried to strap a social networking service on to iTunes – the long-forgotten “Ping” – as well as serving as a platform for the company’s early offerings in ebooks and video.
For people with large mp3 or wav file collections – people like DJs, say – this was anxiety-inducing news. iTunes playlists are how many DJs organize their collection. A free app which was originally meant to rip CDs and then to sell iPods is a pretty indispensable part of many DJs’ workflow.
This month, Apple published a spec document outlining (and reassuring) users that even though everything is changing… much will be familiar.
Apple claimed that splitting iTunes into three separate apps will cut through the out-of-control bloat of iTunes and simplify the experience into something similar to what exists on the iPhone. In the past, audio and video would be located in various places depending on where you bought it. If it was bought via iTunes, it stayed in iTunes. Now, music will be set aside in the Music app, podcasts in the Podcasts app and video into the Apple TV app. (Despite the claims of simplicity, many of the names of the apps are also the names of Apple services or products. For example: AppleTV vs Apple’s TV app, and Apple’s Music app vs. the Apple Music streaming platform.)
After migration – and here’s the important part – “music that you’ve imported or purchased will be in the new Apple Music app. Music playlists and smart playlists that you’ve created in iTunes will be in the new Apple Music app.”
Moreover, despite long-running rumors, the iTunes mp3 store will still be available, with access moving from the dedicated iTunes app to a link found on the sidebar in the Music app.
On the whole, Apple is promising a fairly seamless experience. None of this means it will be this way forever, of course – no company is more ruthless about pushing “innovation” in product design than Apple, and as mp3 sales continue to crater, they may still decide that downloads and files should go the way of the headphone jack.
There’s one somewhat ominous “feature” here: subscribers to Apple Music (the streaming service, not the app) can choose to “hide” the iTunes store link from the sidebar and never have to think about mp3s and downloads again. This is probably a convenience if you’ve deleted your library of mp3 downloads and never plan to revisit that world. And just like that, it’ll be done with. That’s how these things happen.