As Apple’s annual and perennially anticipated WWDC product launch event for 2019 nears, a number of big announcements are looming. From the next major version release of iOS to a purported new Mac Pro, we’re expecting big things.
According to rumors swirling in the Apple-watching corners of the internet, another major revelation at WWDC 2019 will be the company’s supposed phaseout of the long-running iTunes desktop music player and iOS syncing tool. If these whisperings have any substance, this would mark the end of Apple’s oldest currently updated piece of software, with 18 years of continuous development, other than its desktop OS itself.
Though it’s hard to say exactly why Apple might make this decision without hearing it straight from the developer, one major argument in favor of this move would be the drastically reduced role it plays in Apple’s software ecosystem compared to its initial few years, and the considerable bloat it has taken on in that time. Its debut in 2001 set the stage for the revolutionary iPod portable music player, which relied on iTunes for transferring songs to the device, and within a week of the online iTunes Store opening for business in 2003, it sold 1 million songs, catalyzing the transition from CD sales to purchased downloads.
In the early generations of the iPhone, iTunes was also indispensable in configuring the iconic smartphone, as it was required to transfer media files and perform device backups. However, by 2011, Apple untethered its iOS devices from iTunes, allowing them to be set up and backed up via the cloud, though management via iTunes was still supported. Today, you can enjoy the full range of iOS functionality without ever having to interact with iTunes, or even own a desktop device. That totally obviates the need for the software for a large subset of Apple’s user base.
iTunes has also taken on a lot more over its 18-year lifetime. At first, using iTunes as a portal for purchasing and downloading non-music media such as video and podcasts made sense, since more mature generations of the iPod evolved to allow for consuming these kinds of content. But when Apple Music dropped in 2015, its integration into iTunes seemed forced and added unnecessary complexity, especially considering that it was also available as a standalone iOS app with a much more streamlined UI. This and other moves to cram more features into iTunes has gradually frustrated even core fans of the program, and has detracted from Apple’s pivot to a content-delivery-centric strategy.
In light of reports of separated Apple Music, Apple TV, and Podcasts apps (among others) on the way, a singular behemoth that amalgamates all of the functions represented in these is counterintuitive. Not only is iTunes use cannibalizing Apple Music adoption, but it hamstrings Apple’s ability to keep up with rivals who are separating their services into simple, single-purpose apps. Considering the industrywide shift to unbundling, iTunes in its current form makes for an overgrown weed in an otherwise meticulously pruned walled garden of Apple apps. Assuming Apple has plans for representing all of iTunes’s constituent features in their own respective apps, the time may be right for them to catch up to the rest of the industry and kill off iTunes for good.