Obituary: iTunes (2001-2019)

Obituary: iTunes (2001-2019)

The year 2001 had just begun and there was rebellion in the air. Independent Women by Destiny’s Child topped the charts. More and more people were ripping music onto their computers from CDs, or accessing it for free through file-sharing platforms like Napster.

To understand what went so right and then so wrong for the program, one really has to go back to that pivotal speech in 2001. It was part of Jobs’ grand plan to make personal computers the centrepiece of people’s digital lives. This was the place we should manage the content of our lives – music, photos, emails and video.

As for existing efforts to organise digital music, Jobs was right. Music apps of the era were pretty awful. It’s ironic that one of the things that irritated people about iTunes in the end was something that made it so refreshing back in its early days – its emphasis on file management. That was actually a godsend at the time.

The very word podcast comes from “iPod” and “broadcast” – where did most people get their podcasts? iTunes. Podcasting today is booming and although audio blogging predates iTunes, the program was instrumental in introducing people to this form of entertainment in the early 2000s.

But eventually the program suffered from its own ambition. It incorporated too many functions and different types of media, including “iTunes LPs”, which gave users music as well as additional content about, say, a classic rock album. Instead of just being a bucket for all your music, it became a digital media behemoth, a shop, a device manager and a DJ.

All of that functionality required constant updates, which frustrated users. And the program seemed to become slower and less easy to use with time, not the other way around. Its 20,000-word-long terms and conditions was longer than Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. And far less entertaining.

Most of all, though, iTunes was a victim of changing technology. As high-speed broadband became the norm, streaming music and even HD films has become commonplace. How could a program that manages a finite collection of digital media on your own hard-drive compete with services like Spotify or YouTube that give you access to seemingly infinite content online?

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