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Apple retires iTunes – what does it mean for New Zealand users?

The interface of the new Apple Music app.

Apple's iTunes programme was integral to the runaway success of the iPod and helped usher in the age of digital music downloads.

But nearly 20 years after its debut, Apple has officially killed off iTunes, the software that allows users to store, organise and play music, videos and podcasts on Mac and Windows computers.

The brainchild of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, iTunes came to be loved and loathed in equal measures. As a content library, it served users reasonably well. But when used to sync content with iPhones, iPods and iPads plugged into a Mac computer, it struggled to deal with the growing complexity of devices and users’ demands.

The new version of Apple’s MacOS software, called Catalina, will feature three new desktop apps – Music, TV and Podcasts, which will let users access the content that was previously stored in iTunes.

One becomes three

For many iTunes users, that will see hundreds of thousands of songs, videos and podcasts migrate to those new apps.

“All of your purchases and libraries, including ripped music from a CD, will be maintained in each app respectively,” an Apple spokeswoman told NOTED.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

That puts Apple firmly on course to cement its place in the world of music and video streaming, though the company will also maintain the iTunes Music Store, accessible in the sidebar Finder feature on Mac computers, for people who want to download digital copies of songs and albums.

Billions of those downloads over two decades formed a lucrative revenue stream for Apple and a music industry struggling to deal with piracy and declining CD sales. The iTunes software was at the centre of that empire, by far the most popular music download site, despite many efforts to steal its crown.

In a keynote delivered at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose this morning, Apple’s vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, teased an audience of several thousand software developers, by implying that Apple was set to bundle even more things into iTunes, including the Calendar and Mail functions.

“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?” he said to nervous laughter.

But he quickly put the joke aside to confirm pre-conference rumours that iTunes was on the chopping block – on the Mac platform at least. It will remain in its existing form for Windows users.

The new TV app.

A streaming world

Apple users already have access to Apple Music (monthly subscription of $14.99 per month), which has amassed nearly 60 million paying subscribers, Apple Podcasts, and the Apple TV app, which recently debuted on Samsung smart TVs in New Zealand.

The Music app on the Mac would retain aspects of iTunes, such as the ability to create playlists and libraries of content, while integrating the Apple Music streaming service.

Apple TV would allow TV and movie downloads and rentals and include Apple TV+, the streaming subscription service Apple will release later in the year to offer its own TV shows and movies to rival Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

At WWDC, Apple chief executive Tim Cook played a trailer of For All Mankind (watch below), an alternative history drama about the US-USSR space race of the 1960s, which will be one of the first Apple-produced shows to appear on the new platform.

Podcasts on the Mac will function largely as the app does on iOS devices currently, but with an improved search function based on machine learning that will let you more quickly find a podcast based on keyword searches.

Just how and when content will magically migrate to those new apps has yet to be confirmed, but with MacOS 10.15 Catalina set to debut in late September or early October, the company will be working to make sure it is a smooth transition.

Apple’s move to replace iTunes was widely tipped, but with millions of Mac users around the world, the delicate task of migrating users from one well-known app to three new ones will require flawless execution. For Apple, the clear intention is to tackle the job sooner rather than later, as competition in the streaming content market intensifies and the Cupertino giant looks for new sources of revenue to counter slowing iPhone sales.

Key questions:

What will happen to all my iTunes music and playlists?

Your music will migrate to the new Music app on your Mac, where previous iTunes purchases will be automatically populated and playlists and libraries will be recreated.

What about movies and TV shows I’ve bought through iTunes?

Those shows and movies will migrate to the TV app where you’ll be able to access them as well as the new Apple TV+ subscription service

How will I access all of my iTunes content on mobile devices?

Apple already has TV, Podcasts and Music apps on its iOS platform for the iPhone, iPod and iPad, so all of your content will be populated in those apps too.

I use iTunes on my Windows PC, what will happen now?

According to Apple, “Windows users will see no changes in their experience”, which suggests that Apple will continue support for iTunes in the Windows environment, at least for an extended period. That’s good news for PC users, but also suggests Apple isn’t planning on creating versions of its new apps for Windows.

How will I sync my devices now?

In future, the (often annoying) prompt to sync your Apple device when you plug it into your computer won’t appear. Instead, you’ll be able to sync your devices in Finder, available in the tray at the bottom of your Mac’s screen. That will still be useful for migrating content to a new device or updating its operating system.

What will I get with Apple TV+?

Mac users will be able to rent and download TV shows and movies in the TV app on a Mac, as they can now with iTunes. It is still unclear exactly what mix of content will be available in New Zealand when the Apple TV+ subscription service arrives. The US version allows for “channels” of content to be offered from pay TV providers such as HBO.

That service is unlikely to be available later this year in New Zealand until similar content deals can be struck locally, but we should get the original shows that Apple produces itself and has the rights to sell globally. The TV app will be up to Apple’s usual high standard, supporting 4K video content, high dynamic range and audio formats such as Dolby Atmos.

When will all of this happen?

Apple’s new operating system typically becomes available for download in “the fall” in the US, so expect it to be ready to use along with those new iTunes replacement apps, in early September or October. Expect Apple to keep iTunes support available for a lengthy period to let everyone switch over.

Peter Griffin attended the Worldwide Developers’ Conference as a guest of Apple.

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