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Now that the iPod's dead, let's kill iTunes, too

Apple just killed off its groundbreaking music player. It's the perfect opportunity to whack iTunes, too.


Remember syncing?


By now, I'm sure you've heard: Apple finally put the iPod out of its misery.

The iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle have met their logical end, following the iPod Classic (2001-2014) into gadget history. The Touch remains the only iPod-branded product in Apple's line. (And that name has always felt like a stretch -- it's really just a Wi-Fi-only iPhone, or a 4-inch iPad, if you will.)

Not even the "Baby Driver"-inspired wave of iPod nostalgia could save Apple's music player. Just past its 10-year anniversary, the iPhone has finally delivered its deathblow. And don't be surprised if the inevitable Apple Watch 3 has more room for music -- I can already see Tim Cook on stage, playing up the "Apple Watch plus AirPods" as a perfect solution for phone-free music on the go.

But as we salute the iPod on its journey to tech heaven, I'm hoping it means we can finally send iTunes to tech hell.

Once upon a time, iTunes was cool

Perhaps you're too young to remember iTunes. Well, pull up a chair and let me tell you a tale from the age of spinning discs and CRT monitors. The indispensable -- and free! -- music app for your Mac or PC started life way back in 2001 as a straightforward music manager. "Rip. Mix. Burn." touted Apple, much to the music industry's chagrin.

Yes, kids: Before the iPod, it was all about burning CDs. Once the iPod arrived later that year, though, iTunes became the "iPod management software." You'd construct your playlists, rearrange your songs, and load them in and out of your iPod via the USB cable -- managing as little as 5GB at a time.

When the iPhone arrived in 2007, iTunes served the same role. It was even required for activating the phone when setting it up at home -- a computer running iTunes was an essential part of the process.

iTunes menu
Screenshot by John Falcone/CNET

In later years, things started to change. The arrival of the App Store in 2008 eventually opened the iPhone to third-party music services like Pandora, Rdio, and Rhapsody -- and eventually current giants like Spotify. Apple christened Apple Music in 2015 as well. That, along with rivals like Google Play Music and Amazon Music, let online music services live side-by-side with your own cloud-based music collections. (Yes, actually making that transition from hard-drive to cloud is often Sisyphean, but if you make it to the other side -- as I did with Amazon -- you can kick iTunes to the curb.)

But more importantly, as of iOS 5 in 2011, iTunes was no longer required to activate an iPhone, either. No computer, no problem: the iPhone (and, by then, iPad) was finally a truly standalone device. iCloud backup sealed the deal: You didn't even need iTunes to backup your device any more. (What you will need is money for extra storage, since the freebie 5GB tier is never enough.)

In the meantime, though, iTunes became one of history's all-time great examples of bloatware. Take a look today, and you'll see one program that does this:

  • Music
  • Movies
  • TV Shows
  • Podcasts
  • iTunes U
  • Books/Audiobooks
  • Ringtones
  • Apps
  • Internet Radio

For the most part, the media choices include both local file management, as well as access to the iTunes Store. But that's still a lot of stuff for one piece of software.

Oh, and it also still handles local backups of iDevices, too.

A time to live, a time to die

If that sounds like way too much, it is. Which is why on an iPhone or iPad, those apps have already been split off (TV for video; Music for listening; iTunes Store for purchasing media from Apple; Podcasts; iBooks; and iTunes U, which offers educational content) or consolidated into other apps (you manage ringtones, apps and backups in Settings).

To echo a proposal that's been made by countless others over the years: Why not just create MacOS versions of all those apps, too? Fold iTunes Match into Apple Music. Maybe add one more app to the mix -- something like "iDevice Maintenance," to handle those backup and debugging tasks for which iTunes is still occasionally necessary. That would provide a comparatively streamlined experience for each, and something that would better align the Mac experience with iOS, the path that Apple has increasingly followed in recent years.


The bad old days.

Donald Bell/CNET

And for all of you who still use iTunes every day -- and yes, I know you're out there -- don't worry. iTunes wouldn't "disappear." It would still be available on Macs and Windows machines. Indeed, Apple has already pledged to offer iTunes in the Windows Store soon. 

I could see iTunes joining MS Paint as a zombie app. Still downloadable to those of you who want it to sync to your iPod, listen to your music or watch video on your desktop, backup your iPad or... manage your audiobook collection? Whatever. Just don't expect any new features going forward. It would be frozen in time, no longer maintained or updated (aside, presumably, from critical security fixes).

In fact, while we're at it, it would be a good time to kill the iTunes brand altogether. Apple Music is already its own thing, and buying movies and TV shows through "iTunes" has always felt like something of a misnomer. I don't know what the rebranding would be (Apple Store?), but... why not? (Indeed, Jason Snell offers some evidence this may already be in the cards.) 

After all, the iPod is dead. As we kick off the iPhone's second decade, this feels like the perfect time to put iTunes out to pasture. For good.

Still use iTunes? Would you miss it? Is it still too mission critical to kill? Let me know in the comments.