I’ve been giving some thought to the future of iTunes and I’ve reached the conclusion that, well, it probably doesn’t have one. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news and all that.
Almost two years ago, around the time Apple was rolling out Apple Music, I reasoned that it was a good opportunity to break up iTunes, the app—which, if you’re keeping score, didn’t happen. But the longer I’ve considered the matter, the more I’ve come to think that the name iTunes is due to ride into the sunset. And how about this for confirmation: Apple just rebranded iTunes Podcasts as Apple Podcasts. iTunes, your days are numbered.
What’s in a name?
Starting with the release of the iMac, Apple jumped wholeheartedly on its “i” branding. But over the years, the overloaded prefix has become a liability. Originally, the i stood for internet, but in this day and age where the internet is simply part of everyday life, it looks as outdated as a Flower Power iMac. Over the years it’s not only become easily mocked, but also adopted by plenty of other companies hoping to hitch their wagons to Apple’s brand—so much so that when Apple wanted to announce the iPhone, it had to engage in a bit of gamesmanship with Cisco, which owned the iPhone trademark.
While Apple has not managed to entirely excise the i from its lineup—and probably won’t so long as the iPhone is around—it has tried to back away from it. Thus we get generic names products like the Apple Watch and Apple TV, as well as software like Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Clips, and so on. Apple relies on the strength of its overarching corporate brand to make its products stand out, even if that means that searching for them online becomes an exercise in frustration. (What do you mean you have a problem with “Mail”?)
iTunes has had a good run. At one time iTunes was the generic trademark for buying music online, the Kleenex of music stores. But iTunes’ reputation isn’t all sterling. For Mac users, it’s become an amalgamated beast of an application that seems to never work like it should. For Windows users with iPhones, it’s a necessary evil (though less needed as iPhones have become more self-sufficient) and the punchline of jokes.
On iOS, meanwhile, you’d be excused for blinking and missing iTunes. Sure, the iTunes Store exists, but Apple’s music-playing app has always been a separate affair, first dubbed iPod and now simply Music. And with the introduction of Apple Music—not to mention competing music subscription services—these days “iTunes” isn’t even the logical default for getting new music on your phone. So there’s little reason for Apple to cling to the iTunes moniker on either platform.
But if iTunes disappears, what takes its place? Well, the easiest answer is Apple Music. Apple’s already been pushing Apple Music hard as a brand, and there’s no reason to expect that to change. The company would likely dub iTunes the “Apple Music Store” to differentiate it from the subscription service. As for all the other content on the iTunes Store right now, you just have to look at the examples the company has already set to draw a straight line to Apple Movies, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV. (Which could be confusing, come to think of it, since there’s both a set-top box and a TV app.)
The biggest downside to dropping the iTunes brand is losing the instant recognition that came with it, but Apple is the world’s strongest brand, easily eclipsing all its own subbrands, so that fallout ought to be relatively limited.
In the end, ditching iTunes would be positive for Apple. Moving on from a legacy brand would give the company a fresh start with users and potential customers alike. It also gets to give Apple Music some room to breathe, without the iTunes brand looking over its shoulder. Perhaps the company can even find a way to change the conversation about online music again.
All of those would be welcome developments—just as long as it does something about iTunes on the Mac while it’s at it.