The End of iTunes: Apple's New Mac Media Strategy Explained

I'm sure everyone has heard the big macOS Catalina iTunes news by now — as the old saying goes, any app sufficiently old becomes indistinguishable from an email client. Throw in a calendar and web browser and wow, howdy has Apple just absolutely been there, nailed that.

Kidding. It's being broken up. Sundered. But not decimated. Let me explain.

Apple isn't really killing iTunes as much as setting it free. It's as if Voltron had been stuck in its combined form for decades and now, finally, the Lions were being released to do what each can do far better alone. Especially if Voltron had had everything from a trash compactor to literally the kitchen sink welded to it over the years.

Now, before anyone panics, nothing is being deleted. Nothing is being canceled. Apple isn't closing the iTunes Music or Movie or TV Store. Tim Cook isn't coming to your house to delete all your downloads.

Everything you could do in iTunes yesterday you'll still be able to do with macOS tomorrow. And anyone that tries to scare you otherwise, unsubscribe or block their site at local.hosts.

What's happening is this: Apple is deprecating iTunes. They're retiring it. Letting it go off into the country to fish and swim and karaoke and otherwise do whatever it is old apps do when no one needs to launch them anymore.

And then Apple is bringing up some new apps in its place.

Exit iTunes. Enter Music, TV, and Podcasts, and oh, hey, look, Books and Finder with some fresh functionality!

So, immediately, anyone already familiar with how content works on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch will feel right at home with what's happening now on the Mac.

Instead of a single, monolithic, iTunes app to get, keep, and manage everything, Apple's broken things out into separate apps just like they've always been on iOS.

Music for macOS

There's a new Music app that does pretty much everything you'd expect a Music app born of iTunes to do. And yeah, you heard that right. This isn't the iOS Music app catalyzed over to the Mac. This is all the Music stuff from iTunes for Mac cut free and finally left to fly in its own Mac-as-in-AppKit app.

Launch it and you'll find exactly what you'd expect to find: All your Apple Music, if you subscribe, all your iTunes Match music, also if you subscribe, all your music videos — yup, they're in here too, all your existing downloaded and ripped Music, and, of course, the ability to download more from the iTunes Store and rip more from any CD, new or old, convert to AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, or Wav, and even burn a new, hot CD mix all your own… if you still have a CD Drive.

(Wikipedia it kids, it's listed right after turntable, 8-track, and cassette deck.)

Also, all of your playlists. So. Many. Playlists.

The Apple Music section includes For You, Browse, and Radio, where you can find Beats 1, featured stations, and all the Apple stations. The Library section contains Recently Added, Artists, Albums, Songs, and Music Videos. The Playlist section has all your playlists and the ability to turn on Genius if that floats your machine-learned music boat.

Search also seems to be better, showing you not only suggestions but what items match in which part of your library.

Now, real talk, pretty much everything I went looking for from iTunes I found in Music. So, come this fall, when you update to Catalina, you should find the transition not just easy but totally uneventful in the best possible way.

Like I said, Apple won't be ripping iTunes off anyone's machines. It'll still be there if only to reassure you that you have a safety net in the remote chance you need one. I mean, you can still run iPhoto on Mojave if you really want to, even though you shouldn't, because Apple is super slow and gentle about this stuff. But, my guess is, from the moment you update you'll be able to leave iTunes behind and never look back. Even when, one day, you update to a new Mac and don't even realize iTunes was never installed.

Yeah, all the feels, but like the Ikea lamp, iTunes has no feelings and can't see you crying.

Device Management

You probably noticed I didn't mention device sync anywhere in there. I noticed you noticing. Maybe you noticed that… Anyway, yeah, if you just want to manage your iPhone or iPad manually and over a hardwire, the way Neo and the Matrix intended, or you still have old school iPods knocking around, fret not. All the device backup, update, and restore functionality previously shellacked onto iTunes has now been blessedly moved to where it's always meant to have been — the Finder.

Just plug in and… that's it. No more iTunes popping up all eager on your face or over your desktop. Serenity now and forever more. When and if you want to do something, click the device in the sidebar and get to. The interface looks pretty much the same as it did in iTunes, so there's no getting lost.

Its proper home has just been found.

Books for macOS

Books has gotten another makeover in Catalina, this time to better fold in the Audio Books content that used to live in iTunes.

You've got a new set of tabs up top, including Library for all your stuff, Book Store where you can buy new pages to read, and Audiobook store where you can buy new pages to listen to.

In the Library, the new Sidebar has a listing just for your Audiobooks. In the Audiobook Store, it has listings for featured, top charts, categories, and top authors.

It's everything you'd expect, just all up in its all new home.

Podcasts for macOS

Podcasts has come to the Mac. Hallelujah. If you've used Podcasts on iOS, especially on the iPad, you'll be right at home. Because Apple catalyzed this app from the iPad expressly for the Mac. But it's not a proof of concept like News, Stocks, Voice Memo, or Home were last year. This is using the shiny new version of UIKit on the Mac Apple is releasing as a beta for developers this year. And the maturity and consistency shows. The new UIKit-based Podcasts app is almost indistinguishable from the new AppKit-based Music app.

Top of the sidebar is Apple Podcasts, the service. That includes Listen Now, which has Up Next and Recently Played. There's also Browse, which lets you see the Apple Podcast Editors' picks as well as the categories. 700,000 shows strong, Apple is still the standard when it comes to podcast directories and it's all here for you to find, just like it was in iTunes before. Even Top Charts have made the transition over, though I've only seen the main chart so far, not any category charts. Which is a bummer.

Library has Recently Updated, which are the shows that you subscribe to that have pushed out new episodes in the last little while. There's also Shows, which lists everything you subscribe to in alphabetical order, and Episodes, which does the same but in reverse chronological order. Downloaded contains all the episodes you've recently made local.

Then there are any stations you've added, Family Fun or Comedy or True Crime. Basically talk radio for podcasts.

What's especially cool is the new search feature. Out of nowhere, Apple used machine learning to index the spoken content of podcasts, so you can search for more than just show titles or keywords.

It works pretty well, even if I'm not getting as many Vector results as I'd like.


TV for macOS

Also new to the Mac is the TV app. Unlike Podcasts but just like Music, it's a Mac-as-in-AppKit app, but it's designed to bring you everything iOS and tvOS have been enjoying for a while now, even since the big new version launched last spring. More specific to my interests, the TV app, for the first time, lets you watch 4K HDR Dolby ATMOS movies and TV shows on the Mac. Are you feeling me, Netflix? HDR. ATMOS. Mac? You know what you need to do here.

Like the Apple TV version, you have Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, Sports, Kids, Library, and Search across the top, though in classic Mac toolbar style. The Watch Now tab is supposed to always show you something you're going to want to see, but without making a fussy infinite scroll list out of it. It doesn't include all the updated, Apple TV-style options, though. At least not for me, not right now.

Up next is still first, which, front-loaded, has anything you started but haven't finished. Then, anything new that you typically watch immediately, for example a live sports event or the latest episode of your favorite show or the movie you pre-ordered and has just become available, in reverse chronological order. Because freshness counts here. But there's no What to Watch from the human editors or For You from the machine learning system, though I've seen the first one on some other people's lists. Either way, it doesn't feel like a one-on-one copy of the Apple TV version but something purpose-built for the Mac.

Channels are here too. They vary a lot based on region, with the U.S. having a ton of them and other places relatively few, if any. But I hope they grow because I like them a lot. Since there's no Apple Music for TV, you have to subscribe to a bunch of different services and that creates a lot of overhead.

With Channels, all the subscriptions can be added and managed in one place, all the content seen and viewed in one place, and much of it can even be downloaded for offline viewing, including, for the first time HBO. If only Netflix would smarten and realize that, with frequent price hikes and Disney+ on the horizon, some of our continued subscriptions depend on them learning to play nicely with Channels.

The Movies and TV Shows tabs focus on, surprise surprise, Movies and TV Shows specifically. Everything you've already bought on iTunes, along with anything from the iTunes catalog and anything available from your Channels subscriptions.

If you've previously been hoping between iTunes and HBO or CBS All-Access on the web, the increased convenience is simply terrific. Hear that, Netflix?

The Kids tab isolates out everything safe for your children to watch, organized, categorized, and editorialized. And, unlike YouTube, where a video that looks like a kid's show can end up being something completely different and inappropriate, this is all exactly what it says it is, so you can hit play without that constant sense of panic in the pit of your stomach.

The Library tab, as you probably guessed by now, is where you'll find all your existing and future iTunes Store purchases. You can see Movies or TV Shows, or a time-based Recently Added view.

To be continued...

About the only thing all these new apps still need is Continuity for media. They do sync your state, so whatever you listened to or watched in TV on iOS or Apple TV will be in the same place, at the same place, on your Mac.

But it would be even better if you could just click an icon in the Dock to handoff from another device, or use proximity-based handoff like HomePod is getting. I'd love it if Apple figured that out and soon.

All these new apps are still in beta so I'm going to hold off any judgments on quality or capability, design or implementation until they're ready for primetime.

But, it's already more than easy to see — and say — that pretty much anything you were able to do in iTunes pre-Catalina, you can now do in Music, TV, Podcasts, Books, and Finder in the age of Catalina.

Read the full macOS Catalina Preview

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.