Apple iTunes is retiring, but the iTunes spirit lives on: Apple continues to hold an iron grip on its own devices and software.
Apple’s software boss Craig Federighi said goodbye to the music program that had been on Mac computers since 2001, and on many Windows PCs.
As Apple continued to add extra features to iTunes for years, the program turned into a shaky stack of software that needed urgent maintenance.
iTunes will retire this fall, Apple announced on Monday.
The main iTunes functions are split into three programs: Apple Music, Apple TV and Podcast.
That is not surprising.
On the iPhone and iPad, Apple’s most-sold products, these media services can only be used via individual apps and iTunes is hardly present.
With iTunes, based on the SoundJam MP program that Apple bought in 2000, you could copy music CDs.
But iTunes became indispensable because it was the only official software that you could use to synchronize music with an iPod.
Apple sold more than 400 million copies of this music player, which was also released in 2001.
Apple was in control with the iPod and with iTunes, the software that served as a “digital hub” for gadgets.
iTunes still controls how often music or movies can be copied on your devices, and with which users you can share them.
Apple also determined the rules of the iTunes Store: the download store came in 2003, when the music industry’s turnover fell rapidly due to illegal downloads.
The record industry – happy with a legal alternative to exchange services such as Napster and Kazaa – agreed to the terms and conditions of the iTunes Store: from now on music could also be purchased per song, not just per album.
That “unbundling” of the music bundle cost the record industry dearly, while Apple benefited from the commission that got it about legal downloads.
First with music, later films and TV series were also sold via iTunes.
Apple’s music store will continue to work, although downloading songs only serves a limited audience.
In fact, it is so limited that the music market is making another turning point: last year, Americans spent more on physical CDs and records than on digital downloads.
Three-quarters of all music revenue comes from online music subscriptions, with Spotify being the largest with 100 million paying subscribers.
Apple Music currently has more than 50 million users.
Craig Federighi did not venture an explanation last Monday as to why Apple is now scrapping the name iTunes (the Windows version is still unaffected).
The fact that it took so long to phase out iTunes is partly due to the reluctance in the film and TV industry to cooperate in Apple’s new services.
Apple has wanted to “revolutionize” the TV experience for years – it was an old wish of Steve Jobs – but the entertainment industry has learned from the record industry what happens when you give Apple control over distribution.
The negotiations about the new Apple TV app therefore took much longer than expected.
The “digital hub” that iTunes once was has moved to the cloud.
Apple’s strict synchronization strategy is still alive and kicking.
This is especially evident in the App Store of iOS, the only way you can install software on an iPhone or iPad.
In this Apple-directed environment, developers of paid apps have to hand over 30 percent of their revenue to Apple.
For subscriptions concluded via the App Store, Apple still asks for a 15 percent reimbursement after one year.
The app developers are not happy with the way Apple holds the App Store in its grip and meanwhile offers its own apps “for free” a prominent place.
Spotify complained to the EU, which is investigating the case.
In the US too, there is suspicion about the way Apple holds the developers in its grip: the US government is preparing an investigation into possible abuse of power.
The strict rules in the App Store, however, form the basis of Apple’s success: the company is the inexorable gatekeeper to a billion iOS customers who – far more often than Android users – are willing to pay for apps, movies and music.
A new niche
Now that iPhones sales are falling sharply, Apple’s revenue is also at risk.
The compensation must come from the introduction of new services – monthly subscriptions to magazines, TV, games and music.
It’s not hard for Apple to impress with luxury hardware – whether it’s a new MacPro or an iPhone.
It is much more difficult to convince consumers that the Apple version of existing music or video services is better than successful market leaders such as Youtube, Spotify or Netflix.
But Apple has found a new niche: extra privacy measures, embedded in the operating system, and stricter security for users and their devices.
This is possible because Apple manages both hardware and software, and the connecting elements.
And has no interest in data from users, CEO Tim Cook continues to emphasize.
Soon you can protect files on a Mac with an Apple Watch or find a stolen computer, even if it stays offline.
Also new: a login method where your actual email address is not disclosed to the dangerous outside world.
Apple thinks that this protected domain can only exist if there is one owner who is in control.
Now it remains to be seen whether the European and American antitrust investigators agree.