iTunes: A Lament


What happens when something you use on a daily basis is basically on life support? It isn’t dead, per se, but it’s on the chopping block, and will soon be surpassed. Apple’s announcement a few weeks back that iTunes, the venerable software that launched Apple into the small consumer electronics market is being replaced, on Apple.

The Lament

For most people, this is a non-issue. ‘Apple is killing iTunes? Chinny reckon!’. These days, music streaming is today’s preferred choice for musical consumption. No one is using a chunky old iPod with its cute click wheel and mini mechanical hard drive. Unless you’re my Uncle, or me. But if you’re me, and lord help you if you are, you have gigabytes, maybe even terabytes, of music files ranging from MP3 to FLAC to APE, to whatever. How will you live? Frankly, if you are one of those people, you don’t care either.

When iTunes was released in 2001, it was a very nifty and promising music manager, CD ripper and burner, and playback software. When the music store was added, you could buy MP3’s, and then movies, and then sync your iPod, iPhone, Podcasts, Apple music. My point is that in 2019, iTunes is bloated. And it could be argued that this is a good reason to end it now and start over. And in this day and age, I can see why you’d say that. More people now are renting music over actually owning it. Just pay a tenner a month and download to your phone for offline listening.

Here’s the thing though, despite changing attitudes and demands, and services, I still have my iPod. I still sync it on iTunes, and I still store my own music on my computer, via ripping or downloading. I am not old hat, I love advances in tech. But I like owning my stuff. I like having a device that does its job well, rather than one device that does multiple jobs acceptably, like a Smartphone.

Replacing iTunes

So, what am I doing now? Well, for now, I still have iTunes. It’s not dead yet, at least on Windows, but I have also done some forward planning. Since the announcement, I had been looking for iTunes alternatives, and what I was after was a few things:

  1. A music manager and playback software
  2. Similar User Interface for a smoother transition.
  3. No accounts to mess around with, or companies trying to sell me anything.
  4. If I can’t sync my iPod with the software, at least offer things that iTunes doesn’t offer me currently.

People were already writing about replacing iTunes with an alternative 2 years ago, so I had the opportunity to read a number of articles, and I decided to try something called Musicbee.

My iTunes

Musicbee, compared to iTunes, is a lot less cluttered and bloated. It launches quicker and focuses on being a music library manager and playback media. It also offers podcasts, if that’s what you’re into. What sets Musicbee apart from iTunes, if you’re looking for a well-rounded music library, is its customisability. The software allows you to edit everything from the icon you click on to launch it, to the complete layout of the software. I have been using it for a week or so, and while there is a learning curve, there is a lively community of enthusiasts and supporters to help you get the most out of it.

iTunes launches, on my computer, in 10 seconds exactly. Musicbee launches in 2.72 seconds. It also has an advantage in playing media.

Playing an album on iTunes
Playing an album on Musicbee

Both of these look about the same, in terms of functionality. There is a difference, however. Musicbee is playing FLAC files, while iTunes is playing exclusively MP3 files. FLAC is, for many reasons, considered a better quality of file due to the sound being ‘lossless’ and of a higher resolution. As I have mentioned, iTunes doesn’t support FLAC, but MusicBee does. And that is a good feature to have for a serious audiophile.

The post-iTunes future

In short, I don’t like the way things are going. While I have dipped my toes into the water of streaming with a Spotify subscription, I will miss services like iTunes. More and more, everything is going digital, and turning into services, rather than selling products. Apple is putting emphasis on selling a service, with Apple Music. Spotify is blatantly a service. Amazon is a bit of both, but Amazon is hedging its bets.

My feeling is that, in ten years, CD’s will no longer be sold. People who want to own physical media will be stuck with vinyl, or digital downloads. The mass market will be just updating subscriptions and renting music.

First, they came for the radio, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a radio.

Then they came for the music shops, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a music shop.

Then they came for the CD’s, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a CD.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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About the author


Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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