iTunes is dead! Long live iTunes!

By Jon Reily, Vice President, Global Strategy Lead, Publicis Sapient

Apple’s always wild and wonderful Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) took place last week. An Apple aficionado’s dream, the event inevitably, and annually, launches the beginnings of new endeavors; however, this year marked an end to one of Apple’s legacy mainstays; Apple said a final goodbye to iTunes.

iTunes is an easy target nowadays. It’s not the sleek, shiny, slender app it was in 2001. Over the years it’s become more encumbered with responsibility, gained a lot of weight, and is slow to move and act. Though to be fair, who among us hasn’t gained a little weight in the last 18 years? It’s easy to throw stones at the app, or platform would be a better way to put it, it’s an easy target for our angst. However, much like many things we grew up with we’ve taken it for granted and don’t really appreciate or give credit for everything it’s done for us over the years.

Taking an industry by storm

While there were dozens of websites where one could purchase goods and services and to a limited extent (legally acquire) music, iTunes took an industry by storm by bringing it all into one place. It was the first platform to democratise music, to break it into its individual components and let popular choice determine how it would be packaged. It added choice to the digital world.

In the 20th Century if you wanted a book and Amazon didn’t have it online, you had to go to Borders Books and Music. If you wanted to have your favourite episode of Futurama you had to buy the entire DVD set for Season 2. If you wanted to buy something online and have it instantly, well you were out of luck; “books in 60 seconds”, the mantra of Amazon’s Kindle, was still seven years away. It’s easy to forget a world where choice was limited and delivery was far from next-day, but iTunes, much like the Gutenberg Press, was the beginnings of a revolution we are still living in two decades later and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s to come.

In 2003 Apple opened the doors to iTunes Music, previously it had been only a management tool for iPods (the iPhone still being a twinkle in an Apple engineer’s eye and four years away). Instantly customers all over the world had the ability to purchase nearly every song popular at the time, one song at a time, for just 99 cents. No more trips to the mall to go to Warehouse Music or Tower Records hoping there was a CD-single so you didn’t have to buy the whole album. Nope, those days were over, and a cry of joy was heard around the world; which no one heard because we all had Apple’s signature white earbuds in our ears.

E-commerce king

Over time iTunes became one of the largest and most successful eCommerce platforms on the planet. By 2010 it was the largest music retailer in the world and served up its 25 billionth song to one of its then 435 million customers. It added books, movies, games, TV shows, podcasts, and even an ill-fated social network to the mix (remember iTunes Ping? Yeah, no one else does either, don’t feel bad). It was the first of so many things we now consider table stakes today for any eCommerce experience:

· Sorted views by product and genre

· Product recommendations based on previous purchases

· Endless aisle shopping with cover flow

· Multi-item shopping carts across categories and companies

· Commerce driven social networking (social shopping)

· User-defined favorites list

· Rights-protected purchases

· Parental-controlled shopping

· Gift card redemptions online

And many more…

Setting the stage for music platforms

The internet is widely lauded as bringing all of the world’s knowledge to our finger-tips any time anywhere, iTunes did that for music and later media in general. Whether it was an obscure Depeche Mode B-side that was only available in Japan in 1983, or one of the three George Strait songs which doesn’t have the words “Dallas”, “truck” or “highway” in it you could probably get it from iTunes in seconds. Nothing even came close.

It’s also easy to forget a time before apps, and when they did finally come they were the Wild West of the digital landscape, once they could at all (another iTunes first). Apple added apps to the iTunes department store in 2008 and just a few years later customers had downloaded over 40 billion of them from the platform.

However, it wasn’t all good. Much like many companies today iTunes suffered from trying to do too many things, for too many people, and not getting with the times. It became a slow to load, bloated memory hog, and had a penchant for wanting to install updates seemingly every day exactly when you needed to use it. Apple moving slow to an online-only service allowed interlopers like Pandora, Rdio, and Spotify to take some of its market share before it released Apple Music in 2015. Ironically it was likely one of Apple’s telecom partners T-Mobile who started the countdown clock for the platform when they offered free streaming of media to all of its customers in 2016, long before Apple’s service was mature enough to compete against the already in place Pandora and Spotify platforms. Really, this news should come as no surprise, the platform has been showing its age for a very long time.

So let’s take a moment of silence and remember all the things iTunes did for you in the last 20ish years. The digital world we live in today would not exist were it not for the products and services it provided.

Jon Reily is Vice President, Global Commerce Strategy Lead at digital consultancy Publicis Sapient www.publicissapient.com.