Ultimately, Mr. Jobs’s prophecy was wrong. People wanted to rent access to a centralized streaming library, not pay a small fee to own every song. As streaming services grew, sales of music downloads plummeted. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, downloads now make up a smaller percentage of recording sales than physical albums — a twist Mr. Jobs could never have seen coming.
In 2015, Apple tried to rescue iTunes by bolting on its own streaming service, Apple Music. But the idea was doomed from the outset. People couldn’t figure out the new, Frankensteinian hybrid. Which of their songs were hosted in the cloud? Why did they need to re-enter their Apple ID every time they wanted to play an album? Where were their downloads going? Marco Arment, a longtime Apple blogger, called iTunes a “toxic hellstew.”
Since we’re among friends, I can be candid: ITunes didn’t age well. In recent years, it had become a bloated, buggy nightmare. Apple crammed more and more into iTunes — movies, TV shows, podcasts — until the whole thing was slow and confusing.
My encounters with the program were increasingly maddening: I’d open an audio file in iTunes by mistake, wait three minutes for it to load, and have to force-quit the app in frustration. (And don’t even get me started on the time iTunes forced a U2 album on millions of unsuspecting people — midlife crisis doesn’t even begin to describe it.)
But let’s not remember iTunes as the mess it became. Instead, let’s remember it as it once was: a revolutionary product that transformed the music industry, ushered in a new model of digital ownership and tamed a messy, chaotic part of the internet by building something simple and elegant to replace it.
My 15-year-old self, drunk on freedom and awash in pirated MP3s, might have cheered the demise of a corporate-controlled music clearinghouse. But my current self gets a little wistful watching an icon of the old internet pass into obsolescence, and knowing that the iTunes library I spent all those hours perfecting is collecting dust on a hard drive somewhere in my closet, another casualty of progress.