That sad moment when ‘yesterday’s brand’ dies from cruft

Posted 6/7/19

An old familiar friend’s obituary came across my desk on Monday, and when I read it, I was shocked.

I mean, I didn’t even realize iTunes was sick.

Stories of the demise of iTunes — the …

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That sad moment when ‘yesterday’s brand’ dies from cruft

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An old familiar friend’s obituary came across my desk on Monday, and when I read it, I was shocked.

I mean, I didn’t even realize iTunes was sick.

Stories of the demise of iTunes — the Apple music software program that brought music, computers and eventually iPods (Apple’s digital music players) together for millions of listeners — began appearing on Monday afternoon. As a music lover, I was a heavy iTunes user (and buyer) and have (I just counted, so this is accurate) songs from exactly 579 albums in my iTunes library.

So I read the stories of the demise of iTunes with interest.

“For many years it had struggled with bloatware and slow speeds,” read the death notice written by Wall Street Journal tech columnist Joanna Stern. “Ultimately, iTunes suffered a stroke from too many outdated functions, according to people who used the software in the last few years. Surrounded by Apple employees and thousands of software developers at the company’s annual developers conference in San Jose, Calif., the software passed peacefully into the cloud.”

iTunes was 18 years old and “will remain in fragments across Apple’s products,” said the story, which went on to explain that Apple computer and software users will have to get their music from an Apple Music subscription and new Mac apps, which will be released in the fall.

Stern’s tongue-in-cheek obit made me feel a bit melancholy as I watched another piece of high tech go by the wayside. (Or, in the parlance from another iTunes story, “become yesterday’s brand.”)

Earlier Monday, ironically, I’d read a story about Napster, which was born in a college dorm room 20 years ago this month. Napster, you may remember, was a free online music software program that allowed users to share each other’s mp3 music files — meaning I could “borrow” (read: own) just about any song or album from someone I didn’t know by downloading it onto my computer and burning or “ripping” it onto a CD for play in my car or on a portable CD player — without paying a dime. In a short span of 18 months, Napster went from 150,000 users to more than 80 million — and in doing so, it nearly single-handedly destroyed the business part of the music recording industry. (It’s never recovered, by the way, which is why you see people forking out $150 for run-of-the-mill concert tickets that cost $12 when I was in college, and $400 or more for the big-name groups.)

Back to Napster: The rationale was, why pay for a song or album when you could download it for free? (Especially for hard-to-find songs like “I’m Falling,” the song by the Comsat Angels from the 80s movie “Real Genius” that I could never, ever find on any pay-for-music site. I still love that song. And it’s still not on iTunes.)

Lawsuits and legal challenges related to copyright infringement effectively killed Napster in 2001, just as iTunes was showing up — adding, in 2003, the chance for “honest” music aficionados to pay for songs (at 99 cents) and albums (usually for $9.99). I ended up buying on iTunes many of the songs I had downloaded for free because, well, my mom taught me not to steal. (Although I still have a free version of “I’m Falling” on my computer.)

I don’t know how many songs I’ve bought on iTunes. More than a thousand, no question, plus a couple of dozen movies and even more TV shows. But sitting here now, I can’t remember the last song or video of any kind that I bought using the program.

That’s because three years ago, I broke down and purchased a premium subscription to the music-streaming service Spotify — so today I pay $9.99 a month to listen and stream and download any song I’d ever want to hear. Many others I know use Pandora, Prime Music or a similar streaming service.

For the price of what I used to pay for 10 songs a month, I have access to a gazillion songs (actually, about 35 million) and probably add 100 new tunes to my various eclectic Spotify playlists each month.

Which is to say: I haven’t used iTunes for music in a long, long time.

So...goodbye, iTunes. I loved thee, but apparently not enough. One writer bade good riddance to iTunes by saying, “In truth, the much-maligned media player had already been buried years ago, crushed by nearly two decades of cruft.”

I had to look up the word “cruft,” which means “badly designed, unnecessarily complicated, or unwanted code or software.”

Once upon a time, iTunes, like Napster, was the hip thing. I’m sure cruft will eventually catch up with Spotify and kill it, too. In the meantime, I’ve got “I’m Falling” on endless repeat on my phone, waiting for the next music service to bite the dust.


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