What Is iTunes? The 56 Things Apple's Behemoth Does

The Atlantic

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An early iTunes logo, showing its digital age

The release of iOS 7, the software that powers iPhones and iPads, wasn’t the only major update from Apple yesterday. The company also released iTunes Radio, a Pandora-like feature which will play a stream of music inspired by a given song, artist, or album. 

Which got me thinking: What is iTunes? The software dates back to 1999, when it was conceived by two independent Mac developers as Soundjam MP. Apple secretly purchased and adapted Soundjam, then released it as “the world’s best and easiest to use ‘jukebox’ software” on January 9, 2001. Since then, the software has been made to sync with iPods, released for Windows, and turned into the iPhone’s and iPad’s central connection to the computer. 

Apple’s desktop operating system, Mac OS, is built on UNIX code. UNIX is an old, open-source technology, and it carries certain ideals and traditions. Early UNIX programmers developed a philosophy for the system, a preferred method of writing software. One of its tenets? “Make each program do one thing well,” wrote a UNIX pioneer, Doug McIlroy. “To do a new job, build afresh rather than complicate old programs by adding new features.”

But. As of September 19, 2013, here are the jobs iTunes does:

  1. iTunes lets you navigate music files stored on your computer by parameters like song title, artist name, and album title.
  2. iTunes lets you play, stop, rewind, fast-forward and otherwise listen to music files stored on your computer. You can play songs by a common parameter, like their album title, or you can play them randomly, by “shuffling” them.
  3. iTunes lets you visualize music files stored on your computer with animation-creating algorithms. Some of these algorithms were in the original Soundjam program; some were added by the company in 2008.
  4. iTunes lets you navigate movie files stored on your computer, by parameters like their genre, whether they were made professionally or filmed at home, and whether you’ve watched them.
  5. iTunes lets you play, stop, rewind, fast-forward and otherwise watch movie files stored on your computer.
  6. iTunes lets you navigate and organize television shows stored on your computer. (iTunes differentiates these in the interface from movies.)
  7. iTunes lets you play, stop, etc., television shows stored on your computer.
  8. iTunes lets you subscribe to podcasts, audio or video, with a URL. iTunes will download podcasts to your computer when they come out.
  9. iTunes lets you navigate and organize podcasts it has downloaded to your computer. iTunes marks podcasts “listened” or “unlistened,” which it does not do for music files. It also displays podcasts differently than music files. (They include summary blurbs.)
  10. iTunes lets you play, stop, etc., podcasts stored on your computer, like it does for music or movie files; it also provides special podcast-friendly playback features.
  11. iTunes calls the music, movie, television and podcast files stored on your computer (which it knows about) your “library,” and it lets you share your library with other users in your network. When you share your library, other on the same local network as you can navigate and listen to files stored on your computer. They cannot download or edit these files.
  12. iTunes lets you “home-share” your library with other users in your network. If you and another user both use the same username and password in the iTunes store (more on that later), you can navigate and listen to files stored on that user’s computer, and they can do the same to you. You can also, though, download files stored on their computer to your own computer, where you can edit them at will. They can do the same to you.
  13. iTunes lets you organize songs stored on your computer into playlists. You choose an arbitrary number of songs to go in an arbitrary order, then you can choose to play these songs in the order you chose or you can choose to play them randomly. 
  14. iTunes lets you organize songs stored on your computer into “smart playlists.” You choose an arbitrary number of parameters, iTunes finds all the songs on your computer which meet those parameters, then it saves this list of songs. You can choose to play these songs in the order iTunes organized them or you can choose to play them randomly.
  15. iTunes lets you organize songs stored on your computer into “Genius playlists.” You choose a song in your library, and an iTunes algorithm finds songs like it on your library which will complement each other in a playlist.
  16. iTunes lets you listen to “Genius mixes,” which are organized ad hoc on your computer after you choose to listen to them. Genius mixes are sets of music files, stored on your computer, which an iTunes algorithm has determined are related. Often, iTunes names them and organizes them after genre or artist names.
  17. iTunes lets you move the files from a playlist to a CD, in such a way that the CD can then be played by a car CD player.
  18. iTunes lets you print out a list of songs in a playlist in different formats. One of these which mimics the appearance of a CD jewel box.
  19. iTunes lets you listen to Internet radio stations. iTunes will play the stream of that radio station, which means that the sound file you are listening to is only stored briefly on your computer. You cannot edit it or download it permanently using iTunes.
  20. iTunes lets you browse a list of Internet radio stations, organized by genre.
  21. iTunes lets you purchase music on the “iTunes Store.” It is an exchange: You allow Apple to charge you a certain amount of money, or deduct it directly from your bank account, and in return iTunes downloads one or many song files to your computer, where it joins your “library.” iTunes organizes music by many parameters, including genre, artist title, and the number of times other iTunes users have purchased it, which makes finding attractive music files easier. iTunes also commissions performances from some artists, creating some music files which can only be purchased in the iTunes Store.
  22. iTunes lets you rate music files available on the iTunes Store, by assigning them one to five stars or by writing your own review.
  23. iTunes lets you purchase music videos on the iTunes Store. iTunes organizes music videos so they’re easy to find.
  24. iTunes lets you rate music videos available on the iTunes Store, by assigning them one to five stars or by writing your own review.
  25. iTunes lets you view, without cost, videos of the music festival Apple holds every year. The festival is called the “iTunes Festival.” You cannot permanently download these files to your computer.
  26. iTunes lets you purchase movies on the iTunes Store. For a fee, you can download a video file to your computer and watch it whenever you like. iTunes organizes movies by many parameters on the iTunes Store, including aesthetic and economic ones.
  27. iTunes lets you view “iTunes Extras” after you purchase a movie with which they are bundled in the iTunes Store. iTunes Extras are not available for every movie. iTunes Extras can include video which is not part of the movie, images from the process of creating the movie, and “games,” which, in iTunes, are nested interfaces intended to be navigated in a way which is entertaining.
  28. iTunes lets you view, without cost, advertisements for films. Some of the advertisements are for films which have already been released. You cannot download the video files of these advertisements, called “trailers,” to your computer permanently with iTunes.
  29. iTunes lets you “rent” a movie on the iTunes Store. For a lower fee than it costs to purchase a movie, you can stream a video file of it. These are some rules that govern renting: According to Apple, after you click the “Rent” button in the iTunes Store, “you have 30 days to start watching your movie and 24 hours to finish it from when you click Play.” When you rent a movie on iTunes, you do not download its file permanently to your computer, but it does become navigable within your iTunes Library.
  30. iTunes lets you rate movies available on the iTunes Store, by assigning them one to five stars or by writing your own review.
  31. iTunes lets you purchase television shows on the iTunes Store. For a fee, you can download a video file of a single episode of a television show to your computer and watch it whenever you like. iTunes organizes television shows by many parameters, including genre, how recent they are, and which network broadcasts them.
  32. iTunes lets you purchase “Season Passes” to a television show. For a fee, you can pay iTunes to automatically download television episodes to your computer when the company in charge distributing the television show informs Apple they can distribute the episode.
  33. iTunes lets you rate television seasons available on the iTunes Store, by assigning them one to five stars or by writing your own review.
  34. iTunes lets you navigate an organized library of “apps” in the App Store, which, despite its name, is a smaller part of the iTunes Store. Apps are discrete pieces of software for your iPhone, iPad, or both. Under most circumstances, the apps can only be used on your iPhone, iPad, or both, though when you purchase them from the desktop version of iTunes, they are downloaded to your computer.
  35. iTunes lets you download some of the apps on the App Store without cost, which is part of the iTunes Store. 
  36. iTunes lets you purchase some of the apps on the App Store. For a fee, you can download an app to your computer. (iTunes does not determine whether an app has a cost or not; the developer who created the app does.)
  37. iTunes lets you navigate an organized library of “books” in the App Store. The books are files which can be read by a piece of software called iBooks, made by Apple, which can be download for free to an iPad or iPhone. 
  38. iTunes lets you purchase a book from the iTunes Store. When you buy a book from the desktop version of iTunes, it is first downloaded to your computer. These books are mostly text, though sometimes they contain interactive elements which can be navigated for pleasure or edification. iTunes also allows you to download a “sample” of a book for free, which lets you see some of the book but not all of it. 
  39. iTunes lets you navigate an organized library of podcasts in the App Store. The podcasts are all free, and organized by many parameters, including their popularity.
  40. iTunes lets you subscribe to podcasts from within the App Store.
  41. iTunes lets you navigate “iTunes U,” an organized library of “courses,” which are recorded lectures — sometimes audio, sometimes visual — uploaded by colleges or universities. iTunes U is part of the iTunes Store.
  42. iTunes lets you download “courses,” videos and some files from “iTunes U.” Some of the courses also contain PDFs to download.
  43. iTunes lets you pay a yearly fee to upload your music to its servers, in a service called “iTunes Match.” That music can then be listened to anywhere.
  44. iTunes can back up the complete data contained in an iPhone or iPad. (iPhone or iPad sold separately. You cannot buy an iPhone or iPad in iTunes.)
  45. iTunes lets you move files containing your contacts, calendars, mail accounts, and bookmarks to your iPhone or iPad, a process called “syncing.”
  46. iTunes lets you sync apps to your iPhone or iPad.
  47. iTunes lets you sync ringtones to your iPhone or iPad.
  48. iTunes lets you sync music to your iPhone or iPad.
  49. iTunes lets you sync movies to your iPhone or iPad.
  50. iTunes lets you sync television shows to your iPhone or iPad.
  51. iTunes lets you sync podcasts to your iPhone or iPad.
  52. iTunes lets you move photos to your iPhone or iPad, but it does not allow you to move them from your iPhone or iPad to your computer. (iPhoto or Dropbox do that.)
  53. iTunes lets you navigate the media files and software you have stored on your iPhone or iPad.
  54. iTunes lets you play a media file, stored on your computer, on a television connected to an Apple TV device. (Apple TV sold separately.)
  55. Aaaaand, as of yesterday, iTunes now lets you listen, for free, to a stream of music related to a song, artist or album you feed to it, a feature different from Genius and called “iTunes Radio.” (This is a different feature than Internet radio.)
  56. Also as of yesterday, iTunes lets you listen, for free, to a stream of music it recommends to you, which is also part of iTunes Radio.

This list is not necessarily comprehensive.

 





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