Comment: iTunes downloads aren’t going anywhere yet, but likely will eventually

Apple yesterday denied a report that it plans to stop offering music downloads by 2019, offering only the Apple Music streaming service. Digital Music News claimed that plans to do this had been in place since 2016.

The company’s denial to us was unequivocal: Apple said it was ‘simply not true.’ But while that denial may apply to the specific report that plans are already in place with a target date of 2019, I suspect that it will happen at some point …

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I wrote a piece back in 2014, talking about the way that I had gradually ceded more and more control to the Apple ecosystem, rather than managing things manually myself. Coincidentally, the question I posed was whether we’ll have decided to leave it all to Apple by … 2019.

I wrote then that I wasn’t yet willing to abandon owning my own music in favor of streaming, but wasn’t quite sure why.

I’m not quite ready to give up owning my music in favor of streaming, but I’m beginning to wonder why. About ten years ago, I finally got rid of all my CDs after asking myself why I would want a tonne of plastic disks cluttering up the place? I must confess that – obscure stuff aside, that might not be available on Spotify – I’m not quite sure my insistence on physically having the ones and zeroes on my own Mac makes much more sense.

Fast-forward to today, and although I still feel some discomfort with the concept of relying entirely on streaming, this is contradicted by my actual behavior. The vast, vast majority of my music listening today is streamed from Apple Music. A good 80-90% of it, indeed, is listening to Apple-recommended playlists, rather than my own playlists and albums.

That’s not to say that there are no reasons for me not to own my own music. I do have some tracks that are very specific versions that differ from those available to stream, so I don’t want to be dependant on the versions Apple happens to offer. There are also occasions when the streaming service glitches.

Once, I would have added long-haul flights as another reason to copy across my own locally stored music, but these days I just use the ‘make available offline’ option in the Music app.

Of course, there will always be those for whom streaming is not a viable option. With classical music, for example, there are almost infinite numbers of permutations of orchestra and performance, and Apple Music will never offer anything more than a tiny subset of these. The same is true for live performances of less well-known artists.

There are also those who edit their own metadata, as I once used to do. Again, this is particularly common among classical music fans, who will tag things like the conductor and soloists, but isn’t limited to any one genre.

Streaming music, in short, can’t meet the needs of everyone.

But that doesn’t mean that Apple won’t ever make the switch to an all-streaming world. Apple isn’t, after all, trying to be all things to all people. It does meet some niche needs in the pro field, but for consumers, it aims to meet the needs of the (well-heeled) many, not the few.

So I believe Apple when it says that it has no specific plans to phase out downloads by 2019. But I also believe that the day will come when it does so. Streaming will replace downloads in the same way that the iPhone and Apple Watch have all but replaced the iPod as a music player.

Do you agree? Or will downloads be around forever. As ever, please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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