Next Wave of ‘Marzipan’ Apps May Spell the End of iTunes As We Know It

iTunes Icon On MacBook Credit: Bernardo Ramonfaur / Shutterstock
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The days of iTunes as a monolithic app may be numbered, if new information found in the latest macOS and iOS code is any indication.

With Apple expected to release a new TV app for macOS this fall as part of its new Apple TV+ streaming service, many are already thinking that this will finally signal the break-up of iTunes — the only app currently available on the Mac to watch Movies and TV Shows purchased from Apple’s iTunes Store.

Apple has long offered distinct media apps on its iOS devices, beginning with distinct Music and Video apps, the latter of which evolved into the company’s TV app. While Music originally also included audiobooks and podcasts, Apple broke podcasts out into their own app in 2012, and moved audiobooks into iBooks when Apple Music debuted with the release of iOS 8.4 in 2015.

Meanwhile, iTunes — the 18-year-old music app — has grown from its humble origins into a bloated mess that at one point included everything from music and podcasts to apps and iBooks. While Apple did break iBooks out into its own macOS app in 2013, and removed the iOS App Store in 2017, iTunes still includes every other type of media content, and in many ways feels like an anachronism in an era when everything else seems to be moving to simpler, more lightweight apps.

To be fair, the writing for such a move has been on the wall for some time, but with Apple about to add a dramatically new way of delivering video content, along with the much-rumoured move to combine iOS and Mac apps, it seems that preparations for independent, iOS-style media apps are finally underway.

Developer Steve Troughton-Smith, who is well known for finding interesting things in iOS and macOS code bases, notes that he has found evidence that Apple is in fact planning new Music and Podcasts apps for macOS 10.15 that will be released alongside the new TV app. It’s also possible that the Books app may also get a similar update to bring it more in line with the iOS experience, as right now there’s a disconnect between how audiobooks are handled — they’re still in iTunes on the Mac, while they live in iBooks on the iPhone and iPad.

Rumours about “project Marzipan” — the common development environment that would allow developers to create iOS and macOS apps — have been circulating since late 2017, and last year Apple released the first piece of the puzzle in macOS Mojave, using its new framework to bring its Home, News, Stocks and Voice Memo apps to the Mac. Earlier this year, rumours of Apple’s plans for Marzipan gained more steam with the revelation that the company plans to unify the App Store by 2021 — something else that Troughton-Smith has discovered is already in place.

Marzipan is also expected to feature heavily in Apple’s new Apple Arcade gaming service, which promises to allow all of the participating games to be playable across all of Apple’s devices — the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac.

It’s less clear what this will mean for the iTunes app itself, but we think it’s likely that iTunes will continue to be included — or at least available — for macOS for the foreseeable future. As much as iOS devices have moved away from their reliance on iTunes, the app is still widely used by many to actually manage media content, particularly music. Further, Apple’s move to distinct apps on macOS likely won’t directly translate to the Windows platform, so Apple will either need to release specific Windows versions of those apps, or simply continue supporting iTunes on that platform, especially since it’s the only gateway into Apple’s Music service for Windows users.

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