The iTunes break up: What will happen to our favorite features?

For a company that maintains multiple major operating systems, has its own productivity suite, and even developed one of the most popular web browsers in use, there was a time that the piece of software most identified with Apple was also perhaps the one most viewed as a necessary evil.

I speak, of course, of iTunes.

Yes, the music-playing/device syncing/media-buying/podcast-listening (and so much more) app was at one time not only a brand unto itself, but also an almost universal experience, as one of the few pieces of Apple software that was ported to Windows computers.

But iTunes may not have much time left on its clock. In recent days, speculation has hinted that the upcoming version of macOS will instead feature separate apps for music, podcasts, TV, and so on, likely based on their iOS counterparts. But those apps lack a lot of iTunes’s more powerful features.

Calls for iTunes’s breakup go back years (including me), but now that it seems to be on the verge of happening, it’s worth considering the things that iTunes actually does well and which deserve to stick around.

Smarter than the average playlist

Anybody can make a playlist of music, but iTunes one-ups that with its offering of Smart Playlists. If you’re not familiar with the feature, it lets you create playlists based on certain criteria: everything from the artist name to the number of stars it has to the beats per minute. Not only does it save you the time of manually assigning songs one-by-one, but it also provides you with playlists that update dynamically over time as you add more songs to your library that meet the criteria you’ve set up.

itunes 12 smart playlist criteria IDG

Setting up a Smart Playlist in iTunes 12.

While Smart Playlists created in iTunes sync to iOS via iCloud, there’s no way to natively create them on iOS devices. And that’s a shame, because although Apple has tried to improve its algorithms in Apple Music to surface new songs you might like, those playlists and stations pull from the whole realm of available music, rather than the music you’ve self-selected into your own library. They’re much more powerful than static playlists and allow users a lot more control over their listening habits. It would be a shame if a new Music app on the Mac did away with them.

Real genius

Speaking of smarter playlists, another feature that’s fallen by the wayside in the iOS Music app is Genius. First introduced back in 2008, Genius was a system that analyzed your music to automatically build playlists of complimentary songs. Just select a song, right-click to choose Genius Suggestions, and then either pick a song from the list, start listening, or save the result to a playlist.