Report insists Apple 'keeping options open' on phasing out iTunes downloads

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Despite vocal denials by the company, Apple is still considering phasing out iTunes music downloads in favor of streaming services, a new report claims.

While the company doesn't have a definite timeline at this stage, Apple is allegedly changing the architecture of iTunes in such a way that it could more easily drop downloads if sales saw a precipitous decline, sources told Digital Music News. Paid downloads are already "entering a free fall" in 2016, the publication claimed, citing leaked preliminary statistics.

"It's a 'keeping their options open' thing," one source commented.

The iTunes revamp could appear at next week's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Apple's immediate goal is reportedly to better harmonize Apple Music and iTunes downloads, and simplify iTunes in general, dealing with long-standing public complaints about the software becoming unwieldy. While initially concentrated on music downloads, the software has gradually added functions related to videos, apps, books, and more, Apple Music being just the latest addition.

The overhaul will involve "making more sense" of iTunes downloads and streaming Apple Music content, the sources explained. One person mentioned that Apple is "definitely" not axing downloads at WWDC, while another added that executives could potentially "double down" on their commitment to downloads during the event to dispel rumors.

In May a Digital Music News report suggested that the end of iTunes downloads was inevitable, and could happen within as little as two years, though one source said the timeline could be three to four years or longer. Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr made a rare public statement in response, insisting that neither timeline was true.

Apple is unlikely to abandon downloads anytime soon, since while they contribute relatively little to the company's bottom line, iTunes is still the leading storefront in this sector and both labels and artists might be upset about losing their revenue share, which is generally much higher from track/album purchases than streaming. Killing downloads might risk licensing deals for Apple Music.

Services like Spotify and Apple Music are, however, increasingly overtaking downloads in popularity. Indeed rumors have indicated that Apple will at least revamp Apple Music's interface at WWDC, simultaneously expanding Beats radio.