Some Thoughts on The App Formerly Known as iTunes and macOS Catalina

Many iTunes users on Mac are aware that TAFKAI (The App Formerly Known as iTunes) is undergoing big changes next month, with the release of macOS Catalina. While iTunes isn’t really “dead,” there are a number of changes coming, notably the following:

  • Music that you’ve imported or purchased will be in the new Apple Music app.
  • Music playlists and smart playlists that you’ve created in iTunes will be in the new Apple Music app.
  • The iTunes Store will still be available to buy music on Mac, iOS, PC, and Apple TV.
  • iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes credits will be maintained and can be used with the new apps and the App Store.
  • iPhone, iPad, and iPod backup, restore, and syncing will move to Finder.
  • Movies and TV shows that you purchased or rented from iTunes will be in the new Apple TV app.
  • Use the Apple TV app for Mac for future movie and TV purchases or rentals.
  • Podcasts that you subscribed to or added to iTunes will now be in the new Apple Podcasts app.
  • Audiobooks that you purchased from iTunes will now be in the updated Apple Books app.
  • Use the Apple Books app for Mac for future audiobook purchases.

There are some other changes to note. Media files will be stored in different locations, with music and videos stored in easily accessible folders, and audiobooks and podcasts hidden. If you store your media library on an external drive, you should be aware of this.

There are also changes to the iTunes Store that are worth noting, though, in essence, all that really happens is that it has been split by media kind, which can make it more difficult to find things across different types of media.

And there is a very good change to the way Home Sharing works; it is now turned on globally on the Mac, and works even if the Music and TV apps aren’t running.

I’m currently going through the manuscript of my Take Control of iTunes book, preparing a new book covering the new app landscape, and, as I do this, I have been looking at the details of the Music app in particular. I find a lot of the changes to be positive, notably the simplification of navigation. I was never a fan of the multiple navigational tools in iTunes 12: the Media Picker above the sidebar, then the tabs at the top of the window, which changed by media kind. In some ways, having music on its own makes the Music app a much better tool for those who only used iTunes for managing and playing music.

As I dig deeper, I find that a lot has been simplified. There are tasks I had described in my book that had multiple steps that are simpler, and there were often several ways to do something, whereas, now, there is generally just one. I find myself cutting large sections of my book’s content because of this simplification.

I will miss the column browser; I used this tool constantly to navigate my library by Genre, then Artist, then Album. With Artist, Album, and Genres view, it’s hard to get the big picture. If you have, say, 135 Grateful Dead albums, you need to scroll through the Grateful Dead entry to find the one you want, whereas in the column browser, I could quickly scan a concise list. Or when I wanted to listen to Kind of Blue, it took a few clicks, a quick scan, and I found the album.

Blue itunes

The other feature I’ll miss is that in Songs view – that’s the one where you see items in a list – you can no longer display album artwork. I used that extensively, together with the column browser, as you can see above, because it’s a quick way to scan content to find what I want.

The “replacement” for these tools is search; but search has always been a problem. Sure, when I looked for Kind of Blue this morning on my Mac running Catalina, it was easy to find, but what if I want to quickly scan my 1973 Grateful Dead recordings, my Schubert lieder albums, or my shakuhachi recording collection? Without these tools that give you the big picture, you won’t be able to navigate a large library as easily. The display is certainly attractive, but it took me more than one minute to narrow down Kind of Blue starting from the Genres view.


Naturally, I can search for an album when I know what I want to listen to, but iTunes with the column browser was great for when I didn’t know what I wanted to listen to, but had a vague idea. Say I wanted to listen to a Bill Evans album; there are dozens. It’s not easy to choose, and I could scan my collection to find the one that suited my mood.

So as with all changes, some are good and some not so good. I think many people will find the changes to the Music app – and the other fragments of the late iTunes – to be positive. But I think users with large media collections will be a bit disappointed in what’s coming.

Learn more about the new media apps that replace iTunes in macOS Catalina in my new book, Take Control of macOS Media Apps.

40 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on The App Formerly Known as iTunes and macOS Catalina

  1. Disappointing to hear that the column browser will be removed, that’s pretty much the only way I use iTunes.

    You mention that purchased audiobooks are now in the Books app. What about audiobooks I’ve imported? I have many CD audiobooks I’ve imported to iTunes (for syncing to my phone), but store the files on an external drive. I don’t have space for them on my internal drive, will I be able to continue to access them from the Music app? And edit metadata, etc (I still have some audiobooks to rip and import)?

    • If you have imported your own audiobooks, in AAC or MP3 format, I recommend changing their media kind to Music (select all > Command-I > Options tab), then changing their genre to something like Spoken Word. They’ll remain in the Music library after the upgrade and you’ll be able to edit metadata. In the future, import audiobooks like that: as music files.

      • Ok, I will try this (might trial it before upgrading). The downside is that presumably they then sync to the Music app on an iPod/iPhone, which doesn’t provide useful navigation controls for spoken word (e.g. skip back/forward by 30s). I take it from what you say that anything left with the kind as an Audiobook will get moved to the new Books location on upgrade.

        • Yes, that is a problem.

          All audiobook kind files get moved to Books. There is one neat thing though. If you have an audiobook that you ripped in hundreds of MP3 files, in the Books app it shows up as a single unit. You don’t see the files at all, and they all play continuously. Perhaps the best solution is to keep all your audiobooks just in a folder somewhere, and put the ones you want to listen to in the Books app when you want to listen to them.

          • Thanks very much for the details! Forewarned is forearmed, etc. I will develop a strategy so I’m not caught out. 😉

  2. Kirk could you please explain what you mean by “backup, restore and syncing will now be through Finder.” I sync several iPod Touch multiple times a week. Will this be easier or harder now?

    • The only difference is that you will be doing it in the Finder instead of in an app. Otherwise, the Sync interface is essentially the same.

  3. It’s more than disappointing that the column browser has been dropped – it’s a disaster. I’m ok with iTunes being split up, but I was worried that the idiot developers would drop some much needed functionality. Typically they prove incapable of grasping the bigger picture, with more than a couple of dozen albums to deal with. In fact I’m surprised they still grasp the meaning of the word ‘Album’.

    Yet again, more bling at the expense of the real functionality that makes iTunes work well for the serious collector. As Kirk says, Search is NOT the answer. Needed for real searching of course, but browsing in the way iTunes allowed is also essential.

    Apple continues to frustrate by making their products worse with each iteration.

    • Search is quite poor. I was just working on that section of my manuscript today.

      In the early betas, there was something in the Music app called the “filter bar“ which is no longer there. It didn’t work very well, and I wonder if it’s coming back. The idea was that you would use the filter bar to filter search results.

      But even better search and filtering cannot replace the column browser for me.

  4. A quick question about the new apps. Do they each provide the option to maintain an XML data file for other apps to access, or is there still a single XML for all media? Or is this another vital feature they’ve decided to eliminate?

  5. Kirk, if you have different genres of music like I do (and it certainly sounds like you do), why was iTunes never designed to accommodate “composers” (the entire classical music portion of my library). In eliminating the column browser, I totally agree with you about how clumsily the search function will work. Not efficient at all.

  6. I, too, have some Grateful Dead and Schubert Lieder. Lean more to Ryuichi Sakamoto though on the Asia front. Is there a decent alternative to iTunes/Apple Music for managing a fairly large collection?

    • I’ve never really found one. The connection with iOS is important to me, so having an app just for music on my Mac would be a bit complicated. (Meaning I’d need two apps, and two different libraries, to be able to use my music on iOS.)

  7. Some ? from someone who can’t run the beta:

    Are all of the fields for song info still the same?
    Are the Grouping field, Comments field, and other more obscure fields/controls still there?
    Are the Grouping, Artist, and Album fields still indexed?

    What about media sharing between older iTunes libraries and Music libraries? Will either see the other? I only have one Mac that is Catalina capable, so I would still like to share libraries if I upgrade.

    Any ETA on the book update yet?


    • The Info window is the same, and all the same tags are accessible. You can share an older iTunes library with Music, and vice versa. The book should be out pretty soon, though probably not day and date with Catalina.

  8. I used the beta version of Catalina for about a week; it was a disaster, and I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough; though it was really the iTunes I wanted back. I have a large library and I missed the artwork in Songs, and a couple of other features. My main question again – Kirk, you’ve heard it before – but assuming you didn’t have or need iOS, is there another programme out there which I can use for music? Thank you. And let us all know when the new book is out; we’re going to need it!

    • It really depends on what you do with your music. If you just want to play it, there are a couple of apps, but I don’t know what will be compatible with Catalina. But if you sync to an iOS device, or want your music in the cloud, there’s really no other solution for Mac.

  9. I’m disappointed (ha ha) that you use such a mild word as “disappointed” to express your feelings about the loss of the column browser. I feel incredulous, betrayed, furious, and heartsick. It’s simply beyond me why Apple would take such a straightforward, useful, and in my case beloved functionality that really costs them nothing and rip it out. I use it every time I use iTunes, and it’s the feature that makes iTunes feel civilized to me: IT’S A DATABASE: give me database functionality. I’d like to rant for an hour, but you get the point. I really _am_ a bit heartsick and my hope is that something will come forth to save this.

  10. On reflection, I realize that I feel I’m losing access to and control of my own music. It’s mine, why should they take away a clear window I could look through to see it?

  11. Just found this page, and I’m glad there are others out there who feel that the removal of the column browser is as much as an injustice as I do. I just don’t understand the logic behind the removal. Hopefully they’ll put it back. It’s pretty much ruined the experience for me.

    Also, can someone explain to me please – So when I play a song now, the artwork for song appears in the little window at the top of Music, and in the pop out player, but when I go into ‘Get Info’ it says that there isn’t any artwork.

    Will I have to go through all my artists and put the artwork back into them manually?

    Thank you

      • Ah okay, so it’s a case of ironing out the creases. Thank you anyway.

        I’m reverting back to Mojave tomorrow. I’ll hold out for a while to see if they update Music with some much needed retro-functionally.

    • The XML file is not gone, what is gone is the ability to have it created automatically.

      Regarding corrupted Music libraries, my suggestion is to use Time Machine, so you have a backup every hour for 24 hours, then every day, etc.

  12. I am likewise furious with the removal of the column browser. Part of me has been considering leaving the apple environment but apple music combined with itune’s column view has kept me in the fold. This may finally get me jump ship.

  13. I tried Swinsian because of someone’s recommendation here. It’s actually very good; intuitive; fast; all the features one wants. It’s not even expensive. So no one need fret if the new iTunes doesn’t suit.

  14. Update on the Artwork. The music app just takes time to load the artwork fully in the app. It took my computer overnight to do it, but eventually all the artwork had been restored.
    It still does not appear when you view ‘Songs’, but at least it’s all there.

    An additional note: Another simple feature that has not carried across from iTunes is the ability to hide the side bar, and have it pop out when you want to drop something into a playlist for example. The side bar is now permentantly there.

    • Jude – did all your playlists transfer to the new app with no problems as promised? And have you tried to sync your music to an OS device yet – iPod touch or iPhone. I’m still not understating how this is going to work through FINDER?

      • Hi Al. All my playlists have copied across fine.
        I have yet to attempt to sync my iphone yet, as there are the odd album artwork missing (maybe about 10% of my collection), so I’m methodiclaly going through to plug the gaps.
        Once I’ve done this, I’ll sync up and let you know how it goes.

        Also, I burned a disc to the Music App fine. The disc appears in the app as it did in iTunes.

        • Thanks for the response Jude. That scares me about 10% of your album artwork not transferring. I’m anal about having all my artwork up to date and I have close to 80,000 songs to transfer. If it doesn’t show up when you view songs – where do you see it? Hopefully it will still show up on the iPhone and iPod. One more follow up question about playlists: I also use a lot of playlist folders to collect similar playlists together. Did you have any of those and did they transfer okay also?

          • All of my playlists and playlist folders transferred correctly.

            There are lots of artwork issues, and it would bug me too. I’m wondering if it will fix itself over time.

  15. Has anyone using Catalina and the new music app synced an iPhone yet and if so does the artwork show on the phone? I’m holding out on the upgrade until I hear of bug fixed.

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