How iTunes Mobile Works


When you first launch iTunes Mobile, you'll see a welcome screen that shows you new songs, ringtones and other featured items. See more audio tech pictures.
Screenshot by Nathan Chandler

Apple's iPod and iPhone dominate their respective product categories. So it's perhaps no surprise that iTunes, the software that helps those products perform much of their magic, is also virtually ubiquitous. Although iTunes began as a program for desktop computers, it's now available on some mobile devices, too.

Apple first unleashed iTunes in 2001 to help iPod owners manipulate their music collections. As iPods evolved to support video and other capabilities, iTunes also advanced. It's the primary software link that lets you transfer music and other media files between your computer and iPod.

With an Internet connection, iTunes opens a whole world of media to your computer. You can purchase and download music, music videos, TV shows, movies and other digital products with just a few mouse clicks. This kind of easy access -- and the ease with which iTunes links with iPods -- is the reason that iTunes has contributed heavily to the company's profits. Since the iTunes store opened, Apple has sold more than 10 billion songs.

It was only natural that Apple would downsize iTunes to include it on portable, Internet-connected devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch. This mobile version of iTunes is basically the same program with similar features and capabilities, but the interface is scaled down for the smaller viewing screens found on pocket-size products.

Keep reading to see how the mobile version of iTunes is different from the full-size program. You'll also learn more about how iTunes works, and how the portable, compact iTunes is extending Apple's reach in the electronics market.

 

iTunes on the iPhone

iTunes is a preinstalled application on the iPhone. By default, the program uses the settings you customized on your desktop's version of iTunes.
iTunes is a preinstalled application on the iPhone. By default, the program uses the settings you customized on your desktop's version of iTunes.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Creating a mobile version of iTunes and matching it to the iPod touch and iPhone was a no-brainer on Apple's part. Both devices have the multimedia capabilities and substantial processing power that modern media files require. Just as important, they have WiFi networking capabilities, and the iPhone can connect via a regular cell signal, too.

When you use iTunes on the iPhone, you can find and download ringtones, music, movies, music videos, TV shows and audiobooks. You can download podcasts, too. Once you find media you'd like to buy, you can immediately begin transferring files to your iPhone. In the case of podcasts, you can transfer the files in their entirety or stream and play them simultaneously.

Download speeds will vary depending on the quality of your connection, but you should know that by default, the iPhone uses a cellular signal for file transfer. If you prefer a faster Wi-Fi transfer, you'll have to manually change this setting.

If you already had an iTunes account on your computer, your iPhone will automatically use the default settings from that account. If you're only interested in podcasts, you don't even need to register for an iTunes account.

iTunes and Other Mobile Devices

There are a lot of other multimedia devices out there, such as Microsoft's Zune, but they can't use iTunes.
There are a lot of other multimedia devices out there, such as Microsoft's Zune, but they can't use iTunes.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Although Apple is one of the most visible players in the smartphone and mobile media market, it's not the only company of note. There are a lot of other music players and phones that perform many of the same functions of iPods and iPhones, and they use programs similar to iTunes.

One reason for the proliferation of alternative devices is the digital rights management (DRM) protection that iTunes deployed. For much of its existence, iTunes used Fairplay's DRM, meaning files could only be played in iTunes and on iPhones and iPods associated with your iTunes account. The idea, of course, was to prevent illegal copying of media files, but this tactic was also a good way to lock iPod users into using only Apple and iTunes-related products.

In January of 2009, Apple ended its policy of applying DRM copy protection to music and video files sold through iTunes. That meant you could play content you purchased through iTunes on any device that worked with the .AAC (advanced audio coding) file format.

However, Apple still designs iTunes to make sure only Apple products can communicate with iTunes. So even though your Android-capable phone might play .AAC files, you still can't transfer files and playlists vie iTunes.

It's worth mentioning that other companies have tried crashing the iTunes party by making their devices compatible with iTunes. For example, when Palm's Pre smartphone was announced, it synced flawlessly with iTunes. However, Apple immediately introduced an update to iTunes that blocked the Pre.

That means owners of other devices must find alternatives to iTunes. Most media players come with proprietary software that helps you manage their contents. However, that software is rarely as comprehensive as iTunes. For instance, one third-party product, called Doubletwist, lets you sync hundreds of different devices, from Blackberry to Palm Pre, and then search and buy music -- but from Amazon.com instead of iTunes.

Even owners of Apple products sometimes find iTunes sluggish and unwieldy, which prompts them to seek alternatives. For example, CopyTrans Manager is free software that accomplishes many of the same tasks as iTunes, and some users report that it manages content better than Apple's program.

iTunes Mobile Apps

When you first launch the Mobile App Store, you'll see a screen like this one, which highlights featured apps.
When you first launch the Mobile App Store, you'll see a screen like this one, which highlights featured apps.
Screenshot by Nathan Chandler

When Apple introduced its iPhone 3G and 2.0 iPhone operating system in 2008, it also debuted App Store menu options in the 3G's version of iTunes. The App Store is home to more than 140,000 apps, and they've resulted in billions of downloads. There are apps for just about every conceivable purpose. Apps let you track news, play games, help you finish homework, plan and journal your workout routines, track work schedules and tasks, find recipes and much more.

Users can access the App Store through a dedicated application on the iPhone and iPod touch. You can browse the Top 25 apps to see the most popular titles or perform a search to find specifics apps or capabilities. Before you buy, you can view the app's price, screen shots and read user reviews that tell you just how awesome or awful an app really is.

When you download an app to your iPhone, it's stored in your device's memory. Many people download so many apps and other media that they fill their iPhone to capacity in very little time. To make more space, you have to move or delete apps -- but you'll be justifiably reluctant to remove an app that you've already paid for.

You don't have to permanently delete apps to free up space on your iPhone. The next time you sync the iPhone with your computer, iTunes will back up a copy to your computer's drive, too. Those apps are stored in iTunes, inside a folder called Mobile Applications. To create a backup of all of your apps, you can copy this entire folder to another drive. If you need to restore an app to your iPhone, you can simply drag and drop the backup of your app into iTunes. If you just want to restore an error-ridden iPhone/iPod Touch, or reset it, you can turn on iTunes, plug in the device, and on the device's Summary tab click the Restore button.

Whether you use an iPhone or iPod touch, the mobile version of iTunes enables you to perform almost all of the tasks you'd use your iTunes desktop for. That's a testament to the increasing power of smartphones and portable devices in general. And it's also a sure sign that Apple plans to make its powerhouse program, iTunes, a centerpiece of its business model and product offerings for a long time to come.

For more articles on mobile computing, take a look at the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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