iTunes vs Apple Music – What’s the difference?

For years, iTunes was the main way for Apple users to purchase and enjoy music. However, in 2015 that all changed when the company launched Apple Music.

In this article, we are going to take a look at both services and see how they differ from one and other. For some of you, having both services could make sense, while for others neither of them could be worth your time or money. Let’s get into it.

iTunes vs Apple Music – In summary

The key difference between Apple Music and iTunes is that whilst Apple Music is a streaming service, iTunes allows you to download songs from the iTunes store directly to your Apple device.

They both offer a music library for you to access, but you have to pay for each individual song or album if you want to add it to your iTunes library.

With Apple Music you get access to millions of songs, but you need to keep paying a monthly fee to keep using it. It’s a subscription service that has a large music library to access.

Both iTunes and Apple Music are products of Apple, but they serve different primary purposes. Here’s a list of key differences between iTunes and Apple Music:

  1. Primary Function:
  • iTunes: Originally a media player and media library application used for organizing, purchasing, and playing digital music and videos.
  • Apple Music: A music streaming service that offers access to a vast library of songs, music videos, and curated playlists.
  1. Ownership:
  • iTunes: Users purchase and own the music or movies they buy. Once purchased, the item is added to the user’s library permanently, even if they stop using iTunes.
  • Apple Music: Users pay a subscription fee for access to the entire music library, but they don’t own the songs. If the subscription ends, access to the songs ends as well.
  1. Content Library:
  • iTunes: Contains music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and more.
  • Apple Music: Primarily music-focused, though it also includes music videos and curated radio stations.
  1. Pricing Model:
  • iTunes: Pay-per-item model, where users purchase individual songs, albums, movies, etc.
  • Apple Music: Subscription-based model, where users pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to the music library.
  1. Offline Access:
  • iTunes: Once content is purchased and downloaded, it can be accessed offline without any limitations.
  • Apple Music: Users can download songs for offline listening, but they will be inaccessible if the subscription is not active.
  1. Integration with Devices:
  • iTunes: Available on macOS, Windows, and some older Apple devices. Key for syncing and backing up older iOS devices.
  • Apple Music: Integrated into the Music app on iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and is also available on other platforms like Android.
  1. Curation & Discovery:
  • iTunes: Primarily a store, so while there are charts and occasional recommendations, it doesn’t focus on music discovery.
  • Apple Music: Offers curated playlists, radio shows, and personalized recommendations to help users discover new music.
  1. Updates & Evolution:
  • iTunes: Apple has gradually phased out iTunes on macOS in favor of separate apps for Music, Podcasts, and TV. However, iTunes still exists on Windows and as a tool for older Apple device management.
  • Apple Music: Continues to be a major focus for Apple, with regular updates and new features.
  1. Cloud Integration:
  • iTunes: Featured iTunes Match, a service that allowed users to match and upload their local music library to the iCloud, making it accessible from any Apple device.
  • Apple Music: Includes a similar feature where subscribers’ libraries can be matched and uploaded to the cloud, enabling access across devices.
  1. Radio:
  • iTunes: Had iTunes Radio, which was a free, ad-supported internet radio service.
  • Apple Music: Offers Beats 1 (later renamed Apple Music 1), a live radio station, along with other curated stations without ads for subscribers.

These are broad distinctions, and it’s worth noting that the landscape of digital music and services continues to evolve. Both iTunes and Apple Music are still maintained.

On the face of it, it may seem strange that Apple has two services available to customers that revolve around playing music. But when you look into both products it’s clear to see that they are actually completely different entities.

And depending on the device you use – Apple Watch, iPod touch, Macbook or iOS – one may be better than the other. So, let’s look at each dedicated music streaming service in a little more detail.

iTunes – Buy Music and download

iTunes is a media library where users are able to purchase individual pieces of media and thus owning them like property – it’s pretty easy to buy songs on iTunes.

However, you’re able to use iTunes to buy more than just music – for example you can purchase podcasts, tv shows and movies.

One of the good things about using the iTunes store to You can stream your purchased media using the built in media player.

All of the songs are downloaded to your iTunes library, which can be played when you’re offline if you download it.

There are also no subscription costs – you only need to pay for any media that you decide to purchase.

Once pay for from the iTunes store once, there’s no need for you to continuously pay for the music each month afterwards.

Another key benefit of iTunes over Apple Music is that you can transfer music and burn your purchased media on to CD’s to create hard physical copies.

This can be useful if you want to listen to your music in the car, for example.

Apple Music – A subscription based streaming service

Nowadays, most people are streaming music as opposed to buying it directly. An Apple Music subscription is a streaming service similar to Spotify, where you have no ownership of any of the media you stream.

One of the main reasons people like these kinds of services is that you’re able to create your own playlists, and also listen to other users’ curated playlists too.

The service works on a subscription basis where users pay a rolling monthly fee to gain access to their entire catalogue of music.

You can easily download your favourite tracks and listen to them offline via the Apple Music app.

You also typically have the option to stream live radio shows as part of your monthly package.

Apple Podcasts is still free for users to navigate, so you don’t need to worry about an Apple Music subscription if you only want to listen to podcasts.

Let’s take a look at both products and the features which make them different to and other in greater detail.

The big difference – Content ownership

One of the main differences between the two platforms revolves around content ownership.

In years gone by, a big thing for music lovers was the ‘collecting’ aspect when it came to their favourite artists’ singles and albums.

As vinyl, cassette tapes and CD’s have been phased out to make way for digital assets, this side of things has become less popular and more difficult to do.

iTunes, though, does still allow users to ‘own’ their favourite music while Apple Music does not.

This is because with iTunes, users are purchasing individual tracks and albums meaning that they then ‘own’ the said single/album.

This allows users to do what they want with their purchase, for example they could burn it on to a CD and make themselves a hard copy to add to their physical collection of music memorabilia.

With Apple music, the situation is very different. This is because with Apple music, users pay a monthly subscription to gain access to their huge catalogue of music, playlists and radio shows.

Once you decide to stop paying for your Apple music service then none of the music you have listened to or downloaded will be yours anymore.

So, if you’re bothered about ‘owning’ music then Apple music, or any other music streaming service for that matter, isn’t for you.

To consider – The fees involved

As touched on above, there are fees involved when it comes to both products.

Songs on iTunes are sold for anywhere between £0.99 and £1.99 while Apple music offers customers a flat rate each month to enjoy as many songs as they like for £9.99 a month.

Alternatively, you can sign up to a family account for £14.99 a month which gives you and 5 other people in your family access to everything the service has to offer.

An advantage Apple music does have over iTunes is the fact that it offers promotional deals to their customers.

For example, at the moment, users are able to sign up to a three month free trial, allowing them to see if they enjoy the service before parting with any money.

It’s difficult for these offers to be implemented on iTunes, however you can buy iTunes gift cards for friends and family so they can enjoy ‘free’ music on your behalf.

If you are keen to financially support up and coming artists who aren’t mainstream yet, then we would suggest that you use iTunes to do so.

On average, an artist will receive £0.09 from every purchase on iTunes, whereas they only receive £0.01 every time one of their songs is streamed on Apple Music.

These fees are then split with their label meaning that smaller artists make very little money off streaming apps such as Apple Music.

Music and more

Although both of these services are widely associated with music, they both offer more than just endless pages of songs and albums.

iTunes has a wide scope than Apple Music, offering its customers the ability to purchase tv shows, podcasts and movies while Apple Music stays within the world of music, but offers its customers more than simply track after track after track.

One of the best things about Apple Music is its collection of playlists. If you search for playlists via the app then you will undoubtedly find something that takes your interest from their impressive catalogue.

You are also able to create your own playlists within the app and make them available to the public so others can enjoy what you’ve put together.

Online and offline access

While both services rely on internet access for a large part of their functionality, they are both usable offline too.

With iTunes, we go back to the point of content ownership here – if you purchase something on iTunes while connected to the internet then that piece of media will then be yours to own whether you are online or not.

Usually, iTunes purchases will be stored on the PC that you made the purchase on, but you can change this.

The deal with Apple Music is different because as we mentioned earlier, you own nothing on this app.

However, that doesn’t mean to say that downloads are impossible and that you can only stream music while online. You can download your favourite songs through the app and they can even be saved to your iPhone.

When your subscription ends you will no longer have access to these songs. But, while you are a paying member, you will be able to listen to all downloaded music whether you’re connected to the internet or not.

Common questions about iTunes and Apple Music

Do I need an account to purchase things on iTunes?

Despite it not being a subscription based service, you do still need an account to be able to access iTunes. It would perhaps be easier if they offered a guest service but unfortunately, they don’t. To access iTunes you will either need to sign in with your Apple ID or create one if you don’t have one yet.

Is there still a need for iTunes now that iPods are old tech?

When iTunes was first created, it was made with iPods in mind. You could store all of your purchased songs and albums on your iPod and listen to it through there. Since streaming services became more popular, though, iPods have died out and people now just listen through their phones. There may no longer be a ‘need’ for iTunes but it’s still there for those who like to take ownership of their purchased goods.

Can you only get iTunes on Apple devices?

Absolutely not. You can download iTunes on all popular platforms including Windows and Android and use it just as you would on a Mac or iPhone.

Are you tied into any sort of contract with Apple Music?

Apple Music works on a rolling basis meaning that you can cancel your subscription at any point if you don’t think you are getting value for money.

If I unsubscribe but then re-sign up months later, will I regain access to my previously saved/downloaded music?

Providing that you sign up using the same Apple ID as you did the first time around, then you will have access to everything you saved or downloaded last time you had the app. This means you can jump straight back in to your favourite playlists, saving you the hassle of searching for them all over again.


To conclude, both iTunes and Apple Music both have a place in the current market in their own right.

As we’ve explained, despite both products being created by Apple and revolving around music, they are worlds apart in what they do and who they are for.

Both apps have issue – users report that occasionally they have issues with Apple Music crashing, but there’s also circumstances of iTunes being slow too.

So, it’s best to make your decision based on what the apps offer, as opposed to their performance, which is relatively similar. For most people, access to the entire music catalog that Apple holds for a monthly subscription fee will probably be best.

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Andy is a Professional Content Editor with expertise in a whole host of areas (or so he tells us anyway). His main interests are sports, tv/film and social media. He has reviewed over 100 apps so far for Apps UK.

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