Do You Have to Use iTunes With an iPhone or iPod?

Alternatives to Apple's Popular Music Store and Syncing Tool

Three young women, two using iPhones, sit in front of an iPhone advertisement.

 "iPhone" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Ines Njers

For years, iTunes was the software that iPhone, iPod, and iPad owners had to use to sync music, video, e-books, and other content to their devices. However, a lot has changed. Some people dislike the changes Apple made to the iTunes interface and its features. Many more don't use computers with their mobile devices at all and download content to them directly, something that wasn't possible when iTunes debuted.

Whether you're in one of those groups or have another reason to avoid iTunes, you may wonder whether you must use iTunes with your iOS devices.

The answer is no. Using iTunes is not required. You have other choices.

Information in this article applies to iPhones and iPads running iOS 12 or iOS 11.

Sync With iCloud Only

While the combination of iTunes and a Mac or PC used to be the only way to manage data on your device and to make backups, that's no longer the case. These days, you can use an iPhone or iPad without ever connecting it to a computer. In this scenario, you use iCloud, a free service from Apple that comes with 5GB of space on Apple's servers to use for backing up your essential files.

How to Turn on iCloud Backup

When you turn on iCloud Backup on your iPhone or iPad, the device backs up automatically whenever it is attached to power and Wi-Fi.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.

  2. Tap your name at the top of the screen.

  3. Select iCloud from the options listed.

  4. Scroll down and tap iCloud Backup

  5. Move the slider next to iCloud Backup to the On/green position.

    iCloud settings screens including iCloud Backup

ICloud Backup automatically backs up the following:

  • App data
  • Apple Watch backups
  • iMessage and SMS text messages
  • Your purchase history from Apple services
  • Ringtones
  • Visual voicemail
  • HomeKit setup
  • Settings

Instead of backing up purchased music, books, and apps, the backup records only your history of Apple purchases, because you can redownload them directly. In some cases, this may require iTunes.

This automatic backup does not back up non-Apple music and other purchases you made elsewhere. However, you can opt to back up all your photos and other types of files in the cloud, if you have enough room. More space is affordably priced:

  • 5GB - free
  • 50GB - $0.99/month
  • 200GB - $2.99/month
  • 2TB - $9.99/month

Downloading Content Directly to iPhone

You can download apps to your iPhone or iPad directly by using the App Store app. Tap the Books icon or one of the other many book apps to download books. iTunes isn't required for either.

There's a Music app on the iPhone, but it is for playing music, whether from your library or as part of an Apple Music subscription, not for buying new music. For that, you need to look elsewhere for an iTunes substitute.

Music Management Software vs. iTunes

There are a handful of programs that provide functions similar to iTunes — managing your music and syncing it to your iPhone, for example. While they can replace iTunes for some functions, they all have some significant limitations:

  • The alternatives may be paid, whereas iTunes is free.
  • They don't offer access to the iTunes Store for buying music, movies, and other content.
  • They don't let you log in to your Apple ID, so features like iTunes Match and iCloud Music Library are not available.
  • They don't all support podcasts, movie rentals and playback, or streaming radio.
  • Apple doesn't support them, and you won't be able to get support from Apple for using your device with them.

That's a serious list of drawbacks, but if you're frustrated by iTunes or are curious to see what else is out there, you may want to consider some of these iTunes alternatives:

  • CopyTrans: Easy to navigate and reliable program for transferring files to iOS devices. Also lets you copy music from any mobile device to a computer (iTunes doesn't do that), among other things.
  • Syncios: Works with both iOS and Android devices and is integrated with a few video services such as YouTube. It's free and easy to use to quickly backup and share media files between devices and a computer. 
  • Wondershare TunesGo: Another good option for managing iOS and Android devices and all of your media files. The free trial lets you try before you buy.

Other Places to Get Music and Books

If you don't want to buy music, movies, or books via the iTunes Store, your options are bountiful. You can choose from several music download stores, such as Spotify and Amazon Music, or access music using one of the many free music apps like Pandora and iHeart Radio.

If e-books are your thing, there are plenty of sites for e-books and audiobooks, many of them free.

Is Leaving iTunes Behind Worth It?

While iTunes may bring some frustrations, and there are good alternatives for some features, it's worth remembering that the Apple ecosystem is tightly integrated. Many of the other options require installing apps or accessing online services and combine multiple services to replace what iTunes offers in a single place.

It's worth exploring your options in case you discover a better fit for your needs, but buying an Apple device means that you are, at least somewhat, buying into the Apple ecosystem.