On January 10, 2001, Steve Jobs continued happens at Macworld Expo in Bay area and presented a brand new app that will alter the course of Apple. iTunes would become Apple’s most significant app, not only because it was the companion from the iPod that might be released later that year, but also because it would become the framework its the company’s future online stores.

iTunes was not even close to the very first app available; throughout the presentation, Jobs showed several competing very good music player apps, and said "We’re late for this party and we’re wanting to do a leapfrog." Apple’s late catch-up would prove to be one of their best decisions.

Jobs explained the entire process of ripping and burning CDs, since, for a lot of, it was new. He ripped a CD – the B 52s’ Time Capsule – he then imported a folder with 1,000 songs to his library. Then he showed how you can play music, how to sort the library, how to look for songs, and how to create a playlist; many of these were techniques which were new for most people.

Most important, iTunes was free.

The origins of iTunes

As Jobs said in his presentation, there were a number of programs that may play MP3s, and, around the Mac, there were two main options: SoundJam, sold by Casady & Greene, and Audion, from Panic. Both of these apps were simple, focusing more about the gamer aspect, even though they offered features such as playlist creation, ripping CDs, and syncing music to Audio players.

Apple approached both companies, and finally purchased SoundJam, along with its three developers . Panic, at that time, was in negotiations with AOL, and never actually met with Apple.

SoundJam didn’t look anything like iTunes; in fact, its player window was limited, and a lot of the job managing music and creating playlists was done in other windows.

One of the key options that come with iTunes was, but still is, because you can do almost everything in a single window. Although this can be limiting sometimes, it simplifies a lot of what had previous been a hodgepodge of various windows for various tasks. This single-window approach went on being common with other apps – such as iPhoto, iMovie, etc. – and it is among the hallmarks of much Apple software.

The slow, steady progression of iTunes

It’s interesting to appear back in the first presentation of iTunes, to see how little the iTunes interface is different in twenty years. Aside from the fact that, around the Mac, it’s not iTunes anymore – when Apple released macOS Catalina, they split it into four apps – the background music app is really a direct descanted from the original iTunes.

Over time, iTunes progressed, adding new, essential features, and keeping up up to now with the needs of music listeners. Yet it maintained its familiar look – with numerous design tweaks – of a sidebar to navigate a music library, along with a right-hand main window to see albums and songs.

iTunes 2, released in October 2001, embraced the brand new iPod. Not only would you copy music to the iPod, as you could with other MP3 players, but syncing might be automatic. New features included an equalizer, cross-fading of tracks, and the ability to burn MP3 CDs. Rather than being a separate download from apple.com, iTunes was now bundled with Mac OS X.

iTunes 3, in July 2002, adding smart playlists and support for Audible audiobooks. Lots of people forget, but the first personal digital audio player bought from any quantity was Audible’s MobilePlayer, released in early 1998. Audiobooks were becoming more popular, due to the easy listening to them on digital devices, rather than on stacks of cassettes or CDs. and Apple supported them both in iTunes as well as on the iPod.

iTunes becomes a marketplace

Even although it have been around for three years, ipod and iphone was still a distinct segment device. But when iTunes 4 introduced the iTunes Music Store, Apple’s strategy started making sense. You now could, with a few clicks, buy an album, download it to your computer, and immediately transfer it to an iPod.

iTunes 4 also saw the addition of the AAC format for music files, which Apple adopted, partly to make use of DRM protection on music files sold in the iTunes Music Store. Apple would later remove DRM on music, but they still make use of the same FairPlay DRM system for other kinds of content, and for music provided by Apple Music. And iTunes 4.9, released in June, 2005, added support for podcasts, helping to spur their growth when you are the first comprehensive, easy to search repertoire of podcasts.

This inclusion of the iTunes Music Store increased iPod sales dramatically, as people discovered the ease of buying music online. This iPod sales chart from Wikipedia shows the way the fourth quarter of 2004 was the start of the iPod explosion.

The next couple of years saw refinements to iTunes, with minor improvements, and some additional store features, including movie sales. In 2007, iTunes 7.2 introduced DRM-free music in the iTunes Store, which came after Jobs had penned a wide open letter entitled Ideas on Music early that year.

In early 2008, Apple added movie rentals to the iTunes Store, and iTunes 8, later that year, saw adding Genius playlists, together with a Genius sidebar, which didn’t last for very long. In this and also the following form of iTunes, more types of content were added to the iTunes Store, and iTunes 9 saw a brand new, cleaner interface, a brand new Cover Flow browsing mode, together with the new Home Sharing feature, that enables users to share their libraries on their personal network.

iTunes 10, released in September 2010, saw one of Apple’s biggest failures in iTunes: the Ping "music social networking." Ping, described by Jobs as "kind of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes," was largely ignored, especially when as it turns out Apple hadn’t gotten approval from Facebook, and Apple needed to pull that integration in the app. Ping was removed from iTunes two years later.

iTunes and the cloud

The next step for iTunes ended up being to embrace the cloud. Apple added iTunes Match, which stores music in the cloud, in iTunes 10.5.1, released November 2011. With iTunes 11, you could play purchases from the cloud, with iTunes 12, apple introduced iCloud Music Library and Apple Music. iTunes became a portal to a broad media experience: music, movies, Television shows, podcasts, iOS apps, iTunes U, and eBooks, and also the app was becoming complex.

In the initial unveiling of iTunes, Steve Jobs said, about other very good music player apps:

iTunes became too complex; even "bloated" according to some. The app had lots of annoyances, As the countless Ask the iTunes Guy columns I wrote for Macworld attest, iTunes was anything but simple.

Farewell iTunes

iTunes 12 was released in October 2021, and lasted, with the help of many minor features and tweaks, for 4 years, before the discharge of macOS Catalina. iTunes, around the Mac, was split into four apps, akin to kinds of content, as on iOS. This led to a number of changes in the way in which users managed content on their own Macs, but simplified media access for many users.

But iTunes still exists on Windows – it’s not clear whether Apple will split the app on that platform – and the iTunes Store is still the name of Apple’s digital media storefront. As more than one-fifth of Apple’s revenue originates from "services", the iTunes Store, and its spin-offs, are worth many vast amounts of dollars annually. While services include a lot more than simply media sales – additionally they include extra iCloud storage, AppleCare contracts, and much more – this segment of Apple’s business began using the launch from the iTunes Store in 2004.

It’s clear that when Apple launched iTunes, the organization had no idea how important this app would be, or exactly what the ramifications would be for the company. However they could build on its success using the iPod, the iTunes Store, and also the App Store, making iTunes the premise of Apple’s success in the last two decades.

While iTunes no more exists on the Mac as a single app, it's arguably Apple’s most important software, apart from its operating systems.