January 9, 2001: Steve Jobs introduces customers to iTunes at Macworld.
In a world before the iPod or the iTunes Store, iTunes is simply described by Apple as, “the world’s best and easiest to use jukebox software that lets users create and manage their own music library on their Mac.” Even the biggest Apple fanboy can’t imagine just how significant a step this will be for Apple.
Apple gets into the music business
On the face of it, iTunes was just the latest in a series of applications Apple created from 1999 onward with a focus on customers bridging the gap between art and technology, the folks who had always stuck by the company. Software included Final Cut Pro and iMovie for editing video, iPhoto as an Apple alternative to Photoshop, iDVD for burning video or music onto a CD, GarageBand for creating and mixing music, and finally iTunes for ripping music from CDs and letting you assemble it in a custom music library.
It was part of a larger strategy on Steve Jobs’ part to make the Macintosh the “digital hub” in your life, for working not just as a standalone machine by as a central device to which all your peripheral devices, such as digital cameras, would connect.
The origins of iTunes came when former Apple software engineers Bill Kincaid, Jeff Robbin and Dave Heller wrote a piece of software called SoundJam, allowing users to play MP3s on their Macs, as well as order their playlists. Apple quickly acquired SoundJam and began working to develop it into an Apple product.
A solution that just works
Jobs wanted something comprehensive with plenty of flexibility for arranging music, but also straightforward and easy to use. He particularly liked the idea of a search bar into which you could type anything — an artist, a song, an album — and have it find what you were looking for. It also contained a cool music visualization tool, which Jobs told journalist John Markoff reminded him of taking LSD in his youth.
“Apple has done what Apple does best — make complex applications easy, and make them even more powerful in the process,” said Jobs in a press release the day iTunes launched. “iTunes is miles ahead of every other jukebox application, and we hope its dramatically simpler user interface will bring even more people into the digital music revolution.”
It took more than six more months before the iPod shipped, and a couple more years before Apple began selling music via the iTunes Music Store. Nonetheless, iTunes was a key part of the puzzle in Apple’s transition to a company heavily involved in the music world. It laid the groundwork for more changes to come.