On January 9, 2001, Apple launches iTunes, a media player that revolutionized the way people consumed digital media.
Bill Kincaid and Jeff Robbin, two former Apple employees, developed an MP3 player called SoundJam MP in the late 1990s. In 2000, Apple re-hired them and their partner, Dave Heller, to work on a similar player that would come standard with Apple computers. The first version of iTunes debuted early the next year, on the cusp of a new era in digital entertainment.
Along with the iPod, the MP3 player Apple released later in 2001, iTunes revolutionized the music industry, providing consumers with a simple, portable way of listening to a large library of music. Sleek and focused on a simplified user experience, iTunes made it easy for users to burn CDs and to manage digital music files. Apple founder Steve Jobs is credited with iTunes’ success as a music marketplace. Seeing that music was easier to access than ever, but that record labels were losing money due to internet piracy, Jobs made a deal with the five major record labels to sell their content via iTunes. The fact that it was above-board and profitable for the music industry, combined with the cultural cache of its companion product, the iPod, made iTunes an unqualified success.
The iTunes store soon became one of the internet’s premier marketplaces not only for music but also for music videos, TV shows, movies, apps and podcasts. Artists recorded exclusive singles and released albums early on iTunes, and the iTunes Music Festival was a popular annual attraction from 2007 until 2016. As the iPhone, released in 2007, overtook the iPod as Apple’s marquee product, the iTunes store remained prominent, but subscription-based streaming services like Spotify began to challenge iTunes itself. Responding to this shift, Apple launched Apple Music, which was compatible with but separate from iTunes, in 2015. On June 3, 2019, Apple announced iTunes would not be included in the latest version of its Mac operating system.
Though the age of pay-per-song downloads may have ended, there is no question that iTunes had a major impact on music. The program turned what was more or less a black market into a vital organ of the music industry, and its crisp, user-friendly format changed the way people consume digital audio and video content.