The Brushed Metal Diaries: Et Tu, iTunes? 

In the Brushed Metal Diaries, we take a look at one of Apple’s most unique — and most hated — user interface paradigms.

While QuickTime 4 served as Apple’s Brushed Metal Trojan Horse, the most famous piece of software to wear the look is iTunes.

At MacWorld Expo in 2001, Apple introduced iTunes with its normal language:

Apple today introduced iTunes, the world’s best and easiest to use “jukebox” software that lets users create and manage their own music library on their Mac. iTunes lets Mac users import songs from their favorite CDs; compress them into the popular MP3 format and store them on their computer’s hard drive; organize their music using powerful searching, browsing and play list features; watch stunning visualizations on their computer screen; and burn their own audio CDs — all in one easy-to-use application.

iTunes didn’t appear out of thin air. It was the result of Apple purchasing SoundJam MP, a Mac-compatible jukebox app that allowed users to encode CDs, stream and store MP3s and even sync them to Diamond Rio MP3 players.

Take a look at the thing:

Image via taptaptap.com

You’ll notice that Brushed Metal is present. Here’s Jim Heid at Macworld:

At first glance, SoundJam MP’s interface evokes the look of Apple’s QuickTime Player, the justifiably maligned movie and music player that accompanies QuickTime 4 Pro (see Reviews, October 1999). SoundJam MP sports the same brushed-aluminum, 1970s-swinger look. But Casady & Greene didn’t mimic Apple’s mistakes as well. SoundJam MP’s volume control is a horizontal slider instead of an awkward virtual knob, and the program lacks QuickTime Player’s gimmicky Favorites drawer.

Here’s what iTunes 1 looked like:

All screenshots courtesy of guidebookgallery.org

The initial version of iTunes was pretty basic; the app didn’t even include burning support. While that was added in version 1.1 (alongside the “Rip. Mix. Burn.” ads), the free price tag led to it being downloaded by many more users than were willing to spring the $40 for SoundJam MP. In fact, in nine months, iTunes had been downloaded more than one million times.

Brushed Metal had hit the big time.

In October 2001, Apple released iTunes 2:

This version kept the UI the same (the above screenshot shows the OS X version, with the Aqua window controls looking awkward on top of the Brushed Metal window), but added MP3 CD burning, a 10-band equalizer with presets, a crossfader and iPod support.

By the time iTunes 3 was released in July 2002, iTunes had been downloaded 14 million times. This update coincided with the release of the iPod (touch wheel), but packed still packed several new features, including track ratings, smart playlists, support for Audible audiobooks and better metadata support. [1]

UI-wise, iTunes 3 would end up being a preview to OS X Panther, which would be released 15 months later. As you can see from the screenshot below, the Brushed Metal was smoother on this release, with the text superimposed on it across the bottom of the window was made far more legible:

iTunes 4 was far more than a simple update: it included a store. Launching with 200,000 high-quality songs from BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal and Warner, the iTunes Music Store turned the music industry upside down. One million tracks were sold the first week, and in four months, 10 million tracks had been sold.

While all that’s fine, it’s not the only reason iTunes 4 is so unique.

Hell froze over as Apple released a version of iTunes for Windows.

The Brushed Metal UI was out of place on PCs, especially when compared to XP’s blue and green UI. While Apple built a custom window and menu bar for the app, it never was quite right:

While iTunes 4 would be around for over two years, its successor — iTunes 5 — was just around for five weeks. This version was buggy, and the main feature (besides folders for playlists) was a near search tool that worked with the iTunes Music Store.

It’s main feature, however, should look familiar to iTunes users:

iTunes 5 was the first major release not to include a logo change,[2] probably to help keep something the same, visually, as for the first time in four years and four major versions, iTunes shipped without Brushed Metal.

iTunes 5 shipped just a few months after Mac OS X Tiger, which undid most of the Brushed Metal found in its predecessor. It is a rare instance in which Mac OS X predated a UI change to iTunes, as iTunes is usually considered as a bit of a UI playground for the company.

  1. Notably, this was the first iPod to support Windows, but iTunes was still Mac-only, leaving those “other” users stuck with Musicmatch.  ↩
  2. Despite versions 1–4 of iTunes looking basically the same, the logo changed numerous times over the years. Versions 1, 2 and 3 all featured new icons, while 4 and 5 sported the green music note before the blue note showed up in 2006 for version 7:
  3. I just like that they kept screwing around with the reflection on the CD.  ↩