Despite its reputation as a pretty poor piece of software (at least among my fellow tech journalists), iTunes 10 is going to be used by a huge number of people. Such is the power of being the sole (official) way of managing the music and app library on your iPod, iPhone or iPad. But while its detractors have their reasons for maligning iTunes, it can't be said that Apple doesn't at least try to innovate.
This version's major innovation is the Ping social network. Between Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, The Hype Machine, Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify and Grooveshark (to name but a few options), there's no shortage of ways to find new music. However, it's not exactly good for the iTunes business model for iPod owners to think they should be looking for music anywhere but on iTunes. And Apple would probably like you to think that its integration into iTunes gives Ping an edge its rivals lack.
The premise is simple: by telling iTunes what kind of music you like and 'following' artists and friends, you can get customised music recommendations back. Obviously Apple would prefer if you purchased that music through iTunes, but there's no requirement to do so. You can also add your own reviews for music, and comment on your friends' and bands' profiles. Inevitably that means that every single post from Coldplay now has about 300 banal replies to the effect of "omg, I love this track," but if you filter your friends list to not include morons you should see slightly more enlightened discussion.
The track sharing features in Ping are surprisingly similar to relative newcomer Mflow. Both rely primarily on your building a 'circle of friends' whose recommendations you can then buy for yourself, but Mflow also has the added benefit that if one of your friends buys a track based on your recommendation, you get a percentage of that sale credited to your account to use for buying your own music. iTunes isn't so generous, but then it doesn't have to be - Mflow has to give users a reason to use its service, Apple has no such concerns.
Apple already has a critical mass of iPod owners purchasing music from iTunes, and ready to be introduced to Ping. More importantly, thanks to the dominance of the iPod (including its integration into the iPad and iPhone) not only does iTunes have a large user base, it has a large locked-in user base. It's certainly possible to manage an iPod's music library without using iTunes (I recommend SharePod), but for most, it's more trouble that it's worth.