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First look: iTunes 9

updated 05:30 pm EDT, Wed September 9, 2009

iTunes player and store tested

Apple regularly promises that each whole-digit iTunes revision is a major overhaul, but in most cases these are add-ons to the existing framework rather than genuine redesigns. Some have complained that this has gradually led iTunes into feature creep, especially at the iTunes Store: the sheer number of features has meant wading through the interface to get at what used to be simple tasks. iTunes 9 theoretically promises the best of both worlds; we're taking a first look to see if the claims live up to expectations.

interface changes: navigation and sync

Starting up iTunes for the first time, you'd be forgiven for thinking that little has changed. Other than putting the optional browser on the left by default rather than on top (this can be changed back) and asking Mac users to use an Option-click to switch to the mini player, the app is ultimately very similar to what's been seen before. Even the album view and status views are more cosmetic changes than anything else.



It's not until you visit the sync menu for plugged-in devices that the largest changes become apparent. Simply put, it's much more visual and easier to control. Movies are shown visually and let you sync movie playlists on top of usual sync options. Any episodic content, such as podcasts and TV shows, also let you fine-tune sync options to only load particular episodes in addition to the usual automated options for recent or untouched items.

More importantly, app syncing is now treated as a much more sincere effort. You can as always disable syncing certain apps, but you now get an at-a-glance list of app sizes and the option of searching to find a given app if you have a large list. The app management screen, which replicates the home screens of the iPhone and iPod touch, is also a real gem for those with large quantities of apps: it's now possible to customize the number of home screens and the layout of individual apps without having to do so on the hardware itself, which can save a tremendous amount of time versus the infamous "app shuffle" on the touchscreen.





iTunes Store: interface changes and social networking

By far the largest sea change, though, has happened in the commercial front end of iTunes. For all intents and purposes, Apple has scrapped the proprietary, software-driven portal in favor of a much more visual and flexible web store (in fact, it's suspected that Apple is using a WebKit-rendered page). Browsing this interface is a relief, if just for the sake of speed: music, movies, apps and other features now have their own drop-down menus at the top, and any given section now shows all the items in a given category (new releases, recommendations) in a single scrollable panel instead of the excruciatingly slow page-by-page view of the past. It's now much easier to find a new title or to switch to a different section of the store, and this alone would be worthwhile.

However, Apple has also brought some much needed instant sampling features. Clicking the "i" on the corner of an album or video thumbnail lets you see the track listing, sample content, and buy much as you would if you'd visited the dedicated page for the product. Album and video pages themselves are more readable, especially for recommendations.





Subtly, each "buy" item now has a drop-down menu for each of the contextual items and gets more features. At a basic level, it's now much easier to gift individual songs or episodes, but there are now also two options to share a track with Facebook or Twitter. These aren't particularly special, but they're convenient for broadcasting love for a particular track and honor the common formatting used by frequent visitors. For example, a Twitter share automatically includes an #iTunes hash tag in addition to the track data and store link.



iTunes Store: iTunes LP and iTunes Extras

In browsing the iTunes Store in version 9, it's also clear that Apple is now pushing more complete packages instead of stressing the by-song purchases of before. iTunes LP embodies this and is, essentially, the return of the "enhanced" CD that surfaced in the 1990s when Internet music was just enough of a threat to the CD to be noticed. These are essentially mixed-format albums with DVD-like menus: you can play one or all of the audio tracks, but there are now browsable special videos and other material. To be honest, we find these somewhat trivial: they boost the price of the album and feel more like they're made to please label executives worried about the death of the album format than to reach users.

iTunes Extras are more useful and apply to purchased movies -- rentals don't have the choice. Much like the LPs, they too add extra videos and other material, but at least here those extras are expected as they would also be available on a Blu-ray or DVD. If nothing else, you're now getting much more of the value of a physical disc.

others: Home Sharing, Genius Mixes

A chronic problem of iTunes purchases is the need to sync across multiple computers; this usually involves carrying them over on a USB drive, burning a disc or (for the more experienced) accessing a network share. Home Sharing solves that: any computers authorized both to a single iTunes account and Home Sharing can now sync purchases between each other and even other content. We haven't had much need to try this, but it's simple to set up.

Genius Mixes are another matter. These largely appear to be a rebranding of Genius playlists, but they're now browsable in a more visual fashion.

initial take

We still have to use iTunes for a longer period to settle on an opinion, but for now it's mostly positive. Those most likely to appreciate the upgrade are those with one of Apple's touchscreen players or who consider the iTunes Store their primary source of music. Without these, a lot of the changes are more incremental, but it's increasingly hard to find someone who won't be touched by these changes. And if it does, version 9 is a true necessity.




by MacNN Staff

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Comments

  1. LEStudios

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +1

    Well worth it!

    I Did check it out its a Universal 32-bit App on Snow Leopard. Would have ben nice if it was 64-bit Cocoa but still very pleased none the less. It's laid out one gurantee to ALL Account holders that you will definitely spend more money faster!

  1. logicat2001

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +1

    Thank you for the Dub Tip!

    Was turned on to The Orb back when Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld was first released. Have been bouncing blissfully since then, even when things weren't as bright. Have seen them live three times in the US, long before Andy Hughes' passing.

    So how incredibly exciting for me to discover, whilst reading a review of iTunes 9, that there's a new Orb collection as of September 7, 2009!

    Many dubby thanks to whomever took the screenshot of The Orb album above. I now have something to enjoy that is a perfect first use for a new iTunes!

    Peace,
    A

  1. lujo

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +2

    Genius Mixes feature rough

    I've been playing with the Genius Mixes feature because I've really enjoyed the Genius feature. It does a good job of taking 15 different cross sections of your entire musical library and creating a "playlist" that reflects different elements of the library. But that's where the feature ends. You simply point at one of the 15 automatically generated lists and click to play or pause. There really is no list; you can't see what songs are in the list or what will play next. There is no way to rate the songs playing--not even with one of the many helper applications for controlling iTunes or rating songs. If you simply like iTunes to feed you some music from a related selection of your music, it works fine. If you want any other detail, control, or editing, it's lacks all of these!

  1. thedude

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +3

    green button???? not for mini player anymore

    Not sure if this is bugging anyone else but the green button has for every version of iTunes caused it to switch from the normal view to the mini player. Now it just acts like all other programs and zooms the window. You have to actually select mini player in view menu or use the keyboard shortcut for that. I realize that the minimize button on windows machines has never brought up the mini player and you always needed to select it from the menu, but is it really necessary to break this on the mac side for consistency?


    thedude

  1. kansaipj

    Joined: Dec 1969

    0

    Spinning ball of death

    WARNING!

    Installed the upgrade. It began scanning my library for gapless play and then I got the spinning beach ball. Could not quit or even force quit. I had to to a hard restart. This happened five times. When to the apple discussions board and apparently many are experiencing similar issues. I'd recommend people who have not yet upgraded, to wait.

    Argh!!!

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969

    -2

    Re: Well worth it

    I Did check it out its a Universal 32-bit App on Snow Leopard. Would have ben nice if it was 64-bit Cocoa but still very pleased none the less.

    First, it's a free app. So it wouldn't take much to make it 'well worth it'.

    Second, why would it being a Cocoa app be nice? Why would it being 64-bit be nice? Are you one of those geeks who actually spend time worrying about what framework or bit-ness each of your apps use?


    It's laid out one gurantee to ALL Account holders that you will definitely spend more money faster!

    I thought the labels were the ones helping you spend your money faster. Raise those prices more!

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +1

    Carbon

    Oh, and based on the comments I've read, iTunes is still Carbon.

    So how come people aren't blasting Apple for not updating it to Cocoa yet? People whine about Adobe not moving to Cocoa sooner, because Apple made it clear that was the future. And yet, here we are in 2009, and iTunes and FCP are still Carbon and the Finder JUST changed to Cocoa. Maybe the problem with Adobe is they were watching what Apple was doing, not what they were saying.

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