Let me begin this review of the new iTunes with a confession. I’m a real fan of iTunes. It has it’s critics. Some of them incredibly vocal of their dislike of iTunes. Granted, Windows users have to put up with a slow version of Apple’s jukebox software, but as we’re reviewing the Mac version, we won’t worry too much about that.
The very first version of iTunes was somewhat of a revelation to me. Before iTunes came out, I was using various programs to handle my (then) very small collection of MP3 files. My favourite of those was Winamp, with which I meticulously organised my music files. And that was the point. I organised my music files. Manually. I put folders inside folders inside folders. I labelled everything. I renamed everything. It was a task and a half to do. Then came along iTunes (along with my first every iPod). By then, I had close to 1000 MP3 files. Starting up iTunes for the first time, it asked me the usual setup questions, including “Do you want iTunes to organise your music files….”. Answering yes to this question actually changed my life in some ways. iTunes went about copying all my MP3 files, and it neatly put them in my Music folder in the correct folders. No longer did I have to worry about where my music files were. iTunes did that for me.
Since then, iTunes has undergone radical changes, both in the way it looks and the way it handles your media files. First came the iTunes store, which added music, movies, tv shows and podcasts. Then along came the iPhone and the App store. In its present form, iTunes represents a huge chunk of our leisure time as well as a revenue stream for Apple. So what’s the new version like?
Firstly, if you own an iPad, you’ll notice a resemblance to iTunes 11. It has taken quite a few visual elements from the iPad version. The first thing you will notice is that the side bar is now gone. It can be brought back simply by going to the menu bar and choose “Show Sidebar” from the View option. But as Apple had chosen to hide it, I decided to have a go with iTunes without the sidebar. I was quite pleasantly surprised at how easily I could adapt to iTunes without constantly staring at my devices, playlists and App updates.
The top of iTunes sports a menu, where you can choose to view your music as a list of songs, artists, albums or playlists. It works really well. One of my first challenges came when I wanted to put a song in a playlist for my daughter. In the past I would simply drag the song from the main window to the left sidebar where the playlist would live permanently. Now, you simply have to start dragging the file and automatically a temporary side bar pops out from the right of iTunes. It’s a beautiful touch, and makes adding songs to playlists / devices even easier than before.
Going to the top left of the screen, a button helps you to switch from music, to your Movies and TV shows, from your Podcasts and iTunes U content to your iOS device Apps. For me this way of doing things is a welcome change from the clutter that plagued the iTunes screen before.
Moving to the iTunes store, there has been a bit of an overhaul here too. The different sections of the App store are present on the home page, along with the familiar side bar on the right containing links to your account and other iTunes services. The store looks and feels a little less “busy” to me, and going there now feels like shopping in a friendly family store rather than the previous “shopping mall” store.
But it’s the little touches I love. Downloads now show up on iTunes header, similar to Safari. Searching for a song now gives you instant feedback, similar to Spotlight. But rather than simply searching and finding a song or artist, it lets you perform an action on the searched items. You can play the song / album / artist now, or queue it to play after the current playlist. You can start a Genius playlist, or add it to a current playlist. All by clicking the small arrow on the right. In what has to be my favourite feature, when a song is playing, you can now click on the list symbol within the info window at the top of the iTunes window. It will show you the next 20 songs that will play. You can remove any one of these tracks from the queue, and it will be replaced by another song in your library.
Although some people think that iTunes is a dinosaur in software terms, while others think it should be broken up so that the App store and Podcast player should be made into standalone apps. I consider it to be the quintessential Mac app. I can’t think of an App I’ve used more (bar my browser). It is one of the first apps that is switched on, and usually the last one I switch off before I put my Mac to sleep. It has helped me configure and populate 6 different iPods, 4 different iPhones and 2 different iPads. It’s synced with my Apple TV 1, and entertained my beautiful daughter since she was born. Not bad for a free App that’s bundled with every Mac…..