Genius certainly is a nifty little sidebar to your iTunes collection. After it’s collected every scrap of information about your library and sent it through the Apple ultra-computer you can select any song in your library and create an instant playlist from it. Oh, except for all the songs that aren’t in Apple’s iTMS database.
Since Genius bases all of its playlist making decisions off of the iTunes Music Store users’ hive-mind, it can’t make decisions about songs that aren’t in its database, or songs that no one has bought. That means no Beatles, no live recordings, no transferred vinyl and no public domain digitized cylinders.
Tangerine! figures out what songs go well together by actually listening to the song itself. After analyzing your digital library (about as long as Genius’s initial setup time) Tangerine! finds the beats per minute and the “beat intensity” of all of your music, after which you can generate loads of interesting playlists. Most important, you don’t just click a button and hope the computer knows how to crescendo, climax and lend some sort of feeling to the music, you can select different patterns of intensities to suit your mood.
Tangerine! also allows you to select more precise or longer playlist times than Genius. You can limit the playlist in the same ways as you would limit a Smart Playlist in iTunes – by genre, artist, etc. – and you can select a range of BPMs and beat intensities that your playlist should stay within. You can export playlists Tangerine! makes to iTunes, and if you buy Tangerine! ($25) you can export those handy BPMs to iTunes to give other playlist makers a leg up.
Tangerine!’s biggest problem: it’s a standalone application. It also requires that you leave iTunes open while it’s analyzing your music.
But those are small costs to the benefits of creating a great playlist on the fly and really understanding where it came from. After reviewing the main features and strengths of Tangerine! it becomes obvious that Genius is underpowered. Genius leaves you wondering how it made this playlist instead of giving you any type of control or understanding of how it picked it. Genius imposes the Apple hive-mind on your music more than any other product they’ve made so far.
I think it’s sad that Apple is under the impression that people want a sidebar application that does all the creative work for you, requires no real input, and generates playlists based on nothing but “what everybody else wants”. Sure you can base creative works off of the statistics in your boring grey database, but I think knowing where something came from, and understanding how to affect and change it gives it part its value.