iTunes 11: Simpler, Faster, Stronger [Review]


Hey iTunes. How you doing?
Hey iTunes. How you doing?

So here it is: iTunes 11. A lot has changed, but not so much that you’ll feel lost. Here’s what we’ve found after our first poke around inside.

Apple understands that people might feel discombobulated by the changes in iTunes 11, so it has put a helpful overlay in place to guide you to the essentials. This is also where you have to make a decision: will you “share details about your library with Apple” or not?

The explanatory web page is thin on details. It mentions getting album artwork, although the “Get album artwork” menu item is still present (in a new location, under File – Library).

iTunes pops a question

Look closer at the menus, and you’ll see the Advanced menu has gone. No one needs to think about doing anything “advanced” with iTunes any more.

Visually, the controls look flatter. They don’t look like buttons any more, they look like icons. Like software. The sidebar is hidden by default – hit Command+Option+S to show it again. You can still get around without it, by using the drop-down menu at top left and the big “Store” button at top right.

I love this mini player

The new mini player is one of my favorite features in iTunes 11. It’s a work of art, and it does much more. Click the arrow next to your album artwork to call up a context menu with ratings, playlist and Store links. Click the search icon to search your library and switch to another song or album without leaving the mini player at all. The search box finds songs, artists, albums, and playlists, and offers you sensible hyperlinked next steps. It’s fantastic. I used to get so annoyed with the mini player, because I’d constantly be switching back to the main window to find stuff. That’s no longer necessary.

The first view you get of your music is the Albums view. Now speaking as a 40-something, I love this. I still listen to albums, but I have a feeling many people don’t bother to do that any more, and prefer the flexibility of playlists, Genius, and shuffle mode.

Stick with the albums view for a moment, though, because you get this gorgeous expanded view of any album you click on:

Instant access

It’s very iOS, of course, but it works. I love it, but that’s because albums are still the primary way I listen to music.

In Artists view, you get this fabulous overview of each album:

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us

What’s changed? The columns have gone. All those columns of metadata you could display if you wanted. Actually they are mostly still there (look under the View menu, mainly when looking at the Songs view) but by default, they’re gone.

You get less, but as Jony Ive would say, you get more. There’s less chance that browsing your music collection will start to feel like listening to a spreadsheet, and more chance that you’ll listen to good songs.

The Store has been given a makeover. It looks and feels much more like its iOS 6 counterpart, especially the Apps section. It feels somewhat faster to load. Generally speaking, the changes here are not too dramatic, just cosmetic. There’s still the black intra-Store navigation bar, the breadcrumb links above each title, and lots of side-scrolling lists.

New store, a lot like the old store

In recent years iTunes has earned quite a lot of criticism, partly for its looks and partly for being overburdened with features.

That second criticism still applies. iTunes remains the hub that connects your computer to your iDevices, and that means it has to deal with so much more than just music and podcasts.

What version 11 does achieve, though, is some degree of sensible dividing-up of those many, many features.

By clearing the sidebar out of sight, you can concentrate on one thing at a time. Get some music playing, then dive into the Store and go shopping without getting distracted by playlists and stuff. It’s an improvement. It feels better than it did before.

The sleek looks have Ive’s stamp on them, and look sleeker than they have for many years. Remember when OS X was made of stuff that Steve Jobs called “lickable”? Well, iTunes 11 is far, far away from that. It looks electronic. Digital. Not a metaphor for something else, but a statement of function. I much prefer it over the iTunes some of us thought we might get – something like wood-edged horror that lurks on my iPad 2. Ugh.

Did I mention how much I like this mini player?

My favorite thing in iTunes 11, by a huge margin, is the mini player. I can see myself making a lot of use of that. I’ve got a feeling that this is just the beginning of a new era for iTunes, though. There are more changes to come.

What do you make of it so far? What do you like and dislike?

Source: Apple


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