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Originally scheduled for release last month, Apple's iTunes 11 is now available to OS X and Windows users through the OS X App Store or as a download from the company's website.
The venerable music app has lost its luster somewhat as cloud-based file synchronization has taken off. Now that Apple has iCloud, the synchronization component of iTunes seems unnecessary. But of course iTunes has become a source of revenue for Apple, so the company wants customers to be exposed to the iTunes Store whenever they feel the need to manage their iTunes content on their various devices.
Recent versions of iTunes have performed poorly, which some attribute to bloated code. If you've experienced the spinning beachball of death on a Mac, chances are iTunes was involved, particularly in the context of iOS device syncing.
Polling by social media analytics service Amplicate indicates that 59% of more than 115,000 social media voters expressed hate for iTunes. That's an almost worthless figure. It says nothing about how many of those iTunes haters have actually used iTunes. But let it suffice to confirm that more than a few Apple customers are dissatisfied with the software.
Beyond performance issues, iTunes is a pain because it's all but essential -- it's now integrated into OS X and it's hard to remove -- and because it too often limits what you can do with files -- it's a digital rights management (DRM) application, after all. Though Apple disavowed DRM for music/a> in 2009, it continues to support it for apps, ebooks, and iTunes video.
But the majority of iTunes users -- the silent, satisfied majority -- should find many welcome improvements in iTunes 11. The app looks more elegant and is laid out more sensibly. The simplified left-hand navigation panel is significantly more intuitive than old-style version, which housed links to the library, store, home sharing, genius recommendations and playlists.
Better still, iTunes 11 feels faster, even if the new version takes up more space (292 MB) than the old one (270 MB). Perhaps this has something to do with the excision of Apple's poorly received social music service Ping earlier this year.
Take a tour of iTunes 11 and see if it meets your approval.
Here's the iTunes Store, as seen in iTunes 10.7, the previous version. It's not bad, really, but it could be better. For example, version 11 adds the ability to use your computer's camera to scan gift card redemption codes. It's not that much of chore to type a long string of characters to redeem an iTunes gift card, but Apple's attention to detail here is noteworthy.
Version 11 gets rid of the left-hand navigation panel, to gain more screen space for store content. It retains a revised version of the right-hand panel, full of links that are relevant to the store experience. The Cover Flow-inspired slideshow at the top of the store window is much easier to interact with than the old mosaic marquee with scroll arrows that appeared in response to a mouse cursor.
iTunes' new library view is sharper, literally. The old album view displayed icons with rounded corners. The new album view features square icons with sharp right angles. It dispenses with the left-hand navigation panel to provide a less cluttered view of album art.
In iTunes 10.7, the left-hand navigation panel was sort of a dumping ground for viewing options. In iTunes 11, selecting specific media types to view in one's iTunes library is handled by a new menu toward the top left of the app.
The device sync window for iPhones, iPods and iPads isn't all that different but it looks better. The storage usage bar on the bottom now has a nice reflective finish and provides genre-specific file counts and space usage when you hold your mouse cursor over the bar graph.
When you update to iTunes 11, Apple will ask you to share information about the songs in your iTunes library. Though you're probably already doing this if you opted to receive Genius recommendations, agreeing will allow Apple to scan for missing album art, provide promotional photography from artists' performances and offer related recommendations. Apple insists your privacy will not be compromised in the process.
iTunes 11 has added an expanded view of library content. Clicking on the image of an album or a video loads a rectangular menu below the item with specific details about the content -- song lists or cast members, for example. An "In the Store" link provides additional information about the title and about other projects by the same artist, unless the title isn't available in iTunes. If your taste in media runs outside the mainstream, iTunes' limitations quickly become apparent.
The familiar iTunes list view is available still, in a more refined design. Songs purchased from the iTunes Store will be stored on Apple's iCloud servers, where they can be streamed directly or downloaded via the iCloud icon. The ability to download past purchases from iCloud can make file recovery much easier in the event of a crash that damages a local iTunes library.
Assuming you haven't switched over to Apple's dedicated Podcasts app, you may find iTunes 11 presents information about podcasts more effectively. The ability to toggle between unplayed podcasts and all episodes is particularly useful.
If you've ever wanted to alter an iTunes playlist on the fly, there's now a way to do so. "Up Next," a new menu in iTunes 11, allows you to see the songs slated to be played next and to insert or remove songs from that queue without altering the stored playlist.
In all, iTunes 11 is a significant improvement over its predecessors. It might even win over some iTunes haters.