independent

Friday 18 April 2014

iTunes 11 Review: Latest version is a great redesign but thankfully not a revolution

iTunes is more than 11 years old, and the launch of version 11 today shows that much has changed since 2001 – but much has not. It’s now got a much-improved new look, but under the bonnet, iTunes is still the same familiar and much appreciated software. It long ago had to incorporate media such as TV and film, beyond music, and today's slightly delayed launch allows the software to deal better with such a range of entertainment options.

The immediate impression is that, simply, there are more graphics, fewer pages of enormous lists of text, and a more intuitive interface. So on the left is your libraries, while in the centre you can choose to view by artist or album, and on the right you can see your own iPods or other devices and the iTunes store.



If you click on anything, however, most of the dialogue boxes remain exactly as they were; scratch the surface and iTunes 11 is largely iTunes 10. But the surface was the previous problem, so fixing it represents major progress. While you’re browsing your own collections, a new expanded view puts all the information on an album in one stylishly-designed place, offering more to users but also making it harder to become confused about what you’re listening to or where you are in your own collection. It strikes me as a clever iteration of Coverflow, which showed simply album covers rather than more data. (Reviewers with retina display Macs says this new interface looks even lovelier on their higher definition screens.)



Perhaps the most interesting new feature of iTunes is the new Miniplayer, which is now a whole new window rather than just a mode for iTunes. I couldn’t find anything I wanted to do in iTunes that I can’t now do from the MiniPlayer, but the full size window, especially for a user with two screens, remains much more attractive.



This is all perfectly good for users who enjoy the familiarity of Apple. Such consistency is behind the success of iOS and the iPhone. And for users such as myself, iTunes is perfectly good for storing a collection of music that, the programme itself tells me, would last for about three days if I played it all back to back. Power-users, however, complain that enormous libraries are not well catered for, and users for whom iTunes is the focus of their entire digital lives – for film, TV, podcasts and more argue that iTunes is a flabby monster that has evolved to the point where it is unable to cope with the range of demands placed upon it.



The aspect of this addressed with iTunes 11 is not that fundamental problem of coping with new media and new ways of listening or watching. But the new design makes it a lot easier to navigate those problems, and so the effect is to make huge improvements. Playing tracks from the cloud, for instance, starts up almost (but not quite) instantly. Search is improved, and the new ‘Up next’ feature makes it easier to manage queues of tracks.



All of these ideas for music transfer over to, say, movies or TV, where, the time between clicking play and playback beginning is unsurprisingly longer than for music. Managing large libraries can result in waits that are too long, too.



But overall, this is iTunes revamped belatedly for its multimedia purpose and updated for music from the cloud. Some users may decry the fact that it is not more revolutionary, but most surely will see it as a significant, pleasingly familiar improvement.



Matt Warman, Telegraph.co.uk

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