26 Comments

Summary:

There are many Mac applications which will sit on your desktop and display cover art as well as give some controls such as play/pause, next, etc. But since the recent release of iTunes 10, one application does this better than any other, and that’s iTunes itself.

itunes_controller_thumb

There are many Mac applications which will sit on your desktop, displaying cover art and other information about your currently-playing song in iTunes, and give some controls such as play/pause, next, etc. But since the recent release of iTunes 10, one application does this far better than any other, and that’s iTunes itself.

Apple must have realized just how many people use a third-party iTunes controller, because it has added the functionality directly into the latest version of its media application. The feature is built on top of what was just an album art viewer back in iTunes 9.2.1, adding Quicktime X-esque controls.

Launching the Controller

Getting the controller which is built into iTunes 10 running is simple enough; in the bottom left of the iTunes window is an icon which looks like a triangle inside a square. Click that to slide up the Now Playing pane, which shows the album art of any currently playing media.

Now all you have to do is click the Now Playing pane once. A new pop-out window will appear: simply a square containing the album art you just clicked on.

This window can be resized to as big as you like. It might not look anything special, but it’s a different story when you hover over this image while the song is playing. The name and artist of the song are displayed in the small title bar, and all the iTunes controls you could think of are shown near the bottom in the same way as when you watch a video in iTunes or QuickTime X.

Why this is better than a third-party application

For a start, using iTunes itself negates the need to run another application, which often takes up a space on your Dock, and uses considerably more CPU. Another reason I prefer to do it this way now is the fact that the pop-out window has standard window controls, so you can minimize or close the window as you would any other. All the dedicated controller applications I’ve seen require quitting the software to hide the album art.

While some may argue that this method isn’t as feature-rich as it could be — other applications offer the ability to rate songs — I find that once I’ve started iTunes playing, I leave it be until I want to pause or skip a song. I don’t rate my songs, and I certainly don’t need to be able to turn shuffle on or off once I’ve started the music. There’s also no control over the window’s appearance other than its size, but again, that’s something that doesn’t concern me too much.

The only niggle I have is that the window doesn’t like sitting in the very bottom corner of the desktop. When you click on it or when the song changes, it automatically floats up above the height of the Dock for some reason.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so post in the comments the application you favor to control your iTunes content consumption.

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  1. Still a big fan of Ecoute. Why run iTunes when you don’t have to? http://www.ecouteapp.com/

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    1. Hadn’t heard of that. I’ll check it out, it looks promising for the way I use iTunes. (I used to keep it in ‘mini’ mode in the bottom corner of my screen until this controller feature was introduced)

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      1. I just started playing with these different options for Itunes controllers. I feel like my Apple remote has a sweet feature for the cover art and song info? Maybe i’m misspeaking. Any constructive feedback would be appreciated. Also I am having trouble getting Itunes to display individual artist and song info on continuous house mixes?

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      2. Joe, I’m not sure what you mean about the Apple remote. Perhaps you’re talking about the Remote app for iPhone, which lets you control iTunes and displays cover art etc. Other than that, I’m drawing a blank, as the Apple remote is just that, a remote, with buttons.

        I can’t say I’ve ever looked into house mixes, so I’m afraid I’m of no help to you on that one, either.

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  2. I like having it, its clean and simple. Something you would expect from Apple. Its not cluttered with all the extra buttons you don’t need just play music anyway. I also like the mini player as well thats built in (control + m)

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  3. Ahh, but itunes doesn’t allow for shortcuts in the background. Until they do, Bowtie handily beats itunes as a desktop controller.

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    1. If you have the Apple aluminium keyboard or a MacBook, there are playback controls on F7, F8 and F9. I realise not everyone does have one of these, but I’m sure a vast majority do.

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    2. Forgot to mention; controls on the keyboard work for iTunes and QuickTime, and they work even when the application in question is in the background.

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      1. Unfortunately F8 Play also starts up a slideshow in iPhoto if you have it running in the background too.

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  4. CoverSutra is better due to the last.fm integration. Easily the best app out there. And this extends to tweekly.fm which interacts with last.fm.

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  5. Also going with Ecoute. iTunes is a bloated piece of junk. Saying that another 3rd party app uses more memory is a lie. Ecoute uses less memory than iTunes. Currently, Ecoute is using about 12mb of memory, where iTunes is using 40mb. This is with a new install so I haven’t gotten all my music imported back in yet. If by using more, you’re referring to hard drive space because you have another app.. How much space does an iTunes install consume? Ecoute uses less than 10mb. Ecoute doesn’t use more CPU. Takes up more space in the dock? Take iTunes out of the dock :) Who uses the dock anyway? I’m a keyboard ninja.

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    1. Ecoute is just one example. Having something like CoverSutra or Bowtie running at the same time as iTunes (which you have to) obviously uses more memory than just iTunes on its own. On an older computer with only 1 or 2GB of RAM, the 30MB which Bowtie uses is quite a bit.

      And when you’re talking about hard drive space, I’d just like to know how you’re going to use an iTunes controller without having iTunes installed? Yes, Ecoute might be 10MB, but it needs iTunes to be able to run. And seeing as iTunes is pre-installed on all Macs, the hard drive space for it isn’t an issue as you don’t notice it anyway; it’s part of the space that’s already full when you set up the Mac.

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  6. Another +1 for CoverSutra. Well worth the money.

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  7. Doesn’t work in Tiger. I’d hazard there’s some Quicktime X APIs they’re using for this.

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  8. I like the implementation, but I wish there was a better overlay of song info. On a smaller screen like my MacBook Pro, unless you make the window really large, the title bar is simply too small to give me any real info. I’d like to see an overlay above the play controls that scrolls info (title, artist, album) from left to right like the mini-player does.

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    1. +1 to everything you just said.

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  9. As an avid Spaces user, i am vurious to see how this new feature interacts with Spaces. It will only be useful to me if I can ise the controller in a different space than iTunes, otherwise I will constantly be juggling between two spaces just to change songs.

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    1. You can use the controller in a different space – just move it the same way you would with any other window.

      You could even have it in all spaces. Open up Spaces preferences and under the Application Assignments, add iTunes and set it to ‘all spaces’. Then just close the iTunes window but keep the controller window open.

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  10. i’m still a bigger fan of youcontroltunes. easy access through the menu bar so it’s out of the way.

    http://www.yousoftware.com/tunes/

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    1. +1 for You Control Tunes. It doesn’t show the album art, but it scrolls the artist, track name and album name, and it’s got tons of options. I love that it stays out of the way and doesn’t take up any extra space, but it’s always accessible from the menubar. I only wish there was a way to disable it when iTunes isn’t open, as it only wastes space when I’m not listening to music.

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      1. amen

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