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Summary:

iTunes 11 is the best version of Apple’s software yet. It is a major redesign, but one that aims to keep its legacy going and dispell the opinion that iTunes is bloated and outdated.

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iTunes is a truly historic piece of software. It’s gone from a simple jukebox to the most popular media management software in the world, picking up a long list of features along the way. Keeping this legacy going is the latest version, iTunes 11, a major redesign that aims to dispell the opinion that iTunes is bloated and outdated. Read on to hear my thoughts on whether it succeeds.

Interface

iTunes 11 is the biggest visual refresh in the software’s history. It has a new toolbar gradient, a darker, sleeker playback panel, and an all-around cleaner look. The sidebar and status bar are hidden by default, in favor of a simple toolbar along the top. You can show them again by using the View menu. The sidebar’s been consolidated into a popover menu in the toolbar, and connected iOS devices get their own button next to the iTunes Store button on the right.

expandedview2

View modes are gone in iTunes 11. Instead, albums are displayed in what Apple is calling “Expanded View”. This works like a folder on iOS: You click on an album’s artwork, and the interface splits and expands into a subview with a song list and an “in the store” section, which shows top songs and albums for that artist. Expanded View is intelligent enough to pull out the dominant colors in your album’s artwork, which are used to color the background and text, with a copy of the album’s artwork on the side. Expanded View is fun, and works better than the iTunes 10 model, which required you to back out of an album’s song list to see your album list. When viewing your artists, you get a list of artists on the left and the selected artist’s albums on the right. The traditional list view is still there when viewing songs, and you can even show the old-school column browser if you’re so inclined.

iTunes uses Helvetica now instead of OS X’s system font, Lucida Grande. iOS’s system font is also Helvetica, and with Apple’s trend of bringing iOS qualities to OS X it could be that the next major version uses Helvetica as the system font instead of Lucida Grande.

olddialog

While the new iTunes interface is pretty, it still has a lot of ugly dialogs from the past, like the one above, which appears when you add a song to your Up Next queue but play a different song.

Features

iCloud integration works similarly to how it does in the latest iBooks app for iOS. All of the items you’ve purchase from the iTunes Store show up with a cloud icon on the corner of their artwork, and you can either download them or stream them. Streaming music has a slight delay while it buffers, but it’s not much more than Rdio or Spotify. Streaming a movie has a slightly longer delay of course, but not too long. Downloads are quick as well, and there’s a new downloads button in the toolbar that opens the downloads window. Yes, window, not popover. It doesn’t work like the downloads popover in Safari, which is a shame.

miniplayer

The new MiniPlayer is fantastic. You can search through your songs and manage your Up Next queue, which is all you really need if you’re just playing music. If you click on the album artwork on the MiniPlayer, it’ll pop out into its own QuickTime-like window. You can hover over the artwork to access playback controls, so you can use it as a desktop widget.

The new iTunes Store layout takes cues from it’s iOS counterpart. You can swipe to go back and forward in your history, but it doesn’t animate the way it does in the Mac App Store, which is strange. There’s also a new button to show you what previews you’ve listened to. You can share things in the store on Facebook and Twitter, which unfortunately open up web apps and not native OS X share sheets. It’s weird that I have to go an album’s iTunes Store page to share it as well; you can’t do it by simply right clicking on it.

upnext

There’s a new feature called Up Next, which replaces iTunes DJ. If you right-click on a song or album and hit “Play next”, it gets added to your Up Next queue. A new button in the playback panel shows a popover with your Up Next queue. You can also show your playback history by clicking the clock icon. iTunes DJ fans might be a little miffed with the update, as Up Next lacks some of its functionality, such as the ability for iOS users to vote on upcoming songs with the Remote app.

The AirPlay popover has been updated, and now allows you to play to multiple devices at once, which is nice. That’s it for new features. All of the old features, with the exception of Ping, are still there.

The little things

  • Playlist management has been tweaked: When you start dragging a song, a panel slides from the side showing you your playlists. You can then just drag the song to the playlist to add it.
  • The iTunes icon has been slightly updated, with a white double eighth note instead of a black one. It better matches the App Store icon, but there are still small differences between the two. The iTunes icon is a little glossier, and the double eighth note has a slight gradient to it. I like it better than the old icon, but I still dislike it overall.
  • If you unhide the sidebar, you may notice that the icons in it have color, as oppossed to the greyscale icons in iTunes 10. Maybe we’ll see colored icons in the sidebar make a comeback on OS X?
  • There’s a new “On This Phone” tab when managing an iOS device. It’s a simple view of all the media on the device.
  • When you’re doing multiple things, like playing a song while syncing your phone, arrows show up in the playback panel that let you switch which activity’s progress is shown.
  • You can no longer use a dark background in Album view, like you could in iTunes 10. Bummer.

Wrap up

iTunes 11 is the best version yet. Hiding the sidebar and status bar was a good move, removing a lot of the visual clutter that made iTunes feel complicated. Expanded Views are fun, and enhance the music listening experience.  The MiniPlayer is more powerful, and actually worth using now. All of this adds up to an iTunes that’s modern and fast.

The only thing holding iTunes back is the buying experience itself. With subscription-based services like Rdio and Spotify, you pay a monthly fee and get à la carte access to media without the hassle of having to buy it first. Finding music feels easier on Rdio because I’m only deciding whether it’s in my collection, not whether I want to buy it. There have been rumors that Apple will move to a subscription-based model for the iTunes Store, and I hope they’re true. As usual, we won’t know for sure until Apple makes their move. Until then, the new stuff in iTunes 11 will have to hold us over.

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  1. Is there any way to view the “Album view” in order of my most recent albums first? Using Song view and sorting by ‘date added’ isn’t a solution, because the track order of each album is not preserved.

  2. Are we still able to view album artwork at the bottom of the sidebar (once it has been unhidden)?

    1. No. One of many view features that have been completely removed.

  3. Not for or against it. I think it loads faster on a PC. It will take a little time to re learn. As for the Mini Player I think Windows Media player had this a long time ago? Its just now Apple has finally got around to copying it.

  4. is there any way to double click collapse the application window into my dock like every other mac app?

  5. I’m trying to figure out how to revert to the previous version – this version is terrible, half the commands don’t work. Weird single downloads showed up with my music. I don’t see any great advantage to anything on this new version. I want the previous one to download, but of course, Apple doesn’t do that – why make things easy for us? I’m getting real tired of the way Apple does things.

    1. iTunes 11 => Fail Rosie Saturday, December 1, 2012

      Here is a discussion on “How to downgrade iTunes 11 to previous version 10.7,”
      https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4553695?tstart=0.

    2. I reverted, and am very happy that I did so. iTunes 11 is so horrible. First, go here and download the most recent version that is not iTunes 11: http://www.oldapps.com/itunes.php
      Don’t install it yet. First, go to your computer’s control panel and uninstall iTunes 11. Restart computer. Now, install the previous version (10.7). After installing it, don’t open it yet. Your iTunes library is still version 11 and it won’t open with iTunes 10.7, so first you want to follow the directions at this link: https://discussions.apple.com/message/20450883?tstart=0#20450883?tstart=0
      I hope it works for you. Carefully follow the directions and you should be good to go!

    3. Then move to Windows or use a different media player. Next.

  6. Oh great one of the most bloated pieces of software gets more bloated.

  7. I don’t see any way to connect to iTunes Server which was available in previous version.

  8. Opening sentence:
    “iTunes is a truly historic piece of software.”

    Wow…this isn’t going to be a biased article.

  9. It’s driving me mad. It’s showing over 200 songs as Unplayed and keeps freezing. If I turn off iTunes and then on again the Unplayed songs show up correctly (11 actually). Then I click on another playlist, iTunes freezes, and up comes all those allegedly Unplayed tracks. What’s going on? Any ideas?

  10. What is with all the positive reviews of iTunes 11? Does Apple pay you for a positive review? Did you just get a memo from iTunes and repost it or something, because if you look at the Apple message boards, or any computer-oriented message boards, iTunes 11 is overwhelmingly hated by customers, including myself.
    In iTunes 11 you cannot (1) display duplicates, (2) organize your music first by artist and then by year that artist’s albums were released, (3) maximize the view of your music in a user-friendly format (it now lists one or two albums/page without scrolling), and those are only three of the things that iTunes has revoked, effectively taking away customer choices that were much appreciated in prior versions of iTunes. iTunes 11 is also a larger hog of physical memory and resources on your computer.
    In short, don’t “upgrade” [In quotes because it isn't a good upgrade!] to iTunes 11 if you value choice and user-friendliness. iTunes 11 is horrible! Period.

    1. I agree JC. I’ll add one more thing to your list that I think makes iTunes 11 a worthless piece of sh*t. COVERFLOW. Why can’t they just make coverflow an option like in 10.7? If you don’t like coverflow, then don’t use it! If you think it “slows down” the program, then make it an add-on option. I don’t care what any of these Apple reps have to say on here. Yes, believe it or not Apple, millions of us liked iTunes not just for the management of music, but also the amazing feeling of flipping through your old LPs or CDs with cover art and all! Itunes has always been about the “coolness” factor. If I wanted a simple music program, then I’d just use of the of the other 1,000+ programs out there that show your music in grid view. Coverflow was one of the major additions to iTunes that made it stand out from all the rest. Now it looks and feels like all the other “simple” programs out there. The iTunes 11 “upgrade” isn’t iTunes at all. It’s a horrible imposter.

    2. Michael Williams JC Thursday, December 6, 2012

      All you cry babies grow up already and move along. Apple does not care about a few meager unhappy people, never have never will, i.e. still waiting for the NEW NEW Mac Pro anyone. Hey iTunes 11 is not great for some of you, but it is what they designed it to be, furthermore that’s what you’ll get for blindly updating to something and not doing what we non apple suckers call RESEARCH, but as stated there are work arounds for you people or if your’e so inclined switch to a competitor, but you’ll all probably wait for the next Apple update, won’t you. Apparently there is more than one is born every minute…

    3. iTunes 11 is a seriously misguided backward step re album art. If you listen to classical music most, when you select ‘album’ you get thumbnails ordered by album artists, so instead of seeing Malcolm ARNOLD as the first album and William WALTON as one of the last, you get an album played by the Aardvark Symphony Orchestra first or the Zagreb Phil last! (ie. there’s little difference between the ‘album’ view of art thumbnails and the ‘artist’ view of the same. What classical buffs would ever organise a shelf of Lps or CDs like that? The worst thing is that there is no drop down menu as in previous iTunes to enable you to select ‘Album’, ‘Album Year’ or ‘Album artist’.

      Another headache is that once you select a thumbnail, the outer edges of the enlarge artwork, run soft-focus into the colour-coordinated background, meaning that the look is blurred rather than clean-cut CD booklet or Lp art squares. The result is that some of the information on the sleeve is missed.

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