iTunes 9 Genius: It’s in the Mix

iTunes IconHaving spent a day with iTunes 9 and OS 3.1 on an iPhone and iPod touch, I find that I am completely smitten with a feature I pretty much completely ignored before yesterday. I’m referring to Genius, which hadn’t lived up to its name until this latest retooling.

Since upgrading to iTunes 9, I’ve used Genius Mixes exclusively on both my computer and my portable devices. Contrast this to the two or three times I ever used a Genius playlist since their introduction in iTunes 8.

Get Your Mix On

First, in case you’re like me, it’s possible you need a little help in getting your Genius Mixes set up in the first place. The key is that once you upgrade your iTunes installation, there’s one more step to take before they appear. Go to your “Store” menus, and click on “Update Genius.” Once Apple (s aapl) delivers your results, your new Mixes will appear in the source menu in the left-hand side of the iTunes window, right under the Genius atom icon.

Update GeniusClicking on it should reveal 12 squares with album cover composite images that show artists representative of the content found in each mix. I say should because I’m not sure if iTunes will necessarily generate all 12 for smaller library sizes, but you should at least have a few to choose from so long as you have more than a couple artists in your collection.

My Mixes

Individual mixes are named so as to give you an idea of what genre of music they contain. For example, some of my mixes are as follows:

  • Indie Mix — Based on: Death Cab For Cutie, Rilo Kiley, The Most Serene Republic, and others.
  • Hip Hop Mix — Based on: Kanye West, Common, The Fugees, and others.
  • Pop Mix — Based on: Ray LaMontagne, Rocky Votolato, Adele, and others.
  • Punk Mix — Based on: Rancid, Rise Against, Brand New, and others.
  • Country Mix — Based on Wilco, Neko Case, Lucinda Williams, and others.

Genius MixesMost of my mixes look like those above. Smart, clearly defined, and pretty much how I would’ve divvied up my library if I ever bothered to arrange tracks into genre groupings. A few seem like collections of assorted odds and ends Apple couldn’t quite fit into the other categories. All are admittedly interesting, and most importantly, useful ways of sub-dividing my music collection, though.

How Well Does it Work?

Playing through these mixes, I found that Apple has indeed improved their Genius engine, since the results were much more impressive than they’ve ever been using Genius playlists based on a single song. My collection is diverse enough that I don’t always want to just turn on iTunes DJ, but a Genius Mix sets the mood perfectly for parties, for work, for working out, or just for relaxing.

Apple still needs to make some improvements before I’m completely sold, though. As of right now, you can only view your mixes in Grid mode, and only the track currently playing is visible. To see what’s coming up next, you actually have to fast forward to the next song. While it’s kind of exciting not knowing what’s in store, I’d much rather be able to see a playlist like in iTunes DJ or in classic Genius mode.

I also don’t like how you have to specifically select the playlists in your Audio settings and sync your iPhone or iPod in order to get Genius Mixes on your device. Genius should be able to analyze the content you already have on your iPhone or iPod and create Genius Mixes specific to the device. Maybe this doesn’t affect people whose libraries match on both, but my computer-based music collections far exceed the capacities of my mobile devices.

Recommendations

As for Genius recommendations, I do find that they’re much better than they were when they were first introduced. Of course, Apple’s had a year to collect data from millions of users to make things better, so it would be more remarkable if there wasn’t any noticeable difference in the returned results. Also, Genius will always be a subjective thing, so it’s hard to determine the efficacy of results beyond just the size of the catalog of artists available.

How are you finding your experience with Genius Mixes? Is Apple’s recommendation and organization engine finally worthy of its moniker?

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