iTunes 10 Interface: Where Apple Went Wrong

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Almost every year, Apple releases a new version of iTunes with some new feature. Last year it was Home Sharing. This year, it’s Ping. Apple also usually tweaks the UI, many times creating a backlash. This year Apple has outdone itself.

Vertical Buttons

I’ll start with the most obvious UI tweak: the close/minimize/maximize buttons. I understand why Apple made this change: it saves space. When you hit the maximize button in iTunes, you get the mini-player, which has vertical close/min/max buttons in order to save space. Apple used the same reasoning with the main iTunes window.

There is a way you can disable it. Fire up Terminal and enter the following code:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes full-window -boolean YES

That will put the buttons back horizontally. You can change it back if you want to by changing the “YES” to a “NO”.

I don’t mind this change that much. I usually use the keyboard shortcuts to close or minimize iTunes anyway, and the vertical buttons do save space (if only a little).

Monochrome Sidebar

This one really irks me: Apple completely did away with color in the icons in the sidebar. To show you why this was such a dumb idea, I’m going to quote from Apple’s own Human Interface Guidelines:

Making each toolbar icon distinct helps the user associate it with its purpose and locate it quickly. Variations in shape, color, and image all help to differentiate one toolbar icon from another.

Making all the sidebar icons monochrome makes it harder to identify them, especially since they’re all similar in size. Back in iTunes 9, you could easily tell where the iTunes Store was because its icon was green. In iTunes 10, you have to distinguish between the shapes, which is harder for us to do and takes more time.

There are currently a couple of hacks available to address this.

Show/Hide in the Sidebar

Another change made to the sidebar is getting rid of the triangle buttons on the left of list headings. These have been replaced by “Show/Hide” buttons that only appear when you’re hovering over a list name.

Album List View

Album list view is basically list view, but with albums on the side. A version of this existed in iTunes 9, but Apple tweaked the functionality of it as well as added a new toolbar button for it.

The New Icon

The new iTunes icon isn’t bad, it’s just not terribly interesting. I think Apple should have used a color other than blue, because, as Josh pointed out, there’s already a surplus of blue icons in OS X (Finder, Mail, Safari, iChat, QuickTime, etc). Purple would’ve worked nicely.

Apple chose to change the icon as the former “CD” icon has become less and less relevant in the age of digital downloads. But Apple could have taken it a step further. It could have changed the name as well, seeing as iTunes has long been for more than just music. My current favorite is “iMedia,” but that’s a little too broad; media can be images, as well. Also, “iMedia” doesn’t sound as good as “iTunes.” I think Apple will eventually change the name (and the icon to reflect that).

If you’d like tou can change the icon yourself:

  1. Open your Applications folder in Finder and highlight iTunes.
  2. Right click on it and select “Show Package Contents”.
  3. Go to Content -> Resources and replace the iTunes.icns with a new one. There’s already some great replacement icons coming out, like this one from Mattias Ekstrom. Of course, you can also just use the old iTunes icon.

Conclusion

It seems to me like most of the changes in iTunes are changes for change’s sake; just to make it look newer. The only really new feature in iTunes is Ping, and that’s basically just a link in the sidebar.

Do you love or hate iTunes 10? What other new names might work for it? Tell us in the comments.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: With Ping, Apple Builds a Social Network Inside a Walled Garden

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