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iTunes 11 review: Hands-on with Apple’s refined jukebox

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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going is the latest version, iTunes 11, a major redesign that aims to dispell the opinion that iTunes is bloated and outdated.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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

52 Responses to “iTunes 11 review: Hands-on with Apple’s refined jukebox”

  1. I used to be able to drag sample songs from Store to my playlist….with new version 11, I do not see how I can do that. I would do this to hear how sample songs fit with existing songs in playlist. Can anyone help me out on this issue?

  2. iTunes 11 is a massive backward step for Apple. Yes some of the newer features are fine but the loss of Cover Flow, the loss of the album art in the bottom corner of the sidebar, and the much greater difficulty in searching for the tracks you want to go to in your library are all deal breakers for many people. I have seen reviews dismissing the critics as OCD and ‘against change’ per se. This is not the case, people that have been using iTunes for many years have enjoyed the ongoing improvements in the design and enhancements. iTunes 11 is change for changes sake and a mess. The community forums are awash with people reverting back to 10.7 as I myself will do until this is sorted out by an Apple that company that used to ‘listen to what the people wanted and then design it’ but no longer do so.

  3. tapedoctor

    I find this version to be very disappointing except that the text is a bit bigger. Other than that, it seems like there’s now a lot of extra clicking, plus I want the levels window option returned. I transfer a lot of live recorded audio, and adjusting the volume and equalizer to help minimize distortion was important to me. I had to go find a visualizer that was an audio levels indicator. Having everything listed on the left side was convenient – for me at least. Looks like uninstalling it will be a bit of a pain as well.

  4. This also reminds me of the changes to the latest FCP. It went from a powerful piece of professional software to iMovie. Seriously, someone at Apple needs to be fired!

  5. Some of us liked the old “cluttered” view. Easy functionality and power at a single click. now it takes 2 clicks to open a CD, took 1 before. I can also no longer sort my music by album and not have the album name repeated on each track and without the artwork visible.
    First thing I thought of when I saw the interface is “fuck they stole ideas from the new Twitter iOS app which sucks and from Zune” (which was complete garbage)
    Sure update the look for the select few who would rather have it look pretty then have functionality, but at least leave us our functionality! Time to go back to 10.7 just like I went back a version on Twitter due to their stupid design!

  6. I really hate it and I’m reverting back to 10.7. They removed the option to have the column browser aligned to the left. I now only have the option of having it aligned top which makes no sense at all, it’s unintuitive, inefficient and it’s a really poor use of screen real estate.

    Also, the new search is awful, I find it virtually unusable. It doesn’t return results for any info stored in the comment tag and I much preferred the old search whereby the results where displayed in the main window. The old search was more simple and efficient.

  7. In my opinion this review is just not critical enough. Yes, I agree there are a lot of great improvements. Expanded view for example is just great. Same time for some use cases it does make the handling more complicated and less fun.

    The new Mini Player looks sleek. But for the simple task of controling the volume you need to open the cover art, set the volume and close it back. Two clicks more for a rather relevant task. You also can’t see the progress until you open this window. By the way when the cover art window is open and you minimize the main window it can’t be restored until you close the cover art window. Userfriendly?

    In Album view you can’t control the size of cover art anymore. Using a 27″ Mac that’s annoying.
    You also can’t sort the albums the way that the latest come first. You always need to scroll down. Also annoying especially when you have a lot of albums. Other removed options like finding duplicates and sorting options have already been mentioned by others.

    But the biggest drawback for me is the missing coverflow. Perhaps not all have liked this functionality. But people like me simply loved it. Especially when you are a music collector. Why would you remove features people really love? It’s connected to the emotions that you have with your collection. Would it hurt to have one button more? I consider that a reckless behaviour from Apple.

    Overall it seems that Apple is committed to sacrifice great functionality in favor of simplfied design. In my opinion you can have it both when cleverly done. I have the feeling that they just seem to not care enough anymore. And that was always a major strength from Apple.

    If that is the new way Apple is doing software I actually have an issue with their products.

  8. I am all for change and tried my best to learn how to navigate in iTunes 11 but I am finding it far more less intuitive then the old iTunes. I manually manage my music with all my devices and can’t for the life of me figure out how to simply drag and drop a new album into a connected device. I had to give up and turn the side bar view on so I could see my connected device and then drag and drop. It seems to offer a more bedazzling array of views and pop ups but in the end results in making it far more complicated, busy and confusing. I want the old Artist Album cover view back too. Makes it much easier on the eyes to find what your looking for rather then needing to go to an A to Z list first which seems like a step backward.

  9. Alivation

    I’m using itunes 11 on my old macbook pro duel core. I am a list view person.. I find it much quicker to find things that all the visual candy. Took me a while to figure out how to get things to look sort of useful. It did a really lousy job of updating my library . The fact that is wants to put everything in an album no matter if you are in album view or artist view is VERY annoying. I spent an hour going into the info dialog giving my own compositions and other random tracks fake album names (or the correct ones, since itunes had somehow screwed quite a few up it seems). This tidied up a small fraction of my screen realestate but Iam still faced with hundreds of those default icons you get when there is no artwork. Nasty waste of space ! I can see it’s got potential to be cool and easy to use eventually but I am forced to do a hell of a lot of work to get it into a useable state. A very lousy upgrade path even if it has so e nice new features.

  10. iTunes 11 Filesharing A step backwards!
    I am not a DJ and use iTunes only for backing up my devices and saving files via File Sharing to a local harddrive.
    So my rating of iTunes 11 is a bit different from others.

    Just one scrollbar for apps and files!

    (1) Scroll down and you loose the context to an app
    (2) Select files and you have to scroll down half a mile
    for clicking on ‘Save to…’
    (3) No button for selecting all files of an app

  11. I spent hours going through the new version and decided iTunes 10.7 was better (for me at least). My issues centered around The shuffling in the Album view (didn’t do it in the same visual manner as previous versions). Shuffling was also intermittent sometimes working and sometimes not. Setting up playlists felt clunky and the search box speed in finding a song or album was dramatically slower.
    I the spent hours searching to reinstall the previous version but that’s hard to do. Several chat rooms through Apple support got what I needed and I’m now processing the previous version as we speak.


    Apple, Why in the world did you get rid of coverflow?

    Steve Jobs is rolling in his grave

    Siri, Maps, now iTunes looks like Apple has peaked and will be trending downward from now on

    • Exactly. It reminds me of the New Coke vs. Coke Classic debacle of the 80s. I think it’s some sort of marketing ploy to get people to spout off about how they hate the new product in order to get even MORE media attention than they normally get. They took away the one thing that made iTunes stand out from the rest… COVERFLOW!!! Why for f*ck’s sake they would ever get rid of Coverflor is beyond all rational thought. I don’t care what anybody says on here, whether they are an Apple Rep or just a rabid fan. Getting rid of Cover flow is a HUGE mistake.

  13. John powers

    Sorry to hear about the font change to Helvetica. Anyone with any knowledge of type knows that it’s so much easier on the eyes to read fonts with serifs, especially in small sizes. Granted, Lucida wasn’t the greatest, but it seemed like a reasonable compromise between a serif and a sans serif.

  14. Michael W. Perry

    Since there are several haters, I should give my more positive POV. Virtually everything seems to have moved and looks different, so it drove me batty the first time few times I used it and there are clearly some ill-designed irritations. Why updating podcasts and checking for new apps work so differently is beyond my understanding. It also took some time for me to figure out how to display the downloads window. Too many icons. Not enough words makes a new UI a pain.

    That said, I suspect I’ll come to like it over time. The old interface had grown into a chaotic mess. It’d help, however, if Apple would release a series of how-to tutorial videos. We should have to figure it out in such a clumsy fashion.

    One question. MacWorld claims it’s supposed to synch where we are listening to podcasts or music and watching TV shows. They couldn’t get that feature to work at all and I only got it to work once with a series of moves I haven’t been able to repeat. I’d be absolutely delighted if that feature would work properly.

  15. Anyone else notice that “show Duplicate” is no longer there? I have over 55,000 MP3s from various DJing jobs. Many duplicates. While the iTunes 10 (and prior) duplicate removal process was long and painful, at least you could easily see them.

    I will also comment that the Tune Up Media software works MUCH faster now with (I’m guessing) less maneuvering under the iTunes 11 hood. …for what that’s worth ( which for me is a lot since 11 no longer shows me where I need to delete dups.

  16. Laila Poché

    HATE iTUNES 11!!! I have never been more upset with an mac program. Their “sleek” design limits the music you can browse unless you view it as a list. Also it has so many glitches that I cant even use the awesome playlist thing that they advertise…and I cant even add new music to itunes. I’m just going to download another music player until apple gets their act together.

  17. 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.

    • 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.

    • Michael Williams

      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…

    • 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.

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. cyclonebill85

    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.