- On 01/24/2013
Just as we did with iTunes Match, we gave iTunes 11 some heavy testing and used it for several months before weighing in. Now, with lots of use and a reasonable amount of comfort with its ins and outs, we’re ready to give you our take on iTunes 11 from a serious music listener’s perspective.
: See our repository on all things iTunes right here
For Apple fans, an overhaul on the rusty, old look of iTunes has been long awaited. Prior to iTunes 11’s much anticipated release date, geeks like myself watched as October came and went with not a mum’s word from Apple on the supposed release date. It wasn’t until November 29th, 2012 that the wait was over and Apple released iTunes 11 for free download.
Now, after a few months have passed, Apple added back the duplicate search function and we’ve been able to put iTunes 11 to the test. We’re confident we can give an unbiased view on the latest release. So now that the bugs have been worked out and much like our iTunes Match Review, we were able to give it a run for its money and put it to the test. How did iTunes 11 compare to older versions?
For one, Apple kept is familiar gray “skin” in iTunes 11, but who could blame them? Classic, simple covers seem to be the foundation of their operating system and the gradient tones of gray are timeless. There isn’t much glamour to the program aside from the album art. But when it gets down to the nitty gritty, it’s not about what the skin of a program looks like when the main functions of the program are to organize data and utilize the beauty within each file.
That said, we don’t want to think of our iTunes experience as “organizing data” since that sounds more like work and less like fun, but with the sleek and less cluttered look of iTunes 11 the design is clearly more minimalistic than previous iTunes versions. We also see the tabs on the top such as ‘File’, ‘Edit’, ‘View’, etc. (particularly in the Windows version) are gone. You can still reach them by opening that little black and gray square on the top left-hand corner and hit “Show Menu Bar” and things will go back to normal.
Like Classic? Fine, Go Back.
If you’ve decided iTunes 11 is awful, then you must solely be talking about the design. If that’s the case, iTunes 11 will allow you to switch back to the ‘Classic’ look you loved and trusted. Change isn’t for everyone and Apple nailed it here. Over the course of the past months, those less tech savvy are more prone to go back to their comfort zone.
To preface this next section, it is important to note that the biggest change in iTunes 11 is that you now change your view specifically by ‘Songs’, ‘Albums’, ‘Artists’, ‘Genres’, Videos’, ‘Playlists’, ‘Radio’ and if you don’t yet have it, ‘Match’. This replaces that old sidebar quite nicely. But again, you can revert to your old ways if you’d like (see screenshot above).
One of my biggest peeves from old iTunes versions was that playlists were awfully tedious to put together. With too many playlists and too many songs, the larger my library became, the clunkier iTunes became. Organization is key for any music library as we discussed previously and after discovering folders for playlists not too long ago, I was able to organize my 400+ playlists by season, genres or even moods and reduce the now defunct sidebar down to about 20 folders. Otherwise, playlist creation in older versions of iTunes was downright dreadful.
If you recall, you would first have to click on your ‘Library’, which would pull you far, far away from completing that time-consuming playlist, then force you to scroll all the way back down to that particular track so that you could immediately drag your song into it. Click, scroll, click, drag… ugh. Too many steps!
In iTunes 11, creating playlists and the dragging function have both been simplified. Now, when you are in any view other than ‘Playlist’, try dragging a song and a sidebar reveals itself on the right hand side of the screen. One step. Much easier. If you are in the ‘Playlist’ view, you can easily drag songs from one playlist to the next. Having a dedicated view for playlists unclutters the page and makes music mixing that much easier.
Dragging, Dragging… Ugh.
If you don’t like dragging, or have a long list to go through, you more than likely remember using the command button (Apple users) or right click (Windows users). Now, as you scroll over any particular track, an arrow appears. Click that arrow and you will see a few pointed options you’ve never had before. Most importantly, you can click ‘Add To’ and all of your playlists will show up in a scrollable view (screenshot below)!
This drag alternative marks a huge improvement for iTunes as not only does it remove the need for the right click or command button, but now whether you are a Windows or Mac user, you can click once and be on your way. Don’t worry, you can still right click or use the command + click function to pull up the classic box where you would use to edit information about the song, change the start time, etc. However, the one-click function is one of my favorite additions to iTunes if it weren’t for… we’ll get to that after a few more pointers on the visuals.
Visual Bonus Points – The Lighting Round
Let’s go back to the visuals before moving forward. Look at that beautiful screenshot above. iTunes 11 maximizes space, something anyone can appreciate. I’m not going over-applaud every effort Apple puts forth because clearly the rest of the industry is just as laser focused on sleek and minimalist design, but we’ve seen this same effort from Apple with its iPhones, iPads, tablets and laptops. Smaller, more compact is what we have here and Apple ties that into iTunes 11. That said, the latest version of iTunes does a fantastic job utilizing every centimeter of your screen, something unaccomplished prior to version 11. You’ll notice that the edge of the iTunes window has no border, allowing to use that space up to the very edge of the window.
The new iTunes also focuses on whichever particular pane you are in. This determines how prominent the album art appears. There is no longer a ‘choose-your-own-view’ option like we saw with previous versions of iTunes. Remember the cover flow? Gone for good. While the cover flow was a nifty look for iTunes, it is unnecessary and now only resides on Apple’s mp3 (or mp4 if you prefer) capable devices such as iPods and iPhones. However, if you’d like to admire all of the album art, feel free to go to the
‘Albums’ or ‘Artists’ options. While clicking on a particular album cover within the Albums view, you’ll notice that the background behind matches the album art. Even the highlighted song will match the color scheme!
All in all, what we’re seeing here is set options for views that we saw in previous iTunes versions but more streamlined. This is a big plus in my book and the track is suddenly matching the cover of the album (shown above). Even the selected track will match the color scheme. Slick.
The All-Encompassing MiniPlayer.
I could rant about this all day, but the MiniPlayer is the single best addition of iTunes 11. Wait, don’t skip this paragraph! I can explain. I’ve never been a MiniPlayer person. In fact, I loathed the idea. I like to see what’s happening to my music and have the option to control everything within iTunes. Naturally, I was a full-window advocate… until iTunes 11.
The MiniPlayer is amazing and does everything you can do within the larger window. Want to add a song to a playlist, go for it. Want to adjust the volume, see what you just played or just add songs to a queue? iTunes 11’s MiniPlayer is like the Michael Jordan of mini music players. It does everything.
Now, I’m a MiniPlayer convert. Having used iTunes practically every day since its inception, I’ve been accustomed to using the full screen of a monitor for me to toy around with my songs. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the MiniPlayer is the history button which allows the user to see both upcoming songs, and with the single click, you can view what you just played. This is a big plus for me considering in the old iTunes, you could only sort your played history by going into your main library screen, then sorting by ‘Last Played’. That is, if you even had that column sorted.
The search button function of the MiniPlayer is powerful as well. Not only does it allow for songs or artists to be searched, but it also populates playlists. Want a full playlist added to your ‘Up Next’? Just click the plus button next to it. You can do all of this within the MiniPlayer leaving hardly any reason to switch back to the maximized window for music-playing purposes. But, I won’t make this a complete glowing review. There are negatives about the MiniPlayer which I will get into later.
Lastly, the functionality of connecting devices is much more attractive. Whether your phone is synced through wi-fi or directly plugged into your computer, iTunes shows a classy symbol on the top right of the window displaying all of your devices and allow you to easily eject that device. It’s notable that toggling between windows is less-clunky and two quick clicks will have you viewing your desired window. In addition, users who have iTunes Match will notice that when your library is in the process of syncing to the cloud and devices are connected, music playing, etc., you’ll see there is an up and down arrow next to the main playing bar on the top in the middle. Previously this toggling was tough to find and was made much more simple here.
So now that we’ve given Apple a big pat on the back, let’s get into what we were most dissapointed in. I do think iTunes is still the best music organization tool out there, particularly when it comes down to getting what you have in your library to your device. The process is seamless, but let’s not be fooled. It certainly isn’t perfect and here’s why:
Okay, the exclamation point was unnecessary but anyone who upgraded from iTunes 10 to 11 was hoping wireless sync errors would be taken care of. Apparently not. Many users are still experiencing the error message, “ATH.exe has stopped responding”. Apparently this is a Windows error, but can be fixed using instructions found here on the Apple community support. In the end, the wireless syncing could be improved if users are still running into errors.
Album Art And Song Information
There are two downsides to iTunes in terms of album art. For songs purchased or received outside of iTunes, Apple’s latest version of the program still lacks a bit of attention to the ‘get album art’ function, unless you have the exact same description as the iTunes store This leads to my second point. Given that Apple’s ecosystem is based around the cloud, genius results (which we’ve discussed previously), and general syncing to all devices, the main focus should be getting all of the proper file information for that song so iTunes can function better. Since iTunes’ features such as iTunes Match and Genius generally function better with more information, missing album art, incorrect artist info, album names and genres should be addressed. That’s not to say that TuneUp or Rinse wouldn’t be a terrible thing to purchase, but I’m surprised iTunes has not yet adopted file-correcting services which would make it a slam dunk.
Dragging To A Playlist
This was one of our ‘Pros’ above, but it is also a very big con. For users with long list of playlists, you’ll notice that once you drag a track to the playlist pane and don’t see the playlist you were looking for, you have to drag that file down. This is a big drawback for iTunes and I’m surprise there is not a functionality that the program would not automatically scroll down based on your movement once you get to a certain section of your screen. The playlist panel will only scroll down once you have the song at the very limits of the pane. A more simple dragging and scrolling function to quickly ad songs to your playlists would be a big step for iTunes to improve this. Afterall, dragging songs into playlists is the most fun and easiest way to create a playlist and interact with your library.
The Album Art Window Is Missing
If you read our ‘Pros’ above, we showed you how to get that classic and familiar look back into your iTunes by showing the sidebar. However, iTunes 11 no longer has the album art box on the bottom left side. Instead, unless you click once on the album art, you can bring up the larger box player, but otherwise, without using the ‘Album’ view, you won’t be able to appreciate your album art like you had been able to do before.
Despite the universal search bar, which searches everything in your library, it has its flaws. First and foremost, it is slow. Almost unbearably slow if you’re used to the old iTunes search. Now, the program is bogged down by not only populating album art to go with results, but many times I’ll have the words typed and iTunes continues to populate the results. This had apparently been fixed from the original release of iTunes 11, but it still remains an issue.
In addition, the search tool does not allow for multiple searches such as artist + song. Type in an artists name, then your favorite song and you’ll find that there are no results, even if you have the song! While the search upgrade to “universal” status is a great improvement, the old iTunes search would allow for any combination of searches and was simply quicker.
A-Z, 1-9 and Symbol Order
You might be asking what the heck I’m talking about or why this stuff matters, but as I mentioned, I’m an iTunes nerd and every part of iTunes either woo’s me or irks me if it isn’t done right. This particular ordering issue has been a long-standing issue for me since around iTunes 8. The issue is this: My many, many playlists obviously start with either a number, symbol or a letter. But what is no longer clear is why iTunes lists those numbered playlists first, yet your device, such as my iPhone, does not. Rather, letters are listed first. Now, you see what I’m getting at.
The point of this is, there is no consistency. So if I want to create a playlist and make sure it is the first one on my list when I go into my iPhone, I want it to be the same as what I show in iTunes. Often times I’ll create a playlist starting with a number or symbol because I know iTunes will automatically organize it first. However, Apple mobile devices filter letters first and not numbers. Sure, this is a small gripe, but shouldn’t small gripes be easy fixes? Some consistency here would go a long way.
Holiday and Season Mode
This is more of a suggestion to further innovate iTunes, but I submitted a request this past Winter to have this updated by Apple for their next release: Holiday songs are great in-season, but terribly annoying when they randomly show up on Genius mixes. For that reason alone, I delete all of my holiday music once the season is over, then begin the process all over as the Winter months begin their cycle. This is a thankless task, something which iTunes cannot yet control. iTunes needs a function which I suggest be called “Holiday Mode”, which would allow you to simply make your Holiday music vanish completely until the season came back into play – either at a date you set or by an on/off toggle. Further, iTunes music function could be intertwined with the seasons where it would feature seasonable songs more prominently or a Season Mode. For instance, if it is July then the Beach Boys or other designated “summer music” might make their way into your shuffled songs more frequently. In the end, a “Season” attribute might be great for music nerds like me to define further.
That concludes our review of iTunes. In addition to the Store improvements which came along with the new version of iTunes 11, we’re quite pleased, but would like to see a few of the speed and CPU draws addressed.
What do you think about iTunes 11?