Last week, Apple has finally released the much anticipated update to its popular media player and content hub in the form of iTunes 11. There is no denying that Apple's iTunes is the world's most popular software for playing, buying, and managing all sorts of content like music, movies, apps, and TV shows. Despite its ubiquity, there are many folks who think that iTunes is the worst software ever written (mainly applies for the Windows version). Some of the most cited reasons are the software is bloated, notoriously slow, and very vulnerable to lockups and crashing. With iTunes 11, Apple has made the biggest overhaul of the software since 2003. So is this update a welcomed upgrade? Or is still not enough?
iTunes 11 Visual Upgrade
As mentioned before, iTunes 11 is a tremendous overhaul of a tired old brand. Apple has realized that the program has become too unwieldy for users when the company decided to make it the mother of all media apps. Apple has made an admirable effort to rethink the interface of iTunes 11 in order to make it a lot cleaner and more approachable. What you will notice upon booting the program is the emphasis for visual display of your content. Instead of the previous interface's lack of color, the program is now brighter and more colorful. iTunes 11 will display your music collection in the form of album covers, your apps as series of icons, your books as a collection of covers, and movies as a series of preview frames. The visual change is definitely a good thing while still manages to be quite familiar.
On top of the main window is the toolbar for navigating between field categories like Songs, Albums, Artists, Genres, etc. You can definitely see Apple's intention to streamline the way users navigate through their content. If you click on Albums on top, iTunes will display a series of album covers. Clicking on the album will have the interface show a colorful panel which contains all the songs within the album. On the top left is the playback controls which no longer appear as individual buttons but is more like what is found on the iOS Music app. Beside it to the right is the volume slider, track info window, AirPlay button, and the Search box.
One very notable change to the interface is the absence of the ever present sidebar which allows users to switch between major media types like music, movies, apps, TV shows, podcasts and many others. Long time iTunes users may find the lack of sidebar jarring and can definitely throw them off. Instead of the sidebar, iTunes 11 utilizes a drop-down menu which lets you choose between major media types. Choosing any of the choices will instantly change what's displayed on the main screen. Don't dread the lack of sidebar though because you can easily restore it by click View on the Menu Bar and selecting Show Sidebar or simply the shortcut CTRL+S.
iTunes 11 Up Next
Another nice addition is the feature called Up Next. This feature basically acts like the old iTunes DJ feature which essentially a list of queued songs. By selecting Up Next in just about any track, you can put the track on queue. You Up Next playlist is located within the track information window. Here you can play any track immediately, sort the order or see a history of the tracks you've played before.
If you have dreaded the old way of activating the mini player, then you'll be happy to know that Apple has introduced a new mini player in iTunes 11. For starters, the new mini player is a lot more functional than the old one. The same mini popup menu will enable users to execute important actions on the currently played song. Hovering on the mini player will give you the standard playback options. From here you may also access AirPlay, Up Next, Volume slider, and the Library search function. What's missing on the mini player is the progress bar which could certainly become problematic because you will have to get out of the mini player interface if you wish to see which part of the track you are currently in. Or you will have to go to the artwork player window which is activated if you click the album cover while in mini player mode.
iTunes Store Redesign
Another major aspect of iTunes 11 is the revamped design of the iTunes Store. One of the main methods of getting to the iTunes Store is by clicking the iTunes Store button which is located on the top right corner of the main interface. The new iTunes Store interface has been redesigned to a much cleaner look which should remind you of what's found on its iOS counterpart. The new Store design seems to be more optimized for smaller displays because on my desktop computer, you can clearly see a lot of empty spaces which just looks odd.
You can also seem some iTunes Store information from inside your library. If you go into the Expanded View by viewing the album to display its tracks, you can click the In The Store button and you will be shown various information like Top Songs, Top Albums, and Recommended Songs by that certain artist. This is quite handy because you can do all these without leaving your iTunes library.
What's missing from the iTunes Store are the panes for quick-look preview. In the old version of iTunes, you can just hover an entry and you can just click on it to view more information regarding it. With iTunes 11, you will need to click the item's page in order to obtain the necessary information. Another notable omission is the Power Search feature which lets you search for any items according to multiple criteria.
So Is iTunes 11 Faster?
For the most part while using iTunes 11, I can happily say that the program is a lot faster and works smoother. Everything just feels snappier which I can't say simply say with previous versions of iTunes, especially when I am working on Windows. Everything works and it all works great. There are no more annoying pop-ups, no more spinning pinwheel of death, and other sorts of annoyances that plagued the previous versions of iTunes. It is simply sleeker, skinnier, and a whole lot faster. The overall interface has been simplified and made more accessible.
So Is It Worth Upgrading to iTunes 11?
iTunes 11 is definitely counts as a good upgrade. While it has been completely revamped in terms of design, somehow it still feels familiar. The unwieldy nature of previous versions have been reduced. Reduced because iTunes 11 still pretty much tries to be the Swiss army knife of media players. This means that however things are simplified, users are still bound to get overwhelmed by the wealth of features iTunes has to offer. Users who have gotten used to the old iTunes will certainly feel alienated by the new interface like the absence of the ever-present sidebar.
Another thing that's worth mentioning is that many of the controls of iTunes 11 are hidden from plain view. Most of these hidden controls can be revealed through mouse over or by clicking certain buttons. While iTunes 11 did a great job of optimizing spaces and keeping things clean, this forces users to figure out the most of the basic functions which can become annoying fast.
For users who have a small iTunes library, the new ways to view and create playlists should be a welcome addition. The new iTunes focus more on playing instead of content organization. However, if you have a large library, then you will most likely be disappointed by iTunes 11's very limited viewing options. For the most part, Apple doesn't offer familiar alternatives when it comes to viewing content.
Overall, iTunes 11 gets positive points for both performance and interface design. However, there are still bugs to be found which I can't help but think that Apple should have polished iTunes 11 more before rolling it out. I mean it has been delayed many times now, a little more wait won't certainly hurt. The app is still built on age-old architecture and still attempts to be the mother of all media apps which means that it still bears the same old problems. While there are features that were added, some familiar ones went missing. If you really want to experience a faster iTunes, but don't mind learning some new interface changes, then we recommend upgrading. However, if the design change and performance enhancement aren't enough, then you might want to hold off until Apple improves iTunes 11.Contact Us for News Tips, Corrections and Feedback