iTunes 11: Clean Design & Beautiful Presentation

| Quick Look Review

iTunes 11 has arrived, and now we see what Apple was up to. This version is cleaner, simpler, more logical and looks great.

To be honest, I had some anxiety about iTunes 11. Would Apple deliver? Would the upgrade hose up the beloved iTunes? Would it deliver some kind of agenda, take away beloved features, introduce more bugs than it extinguished? I was prepared to be unhappy.

And the verdict is: I like iTunes 11. A lot.

This will be a quick look review of the app itself, not the new iTunes store. We'll all spend months and months exploring the ins and outs of iTunes 11, but for now the questions are: how does it look? Is it fun and usable? Should I upgrade?

It looks great. Yes. And yes.

As with any software, one of the keys to appreciating a new version is to establish a baseline. How does one get back to familiar territory and then expand from there? I'll start there.

Installation

The first thing you'll see when you install iTunes 11 is a splash screen that points out some of the key buttons at the top. Then, there's a short video tutorial. Even though iTunes 11 isn't all that different from iTunes 10.7, it's still refreshing to see Apple taking a humble, helpful approach.

An opening tutorial takes nothing for granted. Thanks Apple.

Let's start with Music and assume that you've selected Music in the popup on the top left. If you'd like to bring up the traditional side bar instead, do that first. The first thing you'll notice is a bar along the top that determines how the Music content will be displayed. If you click on Songs, you're about back to where you were -- a global view of your entire music library in list mode.

You can further tweak that in View -> View Options.

Getting back to familiar territory, learning the lay of the land, helps a lot when it comes to further productive exploration. It eliminates the angst.

Presentation

The next thing you'll notice is that the User Interface (UI) is a bit cleaner, "flatter" and more organized. By flatter, I mean that the traditional skeuomorphism is disappearing. Compare iTunes controls in iTunes 10.x ...

to that of iTunes 11.

The next, previous and play buttons no longer look like real buttons, and the progress window no longer has that faded fluorescent yellow that tries to look like some ancient electronic device. It's cleaner and better. It cleans out the accumulated cruft of 10 previous versions.

Next, let's look at a playlist. Here's one of my playlists from iTunes 10.7.

iTunes 10.7

Instead, we have a different presentation. The tiny icons in the tool bar are gone, and instead there's one icon on the right that controls the presentation.

iTunes 11

Choices there are List, Grid, and Artist List. These are nice looking presentations and appear to be designed to help the customer better appreciate the music in a visual way. Music isn't just a text list.

You'll note that Cover Flow is gone from the list. Even though, I believe, Apple won its appeal in a huge Cover Flow lawsuit, Cover Flow is gone. It could be that Apple found that it wasn't used very often, or perhaps there were lingering legal reasons. In any case, it was a pretty but somewhat awkward way to step through music. I surmise most of us will miss it at first, then forget about it after a time.

Here's the Grid view.

Presentation is everything

The point here is that iTunes 11 introduced a lot of new, fun, interesting ways to view your music collection.

Other Improvements

The MiniPlayer, called up from the Windows menu is more powerful. A lot of criticism had been leveled at Apple for the MiniPlayer's deficiencies, and that produced a cottage industry in alternative MiniPlayers. The new one has just about everything you need.

The List icon in the tool bar at the top shows what's coming up next, a welcome addition.

What's Next?

This isn't an exploration of the new iTunes store, but I'll mention that search has been prettied up quite a bit. Instead of drilling down to a specific category with Power Search, like music, TV Shows or apps, then entering a key word, you just enter that word directly in the search field on the top right. Then you'll be shown where the key words shows up in every category. I'll admit, it may just be a ploy to get you to buy things in other categories, but it does look a lot better. Everything in iTunes 11 is about an attractive presentation.

Finally, for now anyway, Apple has added a history feature so that you can go back an see what you've previewed -- in case you change your mind about buying something. Melissa Holt has explained that new feature: "iTunes 11: Viewing (and Clearing!) Your History."

Apple has a beautiful layout of the interesting new features in iTunes 11. Check it out.

Summary

We're going to be spending the next few months exploring the myriads of details of iTunes 11. It has a lot of new, tasty tidbits, reorganizes the UI somewhat, and simplifies things without taking away, from what I've seen so far, what we love about iTunes.

My initial reaction is that Apple took its time and got it right. There's no reason that I know of not to upgrade and enjoy the fun.

Product: iTunes 11

Company: Apple. Inc..

List Price: Free

Pros:

Cleaner, simpler, more logical user interface. Better presentation. Better MiniPlayer.  What's next. History of previews.

Cons:

Nothing initially, but full exploration is yet to be done.

 

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Comments

Mike Weasner

Every time Apple releases a new version of iTunes, I always worry that they will break music library sharing.  I use an old PowerBook G4 with Tiger and its iTunes to listen to music from my iTunes music server (Mac mini running 10.5).  Neither of these computers are capable of being updated to 10.8, 10.7, or even 10.6.  I also listen to the server’s music from newer Macs.  I haven’t yet updated to iTunes 11.  Waiting to see reports on music sharing.

John Martellaro

Mike: While I was writing the review above on my iMac, I was listening to Christmas music,  using iTunes 11 to share back to the Mac Pro where the master iTunes library is.  No problems at all.

Warlock

One feature that is missing is the DJ part where the program would list & play 25 selections randomly picked by the app.  I used that more than anything because I rarely like to listen to all the songs in an album & really don"t want to spend a lot of time building a special playlist.  Please bring that back.

Troy

I am disappointed that the I am now unable to scan for and find Duplicates. I mean when you have a lot of one artist but only want to keep one of the five songs with the same title, it was nice to find all those same things and trash the ones you do not want. Sure, I can get other software to do that and spend the extra money, but it is infuriating to have to get 3rd party software to provide a functionality Apple used to provide as a part of it’s software package.

Jim Parsons

Hmmm.  Did you miss that find duplicates and gapless is missing.  Those 2 features are enough for me NOT to “upgrade”.

Why is Apple removing features, first from Safari and now from iTunes.  Apple has always been about adding more or better.

Lancashire-Witch

For years I just ignored duplicates - then I turned on iTunes Match and hundreds of duplicates caused havoc.  I’ve used the option to display duplicates and prune out unwanted stuff a lot recently. Pity the function has gone - as is the ability to copy and paste artwork.  Updated artwork is another potential unwanted side effect of Match.  When I “Get Info” and select the Artwork tab why does Apple assume that missing artwork is likely to be in my Pictures folder?

iTunes 11 looks like it has been somehow magically attracted to the Music App on my iPad.

It’s certainly a simpler and cleaner UI John, but I’ve found 2 functions that I used have been taken away.

Lancashire-Witch

Mike -  I have 11 on an iMac running ML.  I’ve got 10 on a G5 running Leopard.
Home sharing works fine both ways - unless Apple has provided another missing feature that I haven’t found yet!

John

Duplicates now show up in list view.

John T.

Is there a way to revert back to iTunes version 10?  After installing and checking out version 11, I find there is nothing of added value in version 11 for me.  I was able to do everything I wanted to do using version 10.  I actually prefer the look of the lists and to be able to drag and drop the cover art in the window that appeared in the lower left corner of the display for version 10.  Being able to view the cover art in the lower left corner for the file that is playing also meant much less scrolling than it takes to move through the file views in version 11 that include any cover view.  For me, the way cover view is implemented in 11 means a lot more scrolling because I have more than a few music files.  Also, I very much liked being able to double click on a playlist and open it as its own new window - which I can’t do using version 11.  Instead, I get buttons (and associated gray space) for playlists, views, and other functions that take up screen real estate—to duplicate existing functions in the menus and the column headings.  This is progress?  What would Steve Jobs say about that?  I regret installing iTunes 11, and would really like to go back to 10, if that is possible.  I have been using and enjoying Macs since the 512K , but thanks to iTunes 11, I am now very disinclined to install any Apple software updates in the future until I can verify all the ways that the new software differs from the version I already have.  Differ is the operative word here, because in this case, for me, “new” definitely does not mean “improved”.  Thank you.

Garratt

No more cover flow? That’s been one of my major complaints with my iPad when I got it.  No thanks, I’ll stick with iTunes 10.

Martyn

Not liking it so far but my biggest problem is how do I find elusive artists by scrolling my list when they are only in a compilation album? They are not listed in the main list so I either seem to have to remember they exist and type in a search or recall which compilation album they are in and select that. There is a feature to unclick “compilation” on my iPod which gets around this so can I do it here? It looks very clumsy if not!

Rob

I downloaded Itunes 11 yesterday and already have experienced a few bugs.
1) when syncing my iPad music, some songs would not appear in the chosen playlist or in the order that I had them in.

2) When searching for music on my Windows based computer Itunes 11 would freeze up and I would have to force shut down and restart the application.

When it was actually working, I did enjoy the “Up next” feature and powerful mini player.

AlwaysBuyAppleProducts

yeah yeah iTunes 11 is awesome. I agree. but I liked cover flow(who cares if no one uses it, its not like it takes up the whole window!), and the most annoying new thing is the removal of QuickVeiw or QuickLook in the iTunes Store. Now i have to go into the app to find info and it is REALLY ANNOYING and I am juts like WHAT THE F*CK APPLE you are sooooo dumb sometimes. But overall it is a great new layout, and with an unreliable computer and internet, the ability to redownload purchases from iCloud was super helpful. I love Apple and iTunes, but if they could put back QuickVeiw on apps, make it so you can see the popularity of songs in the Store, bring back Cover Flow, and make the info in apps(such as developer and MB or GB) back on the side under the icon. Although knowing Apple, maybe only 1 of those things will ever get done. :(

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Adrian

I wanted to say something nasty about your review but I’m looking now at this 70 year old photo of you and I see why. You are using iTunes just for playing music in the background. Please stop writing these decrepit reviews. You are making us sick.

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