Apple has announced iTunes 9 - a free upgrade to the company’s media playing, managing, and purchasing software. Alongside a dramatic redesign, iTunes 9 boasts a raft of new features, including a new format for purchasing albums, dubbed iTunes LP. The company also unveiled a new way for iPod touch and iPhone users to manage apps on their devices through iTunes, as well as the ability to share music files across a home network.

After CEO Steve Jobs took to the stage in what proved to be an emotional comeback, he got straight into revealing the details of the long-awaited update to the iTunes software.

iTunes LP is a new format for purchasing albums, and attempts to bring the extras that come with purchasing physical music - such as lyrics, sleeve notes, and photography - into the digital age.

The feature was demoed with a number of albums. iTunes LP albums appear to take up the full iTunes window, and offer menus in a similar way to DVDs. Apple demoed the feature using The Doors eponymous 1967 album. The iTunes LP version features photography, lyrics, and video interviews with the band.

Select albums now come with iTunes LP — liner notes, lyrics, photos, bonus materials, and more.

“iTunes LP... lets artists share more of their creativity with fans and gives music lovers the feeling of being immersed in an entire album with art, lyrics, liner notes, photos and videos,” said Jobs.

There is also a new feature with movies on the iTunes Store, dubbed iTunes Extras. This works in the same way as iTunes LP - offering extras with movies in the same way as you see on DVDs. The feature was demoed with Wall•E, showing character profiles alongside the movie.

Home Sharing is another new feature in iTunes 9. It allows you to share your libraries with up to five other computers within your home network. Not only can you stream music from other computers, but you can also copy files from other computers. You can even select a computer in your home, and set iTunes to display only the media that you don’t have in your library, and copy those files to your computer.

The Genius feature in iTunes has also been extended. A new Genius Mixes feature automatically creates endless mixes of songs in your library based on the information generated by the Genius system, which has so far analyzed 54 billion songs from 27 music libraries, according to Apple.

The new syncing features should make keeping your iPod or iPhone up to date with the media you want much easier. Syncing is now much clearer and more flexible, thanks to a new options structure, but the really helpful feature for touch and iPhone users is the ability to arrange your home screens via a simple drag and drop interfact from within iTunes.

iTunes 9.0.0 is available now as a free download. Expect plenty of analysis and tips from and iPod User magazine in the coming days and weeks.

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