Apple iTunes 11 full review

iTunes 11 Review

READ OUR iTunes 12.2 review

Apple iTunes 11 is to Apple's music and media playing, iOS device syncing, and iTunes Store software. iTunes 11 was a radical departure from previous editions, with a whole new look and revamped functions.

Our iTunes 11.1.5 review looks at the new interface design, revamped functions, performance benchmarks and new features.

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iTunes 11 review: iTunes 11.1.5 fixes unexpected quitting

The most recent update, iTunes 11.1.5 has fixed problems that caused iTunes 11 to quit, and improved compatibility for iBooks for Mac on OS X Mavericks. The biggest fix is a solution to problems with connection issues.

In the previous version of iTunes (11.1.4) several Apple iTunes users reported numerous problems with running iTunes, particularly the Windows version). According to Apple Support the iTunes 11.1.5 update "fixes a problem that may cause iTunes to quit unexpectedly when a device is connected".

This will be a welcome relief to iTunes users suffering from these issues, and the fix for this allows us to look more closely at the other new features found in iTunes 11.1.5.

So let's see what's new in iTunes 11.1.5.

(If you've upgraded to iTunes 12, by the way, and reckon it's not for you, take a look at our downgrading advice article: How to downgrade from iTunes 12 to iTunes 11.)

iTunes 11 review: iTunes Radio

We should start with the elephant in the room: iTunes Radio (or rather the lack of it). We’ve been waiting for iTunes Radio to arrive in the UK for a long time. Now it’s starting to feel like too long. We’re sure there are plenty of negotiations taking place between Apple and the music companies, but other territories have iTunes Radio and iTunes will be better when it arrives in the UK.

Apple's iTunes Radio feature enables you to create a radio station based on an artist  or song. It plays whole tracks from the iTunes Store (it plays songs you own; and those you don’t). You can also choose from over 250 DJ-curated genre stations. It’s free with ads, and ad-free if you have an iTunes Match account.

You can access iTunes Radio in the UK if you have a US account, so it’s a legal rather than a technical issue. While it's not quite worth moving from a UK iTunes Store account to a US iTunes Store account, it is a neat feature that we'd very much like to see integrated into the UK. iTunes 11.1.5 is poorer without it.

iTunes Radio

iTunes 11 review: Genius Shuffle

This replaces iTunes DJ and picks songs that go well together. Hold down Option + Space to quickly start playing tracks that iTunes thinks you will enjoy (or hold down Option and click the Genius icon that replaces your Previous icon in the iTunes toolbar).

Genius Shuffle

The Genius Shuffle icon (accessed by holding down the Option key) enables you to quickly shuffle tracks from your music library.

iTunes 11 review: Podcast Stations

You can now view Podcasts as Stations (lists of whole episodes). A station plays all episodes from that podcast (Newest to Oldest by default, but you can adjust that). You can create new stations from multiple Podcasts, so you can group together all your comedy, or tech podcasts. iTunes syncs Podcast Stations with the Podcasts app for iOS.

Podcast Stations

iTunes 11 review: iTunes 11's new interface

iTunes 11 introduced a new with a simpler interface over iTunes 10. Part of this is an edge-to-edge design that's removes much of the clutter, particularly around the edge of the screen. We like the new interface, although it was a big shake-up for people used to the older iTunes 10 interface. We've had enough time to get used to the iTunes 11 layout now and appreciate it.

A quick trip to the View menu enables you to get the Sidebar and Status Bar from iTunes 10 back if you want them. The Status Bar seems a bit redundant and, although the new interface is not without it's learning curve, we quickly found ourselves happier using iTunes without the Sidebar.

iTunes 11 vs iTunes 10

The old iTunes interface (left) and the iTunes 11 interface (right)

iTunes 11 review: iTunes is now taking its style from iOS

Aside from the edge-to-edge styling, it's clear that iTunes 11 introduced many cues from the iOS interface design. There are lots of instances of Pop-Over menus (the box and triangle style from iTunes), another clear example of this interface element is the Album Folder view, which expands beneath an album artwork to reveal the tracks.

Album Folders remains one of the nicest touches in iTunes 11. Rather than just having a grey Album Folder background, the Album Folder is made up by matching the colour of the album with the album art blended into it using a gradient feather effect. We still think the way iTunes creates integrated artwork from album cover art is one of the slicker Apple touches in iTunes 11.

Album view with its expanding Album Folders is now the default view, and it seems to be the one that we're working in more often. It's certainly more visually appealing than the Songs view (although that is still accessible and works largely the same as before).

iTunes 11 Album Folder

iTunes 11 review: iTunes 11 code and performance

Apple iTunes 11 on the whole is cleaner and faster than iTunes 10, and it certainly shows when you use it. iTunes was one of the last applications to move from the older Carbon operating system (which was 32-bit) to the newer Cocoa (which Apple took to 32-bit). Whereas iTunes 10 was still a 32-bit application and still featured much legacy code; iTunes 11 is now a fully 64-bit application. We believe it has had a substantial Cocoa rewrite. (Coders around the Internet still seem to feel that it still has some legacy code but it must be mostly Cocoa by now).

To test the performance we converted a 47 minute 40 second mp3 file (The Best Of 2008 mix from the Hectic City blog) and used the Convert to AAC in iTunes 10 and 11.

iTunes 10 took 1:17.48 to convert the file, whereas iTunes 11 did it in 51.38, a good 26 seconds (approximately 50 percent) faster at that particular task.

We re tested iTunes 11.1.5, and it returned the same time (52:19 to be exact). So the big gains were clearly made when moving from iTunes 10 to iTunes 11, and now Apple is focussing on reliability.

iTunes 11 review: iTunes Convert to AAC Speed Test

iTunes 11 Convert to AAC SpeedTest

iTunes 11 feels snappier in use than earlier versions of iTunes, the interface moves more quickly, and we experienced fewer spinning ball situations. The speed increase could be just because of the fresh installation, but we'd wager that being able to access larger memory blocks in 64-bit mode has a lot to do with it. We also found it responded faster when we edited information on multiple items (iTunes sluggishness at this basic task has been something of a bugbear of ours for years).

Apple has also fixed many bugs and security holes in recent point updates. So iTunes 11.1.5 is more stable than previous editions.

iTunes 11 review: iTunes 11.1.5 Mini Player

Apple has issued several tweaks to the MiniPlayer (access by clicking the MiniPlayer icon in the top right of the main window, or by choosing Window > MiniPlayer).

The default MiniPlayer displays a small album art, and the track currently being played, along with the Volume, Up Next and Search icons (below is a track indication bar). Hovering the mouse over the MiniPlayer reveals the Play/Pause, Next and Previous/Genius Shuffle buttons.

Apple has managed to cram all the controls you'd need into a ridiculously small space. And with the efficiency of iTunes search you can use the Search icon in the MiniPlayer and never worry about the larger player.

Clicking the album art in MiniPlayer expands the view to display larger album art, and tapping the Up Next icon transforms MiniPlayer into a vertical column displaying art and upcoming tracks. It's an interesting way to view and manage your music, almost between the full iTunes and a MiniPlayer (we advise people to try it out).

iTunes MiniPlayer

iTunes 11 review: What's missing from iTunes 11 compared with Spotify (and Facebook)?

iTunes 11 is a great step forward, but if you step back from the iTunes 11.1.5 software update for a moment there are still many areas where it seems to be behind.

Perhaps the big feature missing is a music subscription service, like Spotify of Google's Listen Now. iTunes Match goes a long way towards enabling you to stream all of the music you own, wherever you are, but the lack of music subscription seems to be a hindrance now.

Apple's recent purchase of Beats, along with its streaming service Beats Music hints heavily that this sort of service is coming at some point. Beats Music also fixes one of the key problems with services like Spotify and Google Play, the lack of curation (when faced with all the music in the world you're often at a loss for what to play).

Another area that seems missing is Facebook integration and the lack social media. Apple's Ping service never took off, but one of the neatest features in Spotify is the ability to see what friends are playing, and create and share tracks or playlists. These playlists feel like the modern version of making a mixtape for somebody; iTunes can feel very lonely if you've spent time in Spotify with friends.

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iTunes 11 review: What features are missing from iTunes 11?

For all the new features in iTunes 11, Apple has had some house clearing and some features are not present:

  • iTunes Radio.  We mentioned this near the start, but we've been waiting for iTunes Radio to arrive in the UK for a long time.

  • Cover Flow. The carousel view that headlined iTunes 7 and allowed you to flip horizontally through tracks and albums.

  • iTunes DJ. iTunes DJ enabled you to create music lists according to Genre. However, it's been replaced by the smarter, easier to use, Genius and Genius Shuffle features so we don't really mind.

  • Multiple windows. You can no longer double-click Movies, Podcasts, TV Programmes in the Sidebar to open them in a new Window.

iTunes 11 was comprehensive redesign, a thing in itself that is welcome, although change often shakes things up in ways not everybody appreciates. We love the new Up Next feature, and Album Folders – and once you quickly get used to it iTunes 11 is much more visually pleasant app to use.

The latest edition fixes numerous bugs and security flaws, and recent editions have introduced neat features such as the improved MiniPlayer, Podcast Stations and Genius Shuffle. These are all great, although we're still waiting on iTunes Radio.

Above all, we'd like to see Apple move to integrate iTunes with Facebook (now that Ping is out of the way). We feel iTunes should become a social experience as it moves forward.

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