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One of the most successful of Apple’s iApplications is iTunes. Now in its third incarnation, it’s a mature, well-developed program. iTunes 2 was hardly an update at all, just adding iPod support and little else. Version three is more substantial, with a few new and useful features.
The biggest new feature is Smart Playlists, which takes all the effort out of making compilations. Simply choose one of the presets, such as Recently Played, and iTunes 3 will gather the most recently used tracks and randomly play them. No big deal, I hear you say, but you can make custom Smart Playlists – and that’s where it gets fun. All those little tags, like genre, date and comments – which you probably never bothered about before – suddenly become useful. If you’ve ever wondered why anybody would spend time categorizing music in MP3 format into genres, and sub-genres, here’s the answer. You can make a Smart Playlist to include all your ambient, handbag and drill-and-bass in random order to a specified time or size (such as 650MB for a CD). Click the option for cross-fades and you have a DIY DJ.
Once you’ve spent time cataloguing the music with the enthusiasm of a trainspotter at Clapham Junction, you’ll notice there are other nifty new features included. Once the catalogue is complete, you can rate each track with a score out of five stars. This adds another way in which to categorize music. There’s no point in gathering all your jazz together, when only half of it’s decent. If you happen to accidentally have a track you don’t like, hit delete, and the Playlist will replace it with another. There are quirks with the Smart Playlist setup that make it hard to select more than one genre.
If music isn’t your thing – and I’m not just talking to Hear’Say fans – audio books are now ready for iTunes. Audible.com has a massive selection of audio books, spoken word, lectures and magazines available in digital format. Apple has worked closely to make iTunes and iPod work with Audible. You can start listening to it right away, and, when you’re going to be away from your Mac, you can sync with iPod. When this is done, your digital bookmark will pick up just where you left off. When you get back to the Mac, it will keep the place from which you left off on the iPod.
A number of iTunes niggles have also been fixed. For example, if MP3s are from different sources, the sound levels are often different. The new Sound Check feature analyzes music and fixes the levels. It can’t handle the difference between ambient and heavy metal, but anything that stops the shock of a song turned up to max is good.
Classical music fans also had problems searching music in iTunes 2. Because they’d prefer to search by composer rather than the artist, they had no way of finding Handel or Bach. Apple has added a Composer tag to the info on each track, which neatly solves the problem – now my Burt Bacharach tunes are in strict quarantine.
There is also a new feature to help you organize MP3s. As before, you can simply drag-&-drop MP3s onto iTunes and they’ll be added to the library. Previously, they’d be left in their original positions on the hard disk, leaving them in danger of being swept into the Trash by accident. Now you can hit the Consolidate Library, and all the tracks will be gathered in your music folder, in neatly arranged folders.
When faced with a price tag of zero, it’s hard to say anything bad about an iApplication. iTunes 3 is a big improvement over the last version, and if it were a for-sale product I would expect to pay at least £30 for it. But it isn’t £30, it’s free – so download it today. Of course if you’re still running Mac OS 9 you’ll need to pay £99 to get OS X to run iTunes 3. But if you’ve been waiting for a reason, then this is it.