iTunes 9 full review

Last September, Apple debuted iTunes 8, which brought some major new features (Genius playlists, a new visualiser), a number of refinements for browsing and managing your media (Grid view, better podcast controls), and new iTunes Store offerings (HD TV shows, a new store design).

Only a year later, we’re already at iTunes 9. (Old man voice: Why, I remember when Jeff Robbin was still working on Conflict Catcher.) But if you’re wondering if the 9 just means “another year gone by,” rest assured that the latest iteration of the company’s do-everything media program offers a number of significant improvements, including several that have been on wish lists for years.

At the same time, its growing importance in the Apple ecosystem means iTunes is a far cry from the relatively svelte and spry program that debuted back in 2001. The program now handles music, movies, TV shows, music videos, podcasts, audiobooks, iPhone applications, iPod games, ringtones, and Internet radio.

It supports purchasing, renting, and importing. It manages iPods, iPhones, and the Apple TV. It coordinates the syncing of contacts, calendars, bookmarks, notes, mail accounts, and even photos. And it manages wireless streaming to remote AirPort and Apple TV units. Whew! The result is an application that offers many features but can be less-than-obvious to use - not to mention a program that can at times get bogged down under the weight of its media burden.

Interface, Take 9

During Apple’s music event, the company said that many of the interface changes in iTunes 9—besides the new “shinier” chrome finish, I assume—were designed to make the program easier to use and to make it easier to figure out how to get your media. For example, if you don’t have a type of media—say, music—iTunes no longer displays an empty list.

Instead, you see a screen that explains how to get music—download it from the iTunes Store or import it from your CDs—along with links to the Store and to tutorial videos. (There’s no mention of Amazon MP3, eMusic, or other services, of course.)

Assuming you’ve already got content in your iTunes Library, you’ll see a progress dialog on the initial launch of iTunes 9 as the program updates your iTunes library. (The new version may also update your Genius information; more on that below.) Then you can dig into the new media-browsing features. For example, the Column Browser view now lets you choose between having the browser on top (the pre-9 approach, with the track list below the browser) or on the left (with the track list to the right).

The new on-the-left setting gives you a narrower track list that shows fewer columns, but if you have a large iTunes library, it lets you view more items in each column as you browse—a welcome improvement. You can also choose which columns to browse by: any one, two, or three of genres, artists, albums, composers, or groupings.

NEXT: iTunes interface changes

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