iTunes 9 full review - Page 5

More Genius in more places

iTunes 8 debuted Genius playlists, which can create a playlist based on a “seed” track. To work this magic, iTunes anonymously uploads information about all the music in your library and compares that info to other people with similar music libraries. When you create a Genius playlist, that data is used to choose a list of 25 to 100 songs in your library that other people with similar music tastes also have. In other words, iTunes creates a playlist it thinks you’ll like if you like the seed track.

iTunes 9 uses that same data—data on over 54 billion songs, according to Apple—to create Genius Mixes. Instead of requiring you to pick a seed song to create a playlist, the Genius mix feature goes through your library and chooses tracks that “go great together.”

A Genius Mix's "cover."

Unlike Genius playlists, your Genius mixes are created automatically and contain as many tracks as you have that fit the mix. When you select the Genius Mixes item in the iTunes sidebar, the main area of the iTunes window displays your mixes.

Each mix is displayed as a composite album cover; mouse over a cover to view, at the bottom of the window, the name of the mix and a sampling of artists it contains (“Based on Coldplay, Travis, Keane, & others,” for example). With my library of 14,000 or so music tracks, iTunes created the maximum 12 Genius mixes—with smaller libraries, you end up with fewer—with names such as Rock Mix, Electronic Mix, Alternative Mix, and Alternative Mix 2. Click on a mix to being playback.

In my brief testing, the feature was generally good at grouping similar types of tracks, and made for enjoyable playlists, although the mixes were clearly biased in favor of the types of music—rock, pop, hip-hop, classic rock, and new wave—that dominate my music collection. My library contains quite a bit of jazz, classical, and folk, yet because these genres are in the minority, iTunes didn’t create a single mix for them.

On the other hand, Genius mixes are like a black box: there's no way to view the tracks in a mix, to edit the mix, or even to delete a mix you don't like.

I also experienced one other glitch that was initially a show-stopper. In order to use the Genius Mixes feature, iTunes needs to update your library’s Genius information. This should happen the first time you launch iTunes 9. (If you canceled this process the first time you ran iTunes 9, just choose Store -> Update Genius.) But for me, this process never ended—the progress bar at the top of the iTunes window never finished, and the Genius Mixes item never appeared in the sidebar. I’ve seen a good number of reports from other users around the Web experiencing the same issue.

As a recent Macworld US Bugs and Fixes columnn explains, the problem appears to be caused by particular apple.com entries in your Mac’s cookies.plist file. To fix the problem, I had to quit iTunes, open the Security screen of Safari preferences, click on Show Cookies, and delete all iTunes-related apple.com cookies. After relaunching iTunes, my Genius information was updated relatively quickly and the Genius Mixes item appeared soon after.

There’s also one more place where iTunes 9’s Genius feature appears: Once you’ve upgraded your iPhone or iPod touch to iPhone OS 3.1, the App Store app displays a new Genius screen that recommends new apps based on apps already installed on your device.

NEXT: The iTunes Store gets a facelift…again


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