iTunes 7

When introducing iTunes 7 at Apple’s 12 September special event, Steve Jobs proclaimed that it was the “most significant enhancement to iTunes since we introduced it in 2001”. Given iTunes multitude of talents, that’s a mighty impressive claim. And Steve’s not far off the mark. iTunes 7 has a substantial number of new features including – a round of applause please – gapless playback. You can highlight a number of tracks and select Gapless Album on the Multiple Item Information window. This removes the slight pauses between tracks so you can listen to classical albums and dance mixes without the stuttering gap between songs. This feature is massively overdue and we’re very pleased to see it in iTunes – although we’re still not that impressed that it took seven revisions to iTunes before gapless playback was included.

Change your view

The two new views are the marquee feature. In the past you could view your media in list view. Apple has added a Grouped Artwork view and CoverFlow. Grouped Artwork displays album artwork on the left side of the pane and track titles to the right. CoverFlow, a technology Apple purchased from Steel Skies, provides a list view at the bottom of a divided pane and a series of album covers arrayed in a lazy-susan sort of arrangement. You can swoop through the album covers by dragging the scroll bar, or click on individual album covers, or type in the name of the album you seek. This works particularly well as CoverFlow understands spaces in titles. So, for example, you can type Beatles For Sale and be taken directly to that album rather than to the Beatles’ White Album (called, simply, Beatles).

Alongside Gapless Playback and the swooshing CoverFlow visual effects, iTunes 7 introduces: the ability to copy purchased content from an iPod to all of the computers authorised to play that content; a download manager that lets you stop and start downloads from the iTunes Store (no longer called the iTunes Music Store); a feature that automatically downloads album art from the iTunes Store for tracks in your library (even those not purchased from iTunes); and a reworked interface for the iPod that incorporates the iPod updater and includes a new Games entry that appears when you plug in a 5G iPod.

Videos are offered at a higher resolution of 640 x 480 versus the old resolution 320 x 240 content. And videos played in iTunes now sport on-screen playback controls similar to those found in QuickTime.

Straight from the source

iTunes 7 rejigs the Source list and now separates items by category: Library (where Music, Podcasts, Audiobooks, iPod Games, and Radio appear); Store, which includes iTunes Store, Purchased, and Downloads; Devices, for audio discs and iPods; Shared, where shared iTunes libraries appear; and Playlists, which contains Party Shuffle, folders you’ve created, playlists, and smart playlists. While this is a cleaner view, it does mean that those with lots of playlists will need to organise those playlists into folders or be faced with scrolling down a long window.

When you purchase an item from the store, a Downloads item appears. Select it and a status window appears, showing you the items you’re downloading and the progress of your downloads. The convenience here is that you can stop and start downloads, giving one video priority over another that’s downloading at the same time, for example.
iTunes 7 includes lots of nice additions and fixes. Among them is a new Back Up to Disc command in the File menu that lets you back up your entire iTunes library and its playlists or back up just the items purchased from the iTunes Store. You can also enable an option to back up just those items added since the last backup.

The Multiple Item Information window now includes options for switching on or off the Remember Position, Skip When Shuffling, and Gapless Album options. Previously, the first two options were available only in an individual track’s Info window. The Gapless Album option is also found in the Options tab of each of these Info windows. However, it’s still not perfect and a new niggle has arisen: you cannot change multiple Video Kind information – so if you import 20 music videos you have to open them up one at a time and change the Video Kind information for every one.

iPod summary view

The iPod preferences screen has changed for the better. Not only is it more attractive, it provides a great deal more information than earlier versions. In the Summary tab, you’ll find your iPod’s name, capacity, serial number, and formatting (Mac or Windows) plus a picture that accurately reflects the kind of iPod you have plugged into your computer. The iPod updater is now built into iTunes and is found within this Summary tab in the Version area. In the Options area below are time-honoured options for opening iTunes when you first plug in an iPod, manually managing your iPod’s music and videos, and enabling disk mode. Another difference is that Calendars has lost its tab. Calendar syncing is now controlled within the Contacts tab.

OUR VERDICT

Because both updates to iTunes and the iPod are free, getting them is a no-brainer. However, iTunes 7 is a substantial improvement with a variety of new features that are both visually arresting and functional. There's always room for improvement, but iTunes 7 hits a lot of nails squarely on the head.

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