Last week, Apple released a major new version of iTunes. They paired it with a new version of their iOS app Remote. I’ve been using both since Thursday, and my first impression was “it’s different.” The real difference is visual. Apple has increased the focus on cover art over the years. Cover Flow was a big step in that direction, but I always found it a bit fancy and not very useful. This new version takes the next step in this evolution, and this time they got it very right.
Major interface changes are a bit disorienting at first. I’m usually pretty good with change, but I surprised myself by how quickly I took to the new interface. Apple made more than just cosmetic changes. iTunes DJ is gone, and now there’s Up Next, which functions similarly to the queues that other media players use.
I worked on figuring out how to accomplish in iTunes 11 what I used to do in earlier version of iTunes. You have to think different to the usual way of doing things. But in every case, I found that iTunes delivered. It’s different, but it’s all there.
The really early iTunes interface was mostly like a spreadsheet. Your music was displayed in rows, and you could add or remove columns such as Album, Year, and Genre. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but the software was fast and responsive. It totally knocked out the competition.
The main problem with iTunes is that it’s become the hub for a lot of seemingly unrelated Apple activity. You manage your iOS devices through iTunes. Apps, movies, even ringtones are all part of iTunes. That bloat has slowed the beast down, and I’m not sure that this new version necessarily solves that problem. iTunes 11 is a lot prettier though and that counts for something.
What amazes me is how flawless this version is. It’s a big upgrade, and Apple did take an extra month to put on the polishing touches. This is software done right. The Remote app for iPad and iPhone is an upgrade along similar lines. It’s easier to find the music I want to stream via AirPlay. The old Remote app could take several taps to drill down to the track listing of the current album. It’s now easier to get around. They also built Up Next into Remote, so you can create a running playlist. The idea for Up Next didn’t come from Apple, but they’ve implemented it in a compelling way focusing again on cover art and keeping the interface simple.
My only real quibble is that iTunes was pretty static for bunch of years. Apple could have done this revision a while back. Monolithic media apps are less useful these days. iOS devices don’t need to dock to iTunes anymore. Most people get their music from YouTube, and streaming services like Spotify have made the idea of maintaining a music library a little quaint. Apple TV users can get the shows they want directly on their TVs without needing to touch iTunes.
iTunes 11 and Remote 3.0 are brave and beautiful. I love the new interfaces. But it’s evolve or die, and in that respect, iTunes is a little behind the curve. I commend Apple for emphasizing user privacy. When you install the new version, you can select whether to share information about your library with Apple. By sharing, iTunes will download cover art and make suggestions. It’s also now a simple, forthrightly labeled checkbox in the preferences.
Ultimately, Apple did the right thing and executed on the details as only they can. Change is good.