iTunes, the media software you love to hate, turns 12 in January, and to celebrate Apple released a greatly improved version. iTunes 11 looks quite a bit different than earlier versions, it is easier to navigate, and it has some handy new features.
Is it the media player of my dreams? Well, no. It's still trying to do too many different things, and it has some odd quirks and bugs. I’m using the Windows version and don’t know if the Mac software is substantially different. But experience tells me that the Mac version may run better; Apple has never been very good at designing software for Windows.
The first thing you notice when you launch iTunes 11 is a new album view, which shows the covers of all the albums in your library. If you're missing album art, you can click the album and iTunes looks for it. Individual songs are displayed when you click into an album, and a new contextual menu lets you add songs to another new feature called “Up Next," which does exactly what its name implies.
Playlists are also improved. When you view an existing playlist a little icon on the right side of the tool bar says “add to.” When you click it, the playlist moves to the right and you’re back in album view. From there, you can click on an album and simply drag any song you’d like into the playlist. You can also view playlists in an album view to see the covers of the songs in the list.
View by song looks the same, with sortable columns. When you hover over a track an arrow appears, which you can use to rate the track, set it to "play next" or add it to Up Next.
Navigation is much easier. If you're in the songs view, for example, there’s a little icon on the left side of the tool bar that lets you quickly view other media, such as TV shows, movies and podcasts.
And the iTunes Store has an attractive new look that highlights new content with a series of scrolling tiles.
iTunes 11 has lots of great enhancements, but it's not perfect. For example, Apple ditched the carousal-like album view, which I admit, was not particularly useful. But it sure did look good. The flakey way iTunes stores and sorts media is also noteable. Over the years, I have downloaded or ripped lots of music to iTunes, and occasionally I can’t find it. That’s because iTunes sometimes chooses to sort files by first name, sometimes by last name. Why is Tom Waits under “W” when Miles Davis is under “M?” It makes no sense at all and can be annoying.
I’ve seen some reports of iTunes 11 bugs, but I’d guess at least some of them will be fixed in the incremental updates Apple pushes out fairly frequently.
All in all, there’s a lot to like in the new iTunes and no reason not to download it. After Apple’s embarrassing missteps in iOS6 (especially the awful Apple Maps) it’s good to see the company release an attractive, new and user-friendly piece of software.