iTunes 8 landed yesterday after Apple’s “Let’s Rock” special event. With new features like the Genius Sidebar/Playlists, Grid View, and a revamped visualizer, it might actually warrant a full version bump. However, iTunes has never had the most consistent version numbering. After playing with the new features and interface, these are my first impressions:
Genius Recommendation Engine
Perhaps the most notable feature in version 8 is the Genius feature. There are two ways to utilize this feature. The first is the Sidebar. This will recommend songs and albums for you to purchase from the iTunes store based on your current selection. This is actually a more personalized replacement for the MiniStore.
The other way to access this feature is the playlist option. This will comb through your library and select 25, 50, 75, or 100 songs from your library that presumably go well with the song you have selected. While it is a nice way to listen to music, it seems better suited for some genres and not others. For example, I had iTunes build a playlist of 75 songs based on “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. It pulled songs like “Six Underground” by Sneaker Pimps and “The Salmon Dance” by The Chemical Brothers, it also chose songs like “Pump Up the Jam” by Technotronic (don’t judge). I decided to try it again, this time with “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys. This time it performed much better and gave me a nice hip hop-ish mix.
I’m not really sure what algorithms the Genius feature uses, but it definitely is interesting. It should be noted that this feature only works on one song at a time (so you can’t build a Genius playlist using three songs), and it only seems to work with songs that the iTunes Store recognizes. It will, however, pull from the entirety of your library to build playlists, regardless of whether or not those songs appear in the iTunes Store. I was glad to see this as I was worried it would be limited only to what they carry.
Grid View presents an iPhoto-like view of all your albums, artists, genres, or composers. While an interesting way to view your music, I’m not entirely convinced of its usefulness, though I’m sure many will love it. I have two primary complaints with the implementation of this feature. First is that it does not handle “albumless” songs gracefully. It continues the problem with the album grouping view from iTunes 7 that puts each albumless song in its own “album.” So if I have 10 songs from VNV nation that don’t have albums tagged, they show up as ten different blank album covers. This could be easily solved by treating all songs with no album as belonging to the same “album.” Second is that the increasingly cluttered UI of iTunes is made even more cluttered and inconsistent when in this view:
Looking at it again, it is reminiscent of the movies view in previous versions. The most baffling part of all this is the apparent need to darken everything, from the tabs/selectors at the top to the scroll bar, which turns to a dark gray. Even the scroll indicator is darker than normal when the iTunes windows is in the background. This just seems to be another example of Apple ignoring its own Human Interface Guidelines.
I’ll only touch on this briefly, as I rarely use visualizers anymore. The default visualizer in iTunes 8 is pretty. There’s nothing else to really say about it.
Artwork Grouping – With Grid View replacing the “Artwork Grouping” in the view buttons, I thought that it that view was lost. It is actually now built into the list view as an artwork column selectable by either “Show Artwork Column” in the View menu, or clicking the small arrow in the far left of the column labels. Unfortunately, you cannot reposition this column
Revised Preference Window – Apple simplified the preference window as well. Many things are more logically grouped, for example AirTunes and iPhone/iPod Touch Remote settings are now under a tab labeled “Devices” along with iPhone and iPod backups. This replaces the “Syncing” tab from iTunes 7. Also, certain features seem to have been removed, such as the “Smart Shuffle” slider which would change the likelihood of hearing two or more songs by the same artist in a row.
While some of the new features are interesting, I think the Genius Playlist is the only feature I’ll be regularly using. Grid View just doesn’t do it for me, visualizers aren’t my thing, and I rarely spend time in the preferences window (though I greatly appreciate slimming it down).
What really bothers me about iTunes is that it is becoming a behemoth of an app. When it first started, it was a music organizer. Now it syncs my iPhone, holds TV shows and movies, purchase apps… One of the original goals of the NeXT system (and by extension OS X) is one app for one function; hence Address Book, Mail, and iCal all being separate apps, and not combined like other PIMs. I think it’s time for Apple to really take a look at what iTunes is becoming and rethink its function and organization.