Apple’s iTunes is the world’s most popular computer program for playing, managing and buying music, movies and TV shows. The company estimates the number of copies in active use to be in the high hundreds of millions. Now, Apple has given iTunes its biggest overhaul since 2003, when the software — originally just a jukebox for Macs — was made available for Windows computers and the built-in iTunes store was added.
I’ve been testing this major new version, called iTunes 11, and I consider it a significant improvement in the look, feel, speed and function of the program, which had become somewhat bloated, sluggish and dense over the years as new features were added.
This new version won’t please every iTunes user. Some familiar ways of doing things have changed and some longtime features have been axed in the name of simplification. People who use iTunes solely to organize and play their media, not to buy it from Apple, will find many more prompts to patronize the iTunes store. There also are a few small flaws Apple is pledging to fix soon.
Overall, however, I found the new iTunes a pleasure to use. The venerable program is now brighter and more colorful, with clever and pleasing new capabilities and faster search. There is tighter integration between the library of media that resides on your computer and media stored in Apple’s online iCloud service. Streaming from the cloud has been expanded. The store has also been made cleaner, simpler and easier to use.
A new feature of iTunes 11, called Expanded view, allows you to click on an album cover to get a matching panel showing all the songs on that album.
I tested iTunes 11 on four computers: two PC laptops, one running Windows 7 and one the new Windows 8; and two Macs, an older desktop iMac and a late-model MacBook Air laptop. On all four machines, it ran well and smoothly, never crashing and properly playing all the local and cloud-based music and videos I tried.
In my tests, I bought a variety of new songs and videos, and they quickly became available on all my devices, including the four computers, an iPhone and an iPad. I also was able to smoothly sync an iPhone, an iPad and even a very old iPod, with no problems.
There are many small changes scattered throughout the program, but a few stand out.
No More Sidebar
The most notable change is that the program no longer uses a long, scrolling text sidebar to switch between displays of the major media types, such as music, movies, TV shows and podcasts. Instead, you select these by clicking on a drop-down button. When you pick a media type, it displays choices at the top. The music mode, for example, shows songs, albums, artists, genres and playlists. Choosing any of these instantly changes the main screen to reflect that choice.
Opening the iTunes Store is now done using a button at the top right. Once in the store, you return to the library using a similar button at the right.
Those who prefer the old sidebar can bring it back and banish the new main buttons.
My favorite new feature is called Expanded view. You can now click on any album cover and the cover image expands into a colorful panel showing all the songs on that album. The panel is in the dominant shade of the album cover and shows a lovely image of the cover that blends into the colored background of the panel.
This Expanded view also works for movies and TV shows, showing relevant information about films and, for TV shows, lists of episodes.
A small arrow next to each song, album, movie or TV show lets you perform actions like adding an item to a playlist, or jumping to the artist page in your library, or going to the item in the store.
Another nice feature is called Up Next. It replaces a function called DJ and is essentially a queue of songs. You place any song at the top of this queue to play it next and see a history of what has been played earlier. If you like, you can play immediately any song in these lists.
For years, iTunes was mainly about downloading media, not streaming it from the cloud. That changes with iTunes 11, now better integrated with Apple’s iCloud service, which stores music and videos you have purchased from Apple, or, if you have the paid iTunes Match service, any song, whether you bought it from Apple or not.
As before, small cloud icons indicate whether an album, movie or TV show is stored in iCloud rather than on your computer. And as before, you can click on these to download them. But now, iTunes lets you stream a song, movie or show without downloading.
Previously, streaming from the cloud was only available for paid users of Apple’s iTunes Match service, and only for songs.
The program has long had a MiniPlayer option, which hides the main window in favor of a small oblong player that better coexists with other windows you have open on your computer.
Now, this little player has added functions, such as search, and Up Next.
Fans of iTunes will notice some omissions and flaws. The long-touted Cover Flow carousel of album covers has been dumped. The company says it found too few users considered it useful. A feature that finds duplicate entries is missing. Apple says it will soon be restored in a minor update of the program.
In my tests, some album covers were missing in album view. Apple says this is a rare bug, but one it has solved and will fix in a minor update soon. Another bug the company says will be remedied prevents owners of Apple TVs from wirelessly streaming cloud-based movies to their TVs.
Also, if you want to see biographical information on an artist, you have to go to the store. I wish it was available in the library, but Apple has no plans to change this.
Apple has made iTunes better and easier to use, and veteran users who upgrade will gain from the new features, if they take a little time to get used to them.
Email Walt at email@example.com.