Yes, that headline. Obvious. But appropriate.
Yes, after much delay (about a month), iTunes 11 is here today. And yes, it is one of the biggest overhauls of the media management service yet. Perhaps the biggest. And yes, it is now better positioned to compete in the era of the cloud. And yes, they even made the icon a bit better.
It was back at the iPhone 5 event in September, when Apple first previewed the latest version of iTunes, pointing out many of the new/revised features on stage. But how does it hold up in terms of actual usage? Pretty good. Not perfect. But better than any of the previous versions of the software.
Probably the biggest issue that people have had in recent years with iTunes is that it has become bloated. What started as a simple music player now is the center hub for other media like movies, TV shows, and books as well. More significantly, iTunes is also the homebase of the App Store on the Mac/PC. And it has been the way to manage all of your iDevices. First iPods, then iPhones, and now iPads too.
At the same time, Apple has been working to move everything into the cloud. Your iTunes music can now reside there as well as your other media, and you can choose to keep it there and call it on demand if you don’t want to take up space on your various machines, or if you have many different machines you use.
In the previous versions of iTunes, the iCloud elements felt very tacked-on — because they were. With iTunes 11, the software finally looks and feels like it was designed to fully take advantage of the cloud. I actually recently got a new Mac and didn’t bother to transfer my dozens of gigabytes of music and video files over to the machine since it all resides in iTunes in the Cloud. So I’m using this new iTunes as a full cloud player.
Again, it works a lot better than the previous versions of iTunes for this, though performance still leaves a bit to be desired. For example, clicking a track to play it from the cloud always seems to result in a couple-to-few second delay. Not huge, but not as fast as say, Rdio.
If you let a song load and play through to the end from the cloud, then the song transition is seamless (Apple is undoubtedly starting to load that next track before you get to it). In other words, the loading delay is only something you’re going to notice if you jump around a lot. But that tends to be what I do — certainly in testing out the software.
I’m not sure what the technical reason is for the delay — I assume Apple is calling up to their servers to make sure you own the song and then starting to download it to ensure continuous playback. That’s the thing, unlike services like Rdio and Spotify, which are subscription-based and give you access to their entire library, you still only have access to music you’ve actually purchased with iTunes in the Cloud.
The upside of this, of course, is that you can put all the music on your machine and do basically anything you want to it. And if the music resides on your machine, there are obviously not going to be delays and performance is great. But it seems pretty clear that the writing is on the wall for the end of this era, and eventually Apple will have to move to some sort of subscription-based fully cloud-centric approach.
Beyond the deeper cloud integration, the biggest change you’ll notice in iTunes 11 is the look of the software. Music playback is now less focused around the list, spreadsheet-like model (though that’s still there if you want it) and more around a visual approach. In particular, the album view is fantastic. When you click on an album, you’ll get a drop down featuring all the tracks and the album artwork stylized to blend into the background.