iTunes 12 – Style over Substance

logoApple’s bi-annual re-launch of their flagship media player, iTunes, came last week with an attempt to re-align the program towards their new desktop and mobile operating systems and to push integration with their Store even further.  There are a lot of new visual changes and reorganisation of items, but little in the way of real improvement.   iTunes is still a necessary evil for me.

This is iTunes 12, the first major update since 2012’s new iteration which, for me at least, was a great piece of software.  iTunes 11 added the Play Queue, which is a feature that has become almost second-nature to use in adding songs to listen to next.  The graphical style was also cleaned up a little and new functions were added, but little of it made much difference to my listening habits.

iTunes 12 on the face of it looks a lot cleaner, with the interface undergoing a makeover to match the iOS8 look and feel.  The fonts used are a bit crisper, especially in playlists where it appears that every text item has been bolded for effect.  And perhaps most noticeably of all, the iTunes logo itself no longer has a blue background – but a sort of pinkish red.  Change indeed!  Here’s a look below:


One of the most immediate changes to iTunes 12 is that the sidebar is no longer visible from the get go.  Everyone tends to customise their iTunes layout so that they can get to the things they want a little faster, so for me that is usually having the main window in Artist mode, with a column browser of artists as well as a sidebar for playlists.  To get this in the new iTunes, I needed to set my choice in the top bar to Playlists and the view to Artists – by clicking on the Music tab at the top of the sidebar.  The sidebar itself has a more elegant look for my tastes, as the apps/store buttons weren’t of particular use to me anyway but are still there in the top navigation bar if people need to drill into them.  It does seem slightly strange though that given Apple products’ emphasis on apps that that menu is buried behind an “other” button by default, although that can be edited rather quickly from a drop-down menu as I’ve done.  These reorganisations may make the program look sleeker, but makes things a bit more of a pain to find initially.

An interesting choice Apple has made is to minimise the size of the music controls at the top.  While being far from too small to use, it’s not as immediately easy to use with the buttons taking that extra bit longer to hit.  The initial change would be okay if you could resize the bar to the size that you would like, as you can with the various sidebars the program offers, but there’s no such ability in iTunes 12.  In terms of accessibility, it’s definitely not an improvement over 11 and might well be the one place where it’s taken a step backwards.

New Get Info box

Something new for iTunes is the ability to put your recently added music at the top of your library.  This is great for people like me who tend to listen to newly added music a bit more often than the older stuff.  This function can be toggled on or off, in case you think it clutters things up, and you can change your definition of recently added – but not quite as precisely as you can with a playlist.

Each song’s Get Info box has been cleaned up, ditching the old text box ridden menus with much cleaner and more user-friendly graphics.  As someone who likes to have as much information about my songs at my fingertips as possible, this cleaner layout does make things a bit easier to find out the salient things a bit more quickly, so that’s a plus as well.

Part of iTunes 12’s new focus on integrating the Store now means that when you search through your library it will now also search the Store, in case you don’t have what you’re looking for in your library.  It saves a fair bit of time over having to swap to the Store window, waiting for it to load, and then searching for the song/album that you want – so this is a good step forward.  You’re iTunes account settin
gs can also be accessed from anywhere with the handy drop-down between the search bar and the music player, which is a lot easier to find than it was in the past.  The Store itself has also undergone a stylistic refresh, although not as marked as with iTunes itself, and finding things is a lot easier with the full screen available to it rather than being just a window.

Right clicking doesn't solve everything
Right clicking doesn’t solve everything

There are still a few bugs in the program (naturally for iTunes).  You’re still not able to search for a song and choose Get Info from the dropdown.  The Go to Song function on said dropdown also doesn’t work, defaulting to the song that’s currently playing.  Why you can’t have the same control over a song from this drop-down that you can from the main window still baffles me.

iTunes 12 really strikes me as just a visual overhaul rather than doing anything particular new.  I’ve written before about how it’s a lumbering program that lags behind services like Spotify in a number of ways and this new release does only a little to fix that.  There’s none of the streaming functionality that was rumoured, despite Apple’s iTunes Radio being out in the US for over a year now, and no social media integration whatsoever.  Apple are starting to fall behind the curve, and if iTunes 13 doesn’t reinvent the wheel I fear it may prove to be more than just unlucky for them.

On the whole I think iTunes 12 is an improvement over its predecessor.  Getting used to the aesthetic changes may take a little while, as it always does when a program you use every day decides to change things up, but I think that the program does look a little sharper and easier-on-the-eye now.  However, despite the program’s new look there’s very little in the way of real change to this new version of iTunes, and certainly no new features that really make it a better program to use.

iTunes is still not a great program for handling your music library, but it is a least a bit better looking now.  It’s a shame that Apple, once again, have opted for style over substance.

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