Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

New iTunes is smarter than it looks

My favorite picture of Steve Jobs.I’m not an Apple fanboy, OK?

Sure, I have posters and brochures and newsletters and stuff, but that’s all part of my job. Kind of.

It’s not like I sit around watching Apple keynote speeches, penning love letters to Steve Jobs. OK, once. But I was young and cover flow was new.

And maybe sometimes I look at his picture to help me sleep. It’s not creepy until you buy a frame for it.

Steve (I call him Steve) released a new version of iTunes on Wednesday unleashing a host of new features. And by “host,” I mean two.

But ah, what features they are. The first one is the “Genius” sidebar — Apple’s answer to music recommendation services like Pandora and Last.fm. Start up the new iTunes, go out for dinner or call your Mom while it scans your music collection, and pop up the Genius sidebar.

Genius is actually two features under one name. The first feature is a widget that analyzes a song in your library and suggests related songs that you already have. The second feature is a sidebar that registers the song you’re currently playing and suggests other songs that you might like to buy.

The first feature is insanely useful. The second is a cynical marketing device.

If you have a large music collection, full of half-remembered gems from the distant past, a Genius playlist can be your new best friend.

I tend to acquire songs in batches, snatching up giant hit compliations or downloading epic quantities of new rock from music blogs. These songs sit idle on my hard drive, waiting for a day when I feel adventurous enough to try something new.

Genius uses my old favorites as a starting point and brings these new songs to life, presumably cribbing from the playlists of people who are cooler than I am. As I type this, I am listening to 50 songs based on Scouting for Girls’ hit “Elvis Ain’t Dead.”

This playlist has picked out songs from my long-dormant UK Hits collection, and I must admit, it’s doing very well. My usual routine is to load up a smart playlist of unplayed songs and listen for gems while I’m getting my butt kicked in World of Warcraft.

Genius seems to be much smarter than a random list, picking needles out of my musical haystack and giving me tracks that really are worth my time.

Your mileage may vary, of course, particularly if your taste is obscure. Genius does a great job with UK Top 40 and six gigs of Night Ranger, but your collection may be more challenging.

The second feature released in iTunes 8 is called “Grid View” — existing somewhere between text lists and cover flow.

Cover flow is a neat trick, but it tends to be slow, buggy and resource-heavy on my machine. I’m running a Commodore 64 mounted in a VW Microbus, so I may be the only one having trouble.

In any case, grid view pops up a clean (and resizeable!) set of album thumbnails. It’s really cruel to give a feature like this to an OCD completeness geek like myself. Grid view quickly revealed which of my tracks were missing artwork, forcing me to spend hours correcting tag info and downloading art for albums that I don’t actually like.

Steve (Mr. Jobs to the rest of you) is also releasing a firmware update for the iPhone on Friday, promising to add Genius capability to mobile devices and fix a host of serious bugs. A more cynical reviewer might roll his eyes at this point, but Steve is a good man who always keeps his promises, so I’m sure we have nothing to worry about.

iPhone and iPod firmware upgrades should be available by the time you read this, so feel free to stop by Apple.com and roll the dice.

Steve also revealed a new iPod Nano design Tuesday, along with a thinner, sexier iPod Touch. Prices have been lowered to bring the product line in sync with the new iPhone prices, so if you’ve been waiting to buy grandma an iPod, now may be the time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy a frame.

Written by Michael B. Duff

September 11, 2008 at 22:15

Posted in Apple

3 Responses

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  1. Duffster, this is the new guy, the awesome new guy, consider yourself bookmarked.


    September 13, 2008 at 17:16

  2. i think we need an intervention my friend. (after my new playlist is done updating of course)


    September 15, 2008 at 10:37

  3. I’ve got a frame!


    January 2, 2009 at 23:37

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