Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

iTunes 9 offers exciting new ways to browse, and ignore, your music

Apple has just released iTunes 9.0 and it’s definitely worth the upgrade.

The focus seems to be on ease of use this time – improvements designed to make it easier for users to share music, manage iPhone applications and choose which songs should be transferred to their iPods.

The new Home Sharing feature makes it easier to share libraries between computers. The application manager lets you arrange Home screens from your desktop and the sync functions now allow you to transfer music based on artist and genre without having to make explicit playlists for each one.

There’s also a host of small interface improvements that make iTunes seem brighter, faster and easier to use. Of all the fancy features included in this release, I’m embarrassed to say I got the most use out of the new column browser. It’s the same browser iTunes has always had, but now you can display it vertically to the left of your music.

It sounds crazy, but this simple change has made the browser infinitely more useful for me. Maybe my brain is wired to process things left to right, or maybe I just needed longer lists than the horizontal version allowed, but I wasted a couple hours last night browsing through genres and organizing my ridiculous collection of MP3s.

The second most useful feature in iTunes 9 is a special gift for history geeks. They’ve finally given iTunes University courses their own category in iTunes, separating them from Podcasts and Audiobooks.

I love this change for the same reason I loved the recent upgrades to Snow Leopard and Windows 7. Which is more important to end users, releasing a big feature that people will use once a week, or fixing a minor annoyance that bugs people every time they look at it?

The placement of iTunes University courses has been bugging me every day for a year, as I had to scroll past long-neglected history courses on my way to the latest Chris Moyles podcast. Every visit to my podcast list triggered a tiny guilt pang as I scrolled past nourishing academic content on my way to consume more brain candy.

Now that knowledge can be shunted aside and forgotten, idly taking up hard drive space until I start a new self-improvement kick.

But iTunes doesn’t just make it easier to sort (and ignore) your media. The iTunes store has gotten a facelift. There’s still an irritating flash widget up top, but the new releases have been corralled into a series of polite grids. Navigation text is arrayed at the top, making it easier to switch between media types.

The grid concept works well here, showing users just enough graphical detail to identify items without overwhelming them or wearing out their mouse buttons.

iTunes U hasn’t been upgraded yet so knowledge seekers will have to grapple with the old interface as they download more content to ignore.

The improved music browser has shown me just how out of control my music and podcast collection has become. There seems to be a disconnect between what I think I should listen to versus what I actually listen to.

I’m taking a needle in the haystack approach, downloading tons of promotional clips from music blogs, trying to connect to a music scene that has left me in the dust.

I’ve been working my way through the Pitchfork and Spin Top 20 lists, but the journey has become a cautionary tale about hubris and mortality.

You remember trying to explain cool music to your parents? Watching them frown and turn their noses up every time you played something new? I’m that guy now.

Pitchfork says the greatest song of the last decade was “B.O.B.” by Outkast. I can’t even understand the words.

Written by Michael B. Duff

September 11, 2009 at 14:03

Posted in Apple, Columns

2 Responses

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  1. How about fast forwarding with two finger? The speed depends on where your fingers are. Definitely a good feature..


    September 30, 2009 at 22:07

  2. how do you browse by genre? when I open the browser all it does is create a column list of the artists on the left. is there a way bring up a genre column?


    November 11, 2009 at 18:44

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