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Tech Report – iTunes 9

By Michael Connolly

When it unveiled the revamped iPod line-up a couple of weeks ago, including the newly video-enabled Nano, Apple also released a new version of iTunes, its much-admired music and video software.

iTunes is one of the most popular software products in the world, having been downloaded hundreds of millions of times according to the company. That far exceeds the 220 million iPods sold, because many people use iTunes and the optionally bundled QuickTime to organize and play music and videos, even if they don't own iPods or iPhones.

Although iTunes has become an increasingly sophisticated and intuitive platform in its almost 9 years of existence, Apple has found room for some marked improvements with the latest version. Here's a summary of what's new:

Home Sharing

One of the biggest frustrations with iTunes has been its stingy sharing policies. A single user can download from his or her computer to multiple authorized iPods but up to this point it hadn't allowed sharing between computers. This often resulted in two or more members of the same family buying multiple copies of the same song. With iTunes 9, Apple has finally recognized the increasing reality of the networked home.

iTunes 9 allows you to browse the iTunes libraries of up to five authorized computers on one network, import what you like, and automatically add new purchases made on any of the computers to your own library. It works for music, movies, TV shows and audiobooks, and even works between any combination of PCs and Macs. However, there are limitations. The computers must be on a local network, not connected over the Internet, and they must be computers authorized to play the media you buy from Apple.  

The iTunes Store

The iTunes Store has received a much-needed makeover, organizing the ever-expanding selection of music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, games and apps into a concise menu and logical navigation sequences. The charts of the most popular downloads stay on the home page, as do the helpful quick links. However, more space is given to recommendations and "Genius" selections, as Apple becomes more confident in its intuitive matchmaking tool.

Genius Mixes

Apple has also taken the Genius concept one step further and come up with Genius Mixes, a new feature that takes one of your songs and searches your library to come up with a matching playlist. As well as being an incredibly easy way to set up and then edit new playlists (you can create up to 12 Genius Mixes), it also provides revealing and sometimes surprising ways to take a fresh look at your music collection. As Apple says on its web site "You may discover songs you never knew you had — and rediscover forgotten favorites."  

Improved Syncing

With over 75,000 apps available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, it's not unusual for those devices to become cluttered, with icons scattered haphazardly across numerous screens. There's a way to move them around or delete them on the device but it's clumsy and very time-consuming.

Now, with iTunes 9, when you plug in your device the software displays an exact visual representation of your iPhone or Touch screens right on your computer. You can rearrange them with your mouse just like you move icons or files around on any other computer screen. After you sync, the new arrangement is right there on your device.

Album and Movie Extras

Two new features, iTunes LP and iTunes Extras, essentially give you back exactly what you used to get when you bought CDs and DVDs – bonus material and behind-the-scenes action that completes the experience for the true fan.

When you download select albums and listen to your favorite songs, you can get album illustrations, liner notes, animated lyrics, videos and band photos. When you buy certain movies, you can also view photos, trailers, interviews, and bonus footage right there on your PC or Mac.

With its increasing sophistication comes an increase in size: the new iTunes 9 weighs in at a Windows-like 89MB. However, the download, installation and registration process is smooth and seamless whether you are on a Mac or a PC and takes just over 5 minutes with a high-speed Internet connection. (Add another 5 minutes if you are updating QuickTime.)

One thing that hasn't changed is the price. iTunes is still free, which continues to make it the best software deal on the planet!

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