Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 12 | iLounge Article

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Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 12

Last year’s release of iTunes 11 made it clear that Apple wanted to take its venerable media player and iOS device management tool toward a new and different user interface, eschewing the old sidebar view in favor of a new, full-screen view that focused primarily on the media content, and leaned strongly toward arranging things in visual grids. While the design changes met with some negative reviews, particularly from long-time iTunes users, the changes were arguably put in place at least partially to make the application at least somewhat more approachable for new users. Perhaps as a concession to those accustomed to the almost decade-long “traditional” design, users could tweak a few settings and make iTunes 11 look and work in a way that would at least feel a bit more familiar.

iTunes 12 essentially takes the training wheels off and leaves users with no choice but to fully embrace the new design paradigm, which it takes to the next level. iTunes 12 presents an even newer, flattened interface that borrows design cues from last year’s release of iOS 7, while still presenting the same full-screen grid view, and tweaking the user interface even further in this newer direction.

For reasons known only to Apple, iTunes 12 changes up the icon once again, choosing to go with a red image, perhaps reflective of the iOS Music app – a departure from the blue motif used for iTunes since version 7 was released eight years ago, although retaining the same basic note design introduced with iTunes 10.

While the general main panel layout remains much the same as in iTunes 11, the top control bar gets some interesting UI changes. With the elimination of the traditional sidebar that was made optional in iTunes 11, the drop-down menu for selecting media sections gets replaced by a row of icons in iTunes 12. Icons for Shared Libraries and Devices also appear on either side here whenever a Shared Library or iOS or iPod device is available.

New iTunes users will get the Music, Movies, and TV Shows icons here by default, while those upgrading from iTunes 11 get whichever sections were previously enabled on the General tab of their iTunes Preferences. An ellipsis icon to the right provides a drop-down menu for accessing the additional sections, and clicking the “Edit” button at the bottom will allow you to choose which icons appear in the main toolbar. This option replaces the setting found in the iTunes Preferences’ General tab in prior versions.

Those familiar with iTunes may notice that the icon for the iTunes Store is conspicuously absent here. iTunes 12 effectively does away with presenting the iTunes Store as a separate section, essentially integrating it as a subcategory within each individual media section. This is arguably a somewhat logical change coming on the heels of iTunes 11’s iCloud integration – the idea being that all media content—locally stored, cloud-stored, and available for purchase—is now essentially grouped by type of media.

Basically, in addition to the usual categories in each section, such as “Songs” and “Playlists,” an “iTunes Store” category now appears, taking you directly to the relevant section of the iTunes Store. If you’re in the Music section, this will take you to the Music Store, in the Movies section, you’ll be taken to the Movies Store, and so forth. Once you select the iTunes Store tab, it remains selected as you switch between other content sections, allowing you to more easily browse for content across different sections.

With the iTunes Store no longer treated as its own section, the user’s account information is now persistently shown near the top-right corner of the iTunes window, listing the name of the current user, with the usual account options accessible by clicking on the name to access a drop-down menu. The Store itself also received a mostly cosmetic design refresh shortly before the official release of iTunes 12, flattening the design and changing up the typography to match the current iOS and OS X UI.

The other tabs at the top of each section have also been somewhat simplified. Other than the iTunes Store, Music, for example, now shows tabs primarily for “My Music” and Playlists, with Radio also appearing for users in the U.S., and a Match tab when setting up iTunes Match. Other sections are similarly sparse, with “New” or “Unwatched” tabs added in areas such as Podcasts, Movies, and TV Shows. The separate tabs for browsing by different criteria, such as Album or Artist, have been removed as individual tabs, appearing now as a drop-down menu on the right hand side that customizes the “main” view appropriate for each specific section.

These drop-down menus also highlight another new feature that’s appeared: Recently Added. Perhaps as a concession to the less prominent placement of Smart Playlists with removal of the formerly ever-present sidebar, each section can now be configured to show Recently Added content at the top of the grid views. This includes not only content downloaded to your local library, but recent additions to your iTunes in the Cloud content, assuming that option is enabled in your iTunes Preferences, of course. The Recently Added setting can be customized on a per-section basis, with the date range adjustable to show recently added content from the last month, three months, six months, or year, or it can be disabled entirely if you prefer.

Get Info Panel

Interestingly, despite significant UI changes over the past couple major iTunes releases, one design aspect that has remained pretty consistent over the past decade is the “Get Info” window – the dialog box that appears when you want to view or adjust detailed information for a given track. While Apple added and moved content around in here, the basic design of the dialog box changed very little – until now.

iTunes 12 introduces an entirely new design for the Get Info window. It’s broken down into more or less the same sections as before, just renamed and rearranged slightly. “Info” becomes “Details” and gets the first tab position, while the old “Summary” tab is now called “File” and appears to the far right. Artwork, Lyrics, Options, and Sorting are all still here, just rearranged. For Movies and TV Shows, the separate “Videos” tab also disappears, with information such as episode number and season number now much more logically consolidated into the “Details” tab. A “Description” tab appears instead of the “Lyrics” tab for content such as videos and podcasts.

Rather than providing the large fixed format that previous versions of iTunes used, this new design also limits the view to only those fields that are commonly used in your iTunes library. An “Add Field” drop-down at the bottom can be used to show additional fields, such as BPM or Grouping, and certain optional fields like comments and album artist can be removed by hovering over them and clicking the icon that appears to the right of the field. Similarly, fields in areas like the “Options” tab, that were simply grayed out as unelectable in the past, are now hidden entirely from view. For example, options for “Equalizer” and “Skip when Shuffling” won’t appear when editing the properties for a Movie or TV Show.

Beyond this redesign, the Get Info window otherwise continues to work in much the way that it did in prior versions. The “Previous” and “Next” buttons have been replaced with arrow icons, however the CMD+P and CMD+N shortcuts continue to work, allowing you to quickly move between tracks without having to close and reopen the Get Info window. CMD+1 through CMD+6 can also be used to quickly switch tabs in the Get Info window, and artwork can also be added by dragging and dropping an image right into the thumbnail at the top of the “Get Info” window, a shortcut that avoids the need to specifically flip over to the Artwork tab — it can come in handy if you’re working your way through multiple tracks.

Devices, Playlists, and Sidebars

While iTunes 12 removes the ability to have the persistent sidebar that long-time users are familiar with, the sidebar concept hasn’t disappeared entirely. Two places where the left-hand sidebar continues to appear out of necessity are when working with Devices, and Playlists. Although updated with Yosemite translucency—about the only place you’ll see this effect in iTunes 12—the layout should generally be familiar to seasoned iTunes users.

Devices have been moved from their iTunes 11 position as a drop-down menu at the right-hand side of the toolbar to an icon that appears at the right of the media sections on the other side of a small divider line. Only one icon appears for all devices, and if multiple devices are connected, over either USB or Wi-Fi, clicking this icon simply presents a drop-down menu allowing you to select the specific device you want to work with.

The individual device screen gets a significant redesign in two separate areas. Firstly, the content categories that have traditionally appeared across the top toolbar have now been moved to the sidebar, with “Settings” and “On My Device” headings to separate the settings from the on-device content listing that has always appeared here. Instead of displaying content categories, the top toolbar is now used to select between multiple connected devices.

Perhaps more significantly, on the Device Apps section, you’ll find that iOS Home Screen management has been nicely improved, allowing for the management of not just the main top-tier home screens, but more effective management of folders. Scrolling down past the Home Screen panels will reveal sections for each and every folder on your device, and pages within each folder can now be reorganized in a way that simply wasn’t possible before—simply drag and drop whole pages into new positions.

Double-clicking on a screen will provide an enlarged view of that specific screen—be it a Home Screen or folder—and apps can be managed via their icons in much the same way as you would directly on the device’s touchscreen—drag-and-drop to reorder icons, even across multiple screens or folders, or click the “X” in the top-left corner to remove an app from your device.

Playlists actually return in some ways to their pre-iTunes 11 roots, moving away from the more confusing dynamic right-hand sidebar that iTunes 11 introduced — they’re now found in the traditional left-hand sidebar more similar to previous versions. Selecting the “Playlists” tab from any media section will show you a mostly familiar sidebar layout for that specific section. Devices are even shown here for users who want to drag-and-drop media content onto their iPhone, iPad, or iPod, and the playlists themselves are managed as before. The only real difference is that the “Library” section at the top will only show entries relevant to the selected media section – “Music” and “Music Videos” when in the Music section, “Movies” in the Movies section, and so forth. Playlists obviously won’t be available in sections such as Apps, Tones, and Internet Radio, of course.

The playlist sidebar also slides in dynamically when you drag and drop content, much as it did in iTunes 11, except now it’s more logically on the left-hand side, and closely mirrors the standard Playlist sidebar, minus the translucency.

Other Changes

A few other more subtle changes can also be found in iTunes 12. As briefly mentioned earlier, the “General” tab in Preferences no longer contains settings for which media sections to display, as these have been moved to the new sidebar controls.

In a similar vein, the “View” menu now has options for directly accessing each section, with corresponding keyboard shortcuts. The options on the main View menu mirror the icons enabled on the toolbar, with the hidden ones appearing under a “More” sub-menu.

Automatic downloads can now be enabled for Movies and TV Shows, in addition to Music and Apps.

Summary

While iTunes 12 is primarily a design refresh that offers little in the way of new features, the significance of the new design can’t really be understated. While veteran iTunes users may still object to Apple’s departure from the app’s traditional “tried-and-true” design, the reality is that iTunes 12 gets far closer to a user-friendly, intuitive design than iTunes 11, and those old hands who shuddered at the sight of iTunes 11 may find this latest version to be a breath of fresh air that learns its lessons from the cumbersome UI mess of that prior transitional version. In short, iTunes 12 feels more polished and more mature, and regardless of whether this is where Apple intended to end up, it’s clear that they’re at least on a better track in building the “new” iTunes.

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