Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.5 (Updated)
Last night Apple quietly released iTunes 7.5, the latest version of their digital media management application. Most recent major updates to iTunes 7 have been released primarily to introduce support for new Apple hardware devices and features related to these devices. This version on the other hand has been released primarily to provide support for activation of the iPhone internationally in anticipation of the European iPhone release on November 9th. iTunes 7.5 also provides back-end support for a new iPod game called “Phase”—the first time that an iTunes update has been required for support of a new iPod game.
In reality, there have been few other significant changes in this version of iTunes. Here is the breakdown of some more specific information on the above features and some of the other things that are new and notable in iTunes 7.5:
Downloading the Update
To update iTunes, either download the new version directly from Apple’s web site at http://www.apple.com/itunes/download, or choose the “Check for Updates” option in your existing version of iTunes, which will trigger the Apple Software Update application and scan for new Apple software.
The download itself is approximately 62 MB for Windows users, and includes iTunes 7.5 and QuickTime 7.3 in a single update package.
For Mac users, iTunes 7.5 and QuickTime 7.3 are separate downloads, totaling approximately 97 MB combined.
Unlike the previous few releases, iTunes 7.5 does not make any changes to the iTunes library database format. As a result, after installing iTunes 7.5 on your computer, it will just start up normally as if nothing else has changed. There is no “Updating iTunes Library” process as there has been previously with iTunes updates.
International iPhone Activation
As most iPhone owners will know by now, when purchasing a new iPhone it must first be “activated” with iTunes before it can be used. This activation is specific to the SIM card in the iPhone, and changing the SIM card will require re-activation.
Up until now, the iPhone has been only legitimately available on AT&T. As such, the process of activating a new iPhone was tied to the AT&T network. Trying to activate an iPhone with a non-AT&T SIM card (or even an AT&T SIM card not designed for the iPhone), would result in iTunes advising you that the card inserted is not a valid AT&T SIM card:
Now, as of iTunes 7.5, this message has changed to indicate simply that “There is no carrier that supports the installed SIM card in the iPhone.”
This is obviously accompanied by some back-end changes within iTunes itself and Apple’s iTunes Store network that allows for other carrier SIM cards to be recognized based on the SIM card ID (ICCID) numbers. Presumably, as Apple rolls out the iPhone into other markets, they can now simply add each new carrier’s SIM card IDs to their database and iTunes will support activation with these SIM cards as well.
New Game Support: Phase
For the first time, an iTunes update is also required to provide support for a new iPod game, MTV/Harmonix Phase.
As with any other iPod game, the game itself must still be purchased from the iTunes Store separately. However, once downloaded, a new playlist, “Phase Music” is automatically created within your iTunes library:
The “Phase Music” playlist is used to store the songs that you wish to use in the game itself, and must be synchronized to your iPod along with the game. Interestingly, despite its appearance as a normal playlist, the “Phase Music” playlist appears at the TOP of the iTunes playlists, rather than being sorted alphabetically.
There is a bit more to this than just the playlist itself, however. According to the Phase instructions in iTunes, the heavy lifting of generating “gameplay information for these songs” is performed by iTunes itself, rather than handled in real-time on the iPod. This is likely the key area where iTunes 7.5 provides the necessary additional support.
Adding new songs to the Phase game requires that they first be added to the “Phase Music” playlist in iTunes, and then synchronized to the iPod. When adding music to the “Phase Music” playlist, iTunes will take a moment to analyze these tracks and update the playback information for the Phase game in preparation for syncing to the iPod.
Note that you can delete the “Phase Music” playlist as you could any other playlist. It will be automatically recreated the next time you sync an iPod that has the Phase game being synchronized to it.
For more information on the Phase game itself, including screenshots, be sure to check out our MTV/Harmonix Phase First Look.
iTunes 7.5 introduces one minor change to the Preferences panel. The tab formerly known as “iPhone” has now been re-labelled “Syncing” and expands the option to disable syncing to include iPhones and iPod devices:
Other than this one minor change, the remaining preference settings are identical to those found in iTunes 7.4
iPod touch Backup
With iTunes 7.5, the iPod touch is now backed up in much the same way that the iPhone itself is. Windows users may notice the addition of the “Apple Mobile Device” driver when they first connect their iPod touch, which provides support for this feature.
Information backed up by iTunes includes contact entries, calendar entries, Safari browser information (including bookmarks, cookies, and even the browser cache), and configuration settings for the device itself, such as known WiFi networks and passwords. Media content that would be transferred or synchronized by iTunes is not included in this backup. Provided your music remains in your iTunes library, this new backup feature should allow iPod touch users to perform a complete erase and restore on their device without having to reconfigure any settings afterwards.
UPDATE (11/10/07): Yesterday’s v1.1.2 firmware for the iPod touch enables calendar editing on the device itself. To support this new functionality, calendar entries are now synchronized bidirectionally with the iPod touch by iTunes 7.5, and the option to choose which calendar to put new events in now appears for iPod touch users:
Several readers have also reported that the first sync of the iPod touch after the iTunes 7.5 update may also turn up some address book sync conflicts, likely due to the improved synchronization capabilities of the iPod touch.
iPod Battery Indicators
Users of new 2007-model iPod devices will note that iTunes now also includes a battery indicator for each connected iPod, showing the charge status:
This feature is only supported on the 2007 model iPod classic and iPod nano (video) at this time, since it likely requires the device itself to send the battery level information back to iTunes via the Dock Connector. The iPhone and iPod touch do not support this capability as of yet, nor do older model iPod devices. These will simply be displayed without the battery indicator, as they were in previous versions of iTunes.
UPDATE (11/10/07): Perhaps not surprisingly, yesterday’s release of the v1.1.2 firmware for the iPhone and iPod touch now enables the battery indicator support for these devices as well:
Expanded iPhoto 7 Syncing
Although a feature that will only be of interest to Mac users with the latest version of iLife, the “Photos” tab for synchronizing content to the iPod and iPhone has been expanded to also include iPhoto 7’s new “Events” feature. In addition to selecting their entire photo library or selected albums, iPhoto 7 users can now choose to sync recent events to their iPod or iPhone automatically.
Events will be transferred to the iPod/iPhone in much the same way as albums or folders are, with the Event name appearing as the album name on the device.
For some reason, this feature has not been added to the Apple TV photo sync preferences, which retains the same photo sync settings that were found in iTunes 7.4.
UPDATE (11/10/07): Although a relatively minor change, it is interesting to note that the “iPod Setup Assistant” in iTunes 7.5 has been moved from a separate dialog window directly into the main iTunes interface. This makes the iPod setup process for all models consistent, since this was how the iPhone and iPod touch have always presented the setup assistant.
iPod Setup Assistant in iTunes 7.4
iPod Setup Assistant in iTunes 7.5
iTunes Plus Fixes
A bug was introduced at some point within the iTunes 7.4 series that caused iTunes Plus upgrades to be added to your library rather than replacing your older non-iTunes Plus tracks following the upgrade. This not only meant that you had to manually remove these older tracks, but information such as rating and play count would be lost in this process. This differed significantly from iTunes 7.2 when the feature was first introduced, and in fact iTunes 7.4 still told the user that tracks would be replaced, it just didn’t actually do it:
iTunes 7.5 fixes this problem, and iTunes Plus tracks now replace the older tracks when upgrading your library. Users with a large pending iTunes Plus upgrade can therefore now feel safe in doing so without having to worry about going through and cleaning up afterwards.
What STILL hasn’t changed—Sorting
Users who have been hoping that Apple will change iTunes’ default sort behavior back to something more intuitive to how other applications sort data are going to remain disappointed by this upgrade. It is clear that Apple has no intention of changing this behavior, and iTunes 7.5 retains the same “numbers-last” default sorting behavior that was first introduced in iTunes 7.3.
iTunes remains the only media player or even general computer application that behaves this way by default. Almost every other application sorts lists by placing numbers first. In fact, even Apple’s own iWork ‘08 applications sort data numbers-first. This remains one of the oddest recent changes in iTunes.
Note that these new sort orders can still be manually overridden with the various “Sorting” fields within iTunes itself, but this seems like a lot of unnecessary effort to return to what is expected default behavior.
As with most new software releases, Apple lists iTunes 7.5 as also including “bug fixes to improve stability and performance.” Other than those changes noted above, no significant bug fixes were noted in iTunes 7.5, however our testing platforms have not traditionally had any performance problems with either the Mac or Windows versions of iTunes. If any readers have noticed that iTunes 7.5 has fixed any other problems with iTunes 7.4, we would certainly like to hear from you, either in our comments section below, or in our iTunes Discussion Forum.
UPDATE (11/10/07): Several of our readers have reported that iTunes 7.5, particularly on the Windows platform, seems to alleviate many of the freezing issues and delays when connecting an iPod classic to your iTunes library.
Update or wait?
Unlike the previous few iTunes releases, iTunes 7.5 offers little incentive for most users to take the plunge. Certainly European iPhone users are going to require this new version when the iPhone goes on sale this Friday, but for most other users, this is an incremental upgrade that offers little in the way of significant new features. Users with a large iTunes Plus upgrade waiting in the wings will definitely need the new features of iTunes 7.5 to avoid a laborious library cleanup process, but this is the only noticeable bug that has been fixed by this new version thus far.
On the other hand, the good news is that from our testing thus far, iTunes 7.5 doesn’t appear to have broken anything significantly compared to previous versions. Although each user’s mileage may vary, this seems to be a relatively safe and minor upgrade, with little reason to recommend for or against it for the average iTunes user.
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