In the midst of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers’ Conference (WWDC) Keynote, the company released iTunes 10.3, and almost immediately thereafter, a bug-fixing version called 10.3.1. These latest updates are focused on adding beta support for Apple’s new iTunes in the Cloud service, as well as some additional related features.
Specifically, iTunes 10.3 adds support for automatic downloads of iTunes Store content purchased from other computers and devices, and introduces the ability to re-download music, apps and books previously purchased from the iTunes Store using a list of prior downloads. While app and book re-downloads were previously available from iOS devices, the addition of music to this list—for the United States, at least—and the ease with which re-downloads of all of this content are now all handled in iTunes, constitute a major improvement to the iTunes Store’s offerings.
In iTunes 10.3, you can now configure any of your authorized computers to automatically download the music, apps and books you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store using other devices. This will eliminate the need to sync your iOS device to your computer in order to transfer their purchases, and also allow those who use iTunes on more than one computer to easily get newly-purchased content into their other libraries.
By default, this feature is disabled and must be selected under your iTunes Store Preferences. Separate options are available on this screen for Music, Apps and Books, allowing you to choose to automatically download only certain types of content. Note that automatic downloading of music is currently only available in the United States; the music option will be hidden if you are signed into iTunes with a non-U.S. iTunes Store account.
Once enabled, the feature works seamlessly for push-enabled devices—that is, Mac and iOS users. Purchase a song, app, or book on an iOS device and your computer will start downloading the content automatically within a minute or two. The reverse feature is now also available on iOS 4.3.3 devices, and there is a separate setting to manage this on the iOS side; the setting in your iTunes preferences has no impact on the automatic downloading of content to other devices or other iTunes libraries. See our Tip of the Day on Setting up Automatic Downloads in iOS and iTunes for more information. Windows iTunes users, unfortunately, will not be able to take advantage of a push notification system; on Windows, new content is simply added to the download queue for the next time the user connects to the iTunes Store and either downloads a new item or uses the “Check for Available Downloads” option from the Store menu in iTunes.
Downloading Previous Purchases
In addition to automatically downloading new purchases, iTunes 10.3 now provides access to your entire library of previously-purchased music, apps and books, which can now be re-downloaded on-demand from iTunes or any iOS device running 4.3.3 or later. Although the ability to re-download apps and books has been available since the App Store and iBookstore debuted, the ability to redownload previously purchased music has not, seemingly due to licensing restrictions imposed by the music labels. Regardless, this new feature makes the re-downloading of App Store and iBookstore content much more seamless than it was previously by showing a list of previous purchases and taking the guesswork out of whether or not you’re going to be re-billed for an app purchase.
You can access your list of previous purchases by clicking on the “Purchased” link in the “Quick Links” section of the iTunes Store or by going to your “Purchased” playlist in iTunes and looking for the “Download Previous Purchases” button now displayed in the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window.
Clicking this link will take you to an iTunes Store page providing you with a list of all of your purchased Music, Apps, and Books. As with the automatic downloads feature, the “Music” section will only be shown for U.S. iTunes Store users.
In the Music section, a left-hand column provides a list of artists; selecting an artist will display either a list of purchased songs or albums by that artist—a selection button at the top allows you to choose which. Options are also available here to search purchased items and sort by either most recent or alphabetical order. The Apps and Books screens work in a similar manner, with an option in the Apps section to filter by either iPhone or iPad apps.
A selector in the top-right corner allows you to easily filter between all of your previously purchased items and those items that are not in your current iTunes Store library. The latter feature can be useful for matching content with a secondary iTunes library that may not store all of your usual content. You can also preview any track in your Purchased list by hovering over it and clicking on the playback button that will appear to the left of the track name.
It’s also important to note here that this is not a “digital locker” of your own content, but merely a link between your personal purchase history and what is available on the iTunes Store. This means that content that is no longer available on the iTunes Store cannot be redownloaded, and if you have retagged or added custom artwork to any of your purchased content, this will not be preserved if you choose to download it again from the iTunes Store—you’re basically just downloading the original track again. If you only purchased an older, 128kbps version of a song in the pre-iTunes Plus days, the track you’ll redownload will be the same lower-fidelity version.
These new “iTunes in the Cloud” features are not without their limitations. The first and most obvious is that this applies only to Apps, Books and—for U.S. users—Music. Movies and TV shows are not part of the deal, and users outside of the U.S. don’t even get access to music content, likely due to Apple having not completed the necessary negotiations with international music labels.
Further, the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions note that you may only auto-download “iTunes Eligible Content” on up to 10 “Associated Devices,” of which five can be iTunes-authorized computers. As one small concession to this, free content (as long as it is still free) can be downloaded to an unlimited number of iOS devices, but still only up to five iTunes-authorized computers.
Although this should be a reasonable limitation for most users, the more important consideration is that you can only have a device associated with one iTunes Store account at any given time and you must wait 90 days before you can re-associate that device with a different iTunes Store account. This may have an impact on family users who have been sharing multiple iTunes Store accounts on a single computer, something that Apple encourages families to do with features such as iTunes Store allowances.
Note, however, that the purchases themselves are still tied to the iTunes Store account and not an individual computer. This will likely be less of an issue for iOS devices or families with multiple computers since each device/computer can be associated with the primary user’s iTunes Store account.
Note that this restriction does not apply to Apps—only Books and Music. Presumably Apple has a much greater degree of control over its arrangements with app developers and is not forced to limit iTunes users as a result of third-party licensing agreements. On the other hand, the 90-day restriction on Books and Music does extend to free content—even iBookstore items that come from the free and open Project Gutenberg library.
When the iBookstore was first introduced last year, it was limited to being used only on iOS devices that had Apple’s iBooks app installed. iTunes 9.1 was released alongside the original iPad and iBooks apps, enabling the syncing and storing of iBooks content in the iTunes library, while allowing users to add their own PDF and ePub content. Yet titles from Apple’s own iBookstore could only be purchased directly on the appropriate devices, then re-synced back to iTunes.
iTunes 10.3 finally introduces the iBookstore to the desktop. Integrated into the prior audiobook section, iBooks can now be purchased directly from within iTunes and synced to your iOS devices. The feature works exactly as it does for any other type of purchased content—new books appear in the Books section and are synced according to your preferences for each device. As with other protected content in iTunes, books can only be stored on up to five authorized devices, and you can only have books from up to five different iTunes Store accounts on a single iOS device.
iTunes 10.3 is a relatively straightforward update that seems to have been delivered primarily to introduce Apple’s new “iTunes in the Cloud” features, with desktop iBookstore access as an added bonus. There are no other significant changes that we’ve noticed beyond these major new features—no real “secrets” this time out, unlike prior releases—and iTunes 10.3 otherwise performs and behaves about the same as prior versions. Ultimately, this version feels like something of an intermediate update while we wait for iOS 5 to arrive this fall, and Apple’s iOS Developers have already received a beta version of iTunes dubbed iTunes 10.5. Whether this means that Apple already has an iTunes 10.4 in the works to come out prior to this fall or whether they’re simply leaving some room is unclear, but it’s interesting nonetheless, and suggests that Apple will not introduce an iTunes 11 alongside new iPhones and iPods later this year. For the time being, it looks like iTunes’s future upgrades will be relatively small steps forward as Apple continues to focus attention on building the iCloud service and finishing iOS 5.
UPDATE: iTunes 10.4
On July 20, 2011 Apple released a relatively minor additional update to iTunes 10.4, aimed primarily at adding full compatibility with the Mac’s new operating system OS X Lion. The release notes indicate that the update allows iTunes to be used with the new Full-Screen App capability in OS X Lion, and that iTunes has now been rewritten as a 64-bit Cocoa application to take advantage of speed improvements in OS X Lion, which may result in some iTunes plug-ins no longer being compatible with the latest version. The update also notes “a number of important stability and performance improvements,” without including specifics.
A Windows version of iTunes 10.4 has also been released, which obviously does not include the Lion-specific features, merely the unspecified stability and performance improvements. It’s worth noting that a version of iTunes for Windows with 64-bit components has been available for some time already. These changes in iTunes 10.4 were actually already hinted at shortly after WWDC 2011 when Apple released a closed beta version of iTunes 10.5 for its iOS developers, skipping 10.4 in the process.
The full-screen mode in OS X Lion allows the iTunes window to be placed on its own screen, just as with other Lion apps such as Mail, Safari and iCal. As with other full-screen-capable Lion apps, users can access the full screen mode by clicking on the diagonal arrow icon in the top-right corner of the iTunes window. It’s also worth noting that iTunes 10.4 returns to the pre-iTunes 10 horizontal layout for the close, minimize and mini-player buttons in the top-left corner.
The other primary change in iTunes 10.4 is almost entirely under-the-hood: notably that it’s been rewritten as a 64-bit Cocoa application for use with Lion. The Cocoa rewrite allows for tighter native integration with OS X for features such as UI elements and text-editing controls that were previously unavailable in Apple’s legacy Carbon APIs.
This Cocoa rewrite also allows iTunes to operate in a 64-bit mode, although oddly only for OS X Lion users—users of Snow Leopard and other older versions of OS X will continue to experience iTunes only as a 32-bit application, even if it’s running on 64-bit-capable Mac hardware. Regardless, the Cocoa-based nature of iTunes seems to have come with its own improvements even without 64-bit mode. Although performance can still be sluggish with file or network-intensive operations such as syncing and downloading of content, navigating normal UI elements such as scrolling lists, opening preference and file info dialogs and simply navigating the iTunes library in general are now remarkably smooth compared to prior versions. Rendering speeds for icons, artwork, and the iTunes Store have seen improvements as well; network performance will still determine some of the iTunes Store experience, but the actual process of drawing on-screen elements has noticeably benefitted when compared side-by-side with a Mac running iTunes 10.3.1. Note that these performance improvements appear to be primarily a benefit of the native Cocoa APIs, as iTunes 10.4 provides many of the same benefits when running on Snow Leopard in 32-bit mode.
Ultimately, iTunes 10.4 is more about polishing up the performance of the application than adding new features—those will undoubtedly be arriving when iTunes 10.5 debuts alongside iOS 5 this fall. Although there are still some areas in which iTunes’ performance has seen little improvement—notably file-intensive operating such as syncing with iOS devices and importing media—the application feels much smoother with less lag when simply navigating through your media collection, an improvement that most Mac users will appreciate. It’s worth noting, however, that Windows users may not see the same benefits, as they seem to be primarily a result of the use of APIs specific to Mac OS X.