Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

Coinciding with today’s release of the iPhone, Apple has also released its latest update to iTunes. In addition to providing synchronization and activation support for the iPhone, iTunes 7.3 offers a few additional new features.

Here is the breakdown of what else is new and interesting in iTunes 7.3:

Initial Startup:

As with previous versions, when you first start iTunes 7.3, it’s going to take a few minutes to upgrade your iTunes library database. This process can take anywhere from 30 seconds on a small iTunes library up to five minutes on a large iTunes library on a slower computer.


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

Another point of interest is that on our two Macs and one Windows computer loaded with the new version, iTunes also immediately ran a Sound Check scan on all podcasts that were stored in the iTunes library, implying that the previous version of iTunes may not have correctly stored sound check data for podcasts.


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

Interface Changes

The first thing you’ll notice once you start iTunes 7.3 is that although the interface is almost identical to the previous version, there have been some minor cosmetic changes.

The highlight bar in the source pane now has a blue tint:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

Further, the categories for DEVICES and PLAYLISTS are now collapsible by clicking the small triangle that appears to the left of them.  Note that the LIBRARY, STORE, and SHARED categories, on the other hand, remain fixed:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

iPhone Support

As expected with the addition of iPhone support, an “iPhone” tab now appears in the iTunes Preferences pane:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

This tab appears much the same as the tab that was added for the Apple TV, in that it is primarily a list of iPhones associated with the current iTunes library. The use of the word “BACKUP” is significant here, however, as this implies that this tab will actually provide a list of iPhones that have their content in some way backed up to the iTunes library, rather than merely being synchronized.

According to the iTunes help file, information on the iPhone that is not normally synchronized will be backed up to iTunes each time the iPhone is synced.  This includes information such as text messages, notes, call history, contact favorites, sound settings, and widget settings and more.  If a backup exists, the “Restore” option in iTunes will restore this backed up date to the iPhone, rather than returning it to its factory settings.  Information that would normally be synchronized, such as contacts, calendars and media, are not backed up (since they can just be restored during the next sync).

A “Disable automatic syncing for all iPhones” checkbox is also present in this preference window. This will prevent any iPhone connected to the computer from synchronizing automatically.  Individual settings are also still available on the “Summary” tab to disable automatic synchronization on an per-device basis.  An iPhone with synchronization disabled can still be synchronized on-demand by clicking the “Sync” button that appears in the lower-right corner of the iTunes window, in much the same way that this is done for the Apple TV.

Synchronization screens for the iPhone itself are also now present, and will appear when an iPhone is connected, including the AT&T Activation Wizard and iTunes synchronization screens similar to those shown for the iPod and Apple TV:

UPDATE:  Now that our editors have had a chance to connect an actual iPhone to the new iTunes 7.3, the actual iTunes 7.3 iPhone-specific features are more readily apparent.

As expected, the iPhone itself will show up in the iTunes source list along side any other iPod, iTunes phone or Apple TV devices:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

When connecting your iPhone for the first time, the AT&T Activation wizard will run.  You must set up the iPhone with an AT&T service plan before you will be able to use it or sync any other data to it from iTunes.


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

The Activation wizard takes you through the process of either transferring your number from an existing AT&T phone and upgrading your existing plan, or setting up a new AT&T service plan:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

This entire process is handled within iTunes itself, from specifying your initial preferences and choosing your preferred plan, right through to seeing a summary of your new service fees and registering your iPhone.


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

Once the activation has been successfully completed, the iPhone will be ready for you, and you will be presented with a synchronization settings screen very similar to those used by iTunes for the iPod and Apple TV, with tabs appropritae for content that will be stored on the iPhone.


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

The Music, Photos, and Podcasts tabs are essentially identical to those used for the iPod or Apple TV.  For the iPhone, however, the Movies and TV Shows tabs normally found on the configuration screens have been merged into a single Videos tab:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

Despite this change for the iPhone, the synchronization tabs for all other types of devices remain organized in the same way as in previous versions of iTunes.

Also of note for the iPhone is the “Info” tab, which controls the synchronization settings or other types of information that can be synchronized to the iPhone:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

This tab includes settings to sync Contacts, Calendars, Mail Accounts, and Bookmarks.  Contacts and Calendars now function as a two-way synchronization (records can be edited and updated on the iPhone itself), while Mail accounts and Bookmarks are one-way synchronization from the computer to the iPhone.  Further, the “Mail Accounts” option only transfers your e-mail account configuration from your computer, not the e-mail messages themselves.  Your mail messages are retrieved directly over-the-air by the iPhone using these account settings.

When syncing contact and calendar information, iTunes uses the underlying Sync Services provided by Mac OS X.  Any conflicts or warnings are therefore handled by normal Sync Services dialogs (It is not clear at this time how conflicts will be handled for Windows users with Microsoft Outlook).


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

One feature that is notably missing from the synchronization settings for the iPhone are the “Enable Disk Use” and “Manually manage…” options.  As reported previously, the iPhone will not support any kind of “Disk Mode.”  Further, it is not possible to manage content on the iPhone manually—all content must be automatically synced.  This likely precludes the use of the iPhone on more than one computer, since like the iPod, it can only be automatically synced to a single library.

Preferences and Settings

The remaining preference panes are largely unchanged, although it was noted that in the Advanced, Importing tab, the AAC encoder now has a pre-set for “Higher Quality” importing at 256kbps. This is presumably to match the quality of iTunes Plus tracks that are now available for purchase from the iTunes Store. 


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)


Another subtle difference that can be observed when downloading podcasts or iTunes Store purchases is that a setting to “Allow Simultaneous Downloads” has now been added to the bottom of the Download screen:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

Synchronization Settings

There have also been some subtle changes to the Synchronization tabs for the iPod and Apple TV. When syncing Movies, TV Shows, or Podcasts, the synchronization dialog boxes now show the same blue dots to indicate new content as shown in other places within the iTunes interface:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

The blue dots can be used to quickly determine which Podcasts or TV Shows have new content in them, or which individual Movies have not yet been watched.  Unfortunately, this only works when synchronizing selected content by Movie, TV Show or Podcast—the blue dots will not appear when syncing selected playlists of video or podcast content.

Apple TV Photo Streaming

Perhaps one of the biggest new features is that as of iTunes 7.3, you can now stream photos to your Apple TV from any iTunes library in your house. When connected to an Apple TV in streaming mode, it will now appear in the iTunes source list in much the same way as it does in synchronization mode, except that only a Summary and Photos tab will appear:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

From the Photos tab, you can select your source for photos albums and which photo albums will be made available to your Apple TV. Photo selection on this screen and on the Apple TV itself work in much the same way as for photo synchronization, except that no photos will actually be copied to the Apple TV. A “Photos” menu will now appear on the Apple TV in streaming mode in much the same way as it does when viewing synced content from the Apple TV’s hard drive.

Further, if you are using iPhoto as your photo source, any transition effects and/or music from your iTunes library that you have associated with your slideshow will also play back on the Apple TV when viewing that particular album.

Note that the Apple TV will only appear in the source list when it is actually connected to your iTunes library in streaming mode, as indicated by a message on the Apple TV Summary screen:


Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 7.3 (Updated)

One important point that we did note about this feature is that while it does allow you to stream photos from any iTunes library that you are not actually synchronizing with, if you connect to your synced library in streaming mode, the same “Photos” menu will appear, but you will only be able to access those photos which are already synced to your Apple TV. Therefore, unlike other media content, where you can synchronize a subset of your library to your Apple TV and connect in streaming mode to access anything else, you will still be limited to only viewing those photos from your synchronized iTunes library that you have already selected for synchronization to the Apple TV.

Note as well that the photo screen savers on the Apple TV will only display content that is stored locally on the Apple TV.

Transferring iTunes Plus Tracks

With the release of iTunes 7.2, Apple introduced 256kbps DRM-free tracks, known as “iTunes Plus” tracks. These tracks are free of any digital rights management restrictions, although they still contain purchaser information and are labelled as “Purchased AAC” instead of “Protected AAC.”

Unfortunately, iTunes 7.2 had one glaring omission:  The “Transfer Purchases” option, which would allow you to transfer any purchased music from your iPod back to an authorized computer, did not work with iTunes Plus tracks.

iTunes 7.3 has now corrected this oversight, and iTunes Plus purchased tracks can now be reverse-transferred to any authorized iTunes library.  Note that despite the fact that these tracks do not contain any DRM restrictions, the “Transfer Purchases” option still requires the target iTunes library to be authorized for the account that was used to purchase these tracks.

We will add additional details to this article soon.

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