Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 8.2

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Yesterday Apple released iTunes 8.2, an update required to bring compatibility with the upcoming iPhone and iPod touch 3.0 software update, which is expected to be announced next week at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

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Apple’s release notes indicate that “iTunes 8.2 now supports iPhone or iPod touch with the iPhone 3.0 Software Update. iTunes 8.2 also includes many accessibility improvements and bug fixes.”

 

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While Apple is well-known for publishing very sparse release notes for iTunes and iPod/iPhone updates, in this case it does appear that the new features in iTunes 8.2 are limited primarily to providing integration with some of the features in the upcoming iPhone 3.0. As usual, we dig in a bit deeper and take a more detailed look at what has and what hasn’t changed in iTunes 8.2.

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 85 MB for Windows users, and 77 MB for Mac users. A QuickTime update to 7.6.2 was released simultaneously and listed as a security update, though iTunes 8.2 notably still requires only QuickTime 7.5.5 as a minimum version. The system requirements for iTunes 8 have not significantly changed since iTunes 8.0 was released last fall.

Keep in mind also, however, that the system requirements for certain devices and features may be higher than the base requirements for iTunes itself. For example, while iTunes itself only requires Mac OS X 10.4.10, some of the iPhone 3.0 OS features integrated with iTunes will require 10.5.7.

Initial Startup

When you first start up iTunes 8.2, it will take a few moments to upgrade your iTunes library database, suggesting that some changes have been made to the iTunes library database. This process can take anywhere from 30 seconds on a small iTunes library up to several minutes on a large iTunes library on a slower computer.

Note as well that iTunes does tag the version number within the iTunes database, so you will not be able to revert to an earlier version of iTunes without restoring your iTunes library database from an earlier pre-upgrade backup. It’s always a good idea to back up your iTunes Library file (in your iTunes Music folder, sometimes shown as “iTunes Library.itl”) before proceeding with an iTunes update, particularly if you have a large library.

It’s Seemingly All About iPhone 3.0

Again, the major changes in iTunes 8.2 are directly in support of features in the new iPhone and iPod touch 3.0 operating system. In fact, until you plug in an iPhone OS 3.0 device, you’ll find that iTunes 8.2 looks suspiciously similar to iTunes 8.1, and you may find yourself looking for the “About iTunes” dialog box to confirm that you in fact have actually updated to the new version.

As with previous major iPhone and iPod firmware updates, iTunes 8.2 will be required to use an iPhone or iPod touch running OS 3.0. Presumably any future iPhone or iPod touch devices will also fall into this category.

Most of the new features in iTunes 8.2 related to iPhone 3.0 are found in your iPhone or iPod sync settings. Again, these do not appear except for actual iPhone or iPod touch 3.0 devices—devices running the older firmware will look and behave in the same manner as they did with iTunes 8.1.

Encrypted Backups

Since the original release of the iPhone almost two years ago, iTunes has always maintained backups of your iPhone or iPod touch content. These backups were performed automatically each time you connected your device, and there was no simple manner to disable them without resorting to tweaking hidden preferences.

As users began storing more and more personal content on their iPhone and iPod touch devices, one key problem to this backup strategy was that these backups could be read by anybody with access to your iTunes computer. The backups themselves were encoded so as not to be easily readable by the casual observer, but they also were not encrypted in any way.

iTunes 8.2, working in conjunction with the 3.0 update, now allows you to use a simple encryption method for your backed-up iPhone and/or iPod touch data. The encryption method is based on a simple password, and Apple has not yet released any specs on the specific level of encryption that is used, but it is likely be sufficient for the majority of users, since anybody who is seriously concerned about data security is likely already using other encryption technology anyway.

Enabling encrypted backups in iTunes 8.2 is optional, and the setting can be found on the “Summary” screen for your device in iTunes.

 

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When you first check the Encrypt Backup option, iTunes will prompt you to enter a password to be used to encrypt your backups. An option is also provided for Mac OS X users to also choose to store the backup password in the Mac OS X Keychain.

 

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Once the password has been set, all future backups of your device will automatically be encrypted using this password. When you attempt to actually restore your iPhone or iPod touch, iTunes will prompt you to enter the password for your backup, unless you have chosen to store it in your system keychain.

 

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You can also change your backup password at any time by using the “Change Password” button to the right of the encrypt backups option in iTunes.

It’s worth noting that encrypted backups are configured on a per-device basis and this setting travels with the device itself, so that once enabled, your backups will be encrypted on any iTunes computer you connect your device to.

Syncing Multiple Data Sources

iTunes 8.2 and iPhone 3.0 now allow you to sync address book and calendar data from more than one data source. Previously, if you had configured your device to use wireless syncing with MobileMe or Microsoft Exchange, you would be unable to sync data to those applications via iTunes. On the “Info” tab, iTunes would simply inform you that you were syncing via MobileMe and the other sync options would be unavailable.

With iTunes 8.2 and iPhone 3.0, you can now sync via MobileMe and/or Microsoft Exchange and still sync data from other data sources via iTunes. The “Info” tab for your device in iTunes provides a note that you are syncing with MobileMe but that you can also choose to sync with your local computer.

 

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This feature requires the new iPhone 3.0 OS as different data sources are now separated on the iPhone, so you can now view all of your calendar or contact information together, or view information from only a specific data source such as MobileMe or your OS X Address Book.

Note that Mac OS X users have been able to sync via iTunes from the OS X Address Book, Yahoo! Address Book and Google Contacts for some time now, so the only major change is that MobileMe and/or Microsoft Exchange sync can be used in addition to these local sync options. Windows users are still limited to syncing a single local data source in addition to MobileMe and/or Microsoft Exchange.

Notes Syncing

With iPhone 3.0, iTunes 8.2 also finally introduces the syncing of Notes from the iPhone and iPod touch applications with your computer. This option is configured on the “Info” tab in iTunes for your device.

 

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For Mac OS X users, Notes are synced with the Apple Mail application in Leopard. Notes sync for the Mac requires OS X 10.5.7 or later. Windows users can sync Notes with Microsoft Outlook if they have it installed. Although the Notes sync option has a drop-down menu in iTunes for Windows, Outlook appears to be the only option presently available by default. It is unclear whether Apple may choose to integrate with other third-party Windows applications for Notes syncing on the Windows platform.

Notes sync only via USB through iTunes itself. Wireless Notes syncing does not appear to be available at the present time.

Voice Memo Support

As previously reported, the iPhone 3.0 update is expected to provide a built-in Voice Recorder application. As with other iPod models that support voice recording, Voice Memos are synced back to iTunes automatically from your device. However, with iPhone and iPod touch devices running the v3.0 firmware, iTunes 8.2 allows you to choose whether you want those voice memos synced to your device with a setting on the “Music” tab for your device in iTunes.

 

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This setting determines whether any voice memos that are otherwise selected for synchronization will be sent to your device during the next sync. If you are syncing only selected playlists on this screen, your voice memos must be in one of your selected playlists in order to be synchronized. This setting merely determines whether they are included during synchronization or not.

On the iPhone or iPod touch itself, voice memos will not be displayed in the iPod app, but will be synced directly to the Voice Recorder app. It’s also worth noting that only voice memos that were originally recorded on a 3.0 iPhone or iPod touch will be synchronized back. Voice memos recorded on other iPod devices such as the fourth-generation iPod nano do not sync out to the iPhone or iPod touch with this setting.

Under the Hood

As a pre-requisite for the iPhone 3.0 update, iTunes 8.2 likely includes other 3.0 specific technology under the hood, such as a new system for iPhone activation as well as new mobile device frameworks to provide support for new iPhone 3.0 features such as USB tethering. These are not visible to the end user, nor are there any settings.

What Still Hasn’t Changed—iPhone Manual Mode

One significant limitation that many iPhone users keep hoping will be addressed in an iTunes or iPhone update is proper support for manual mode. Unlike actual iPod devices—including the iPod touch—the iPhone does not allow content to be loaded onto it from more than one computer, even in manual mode. Setting an iPhone into manual mode will allow you to manage the music and video content on that iPhone via drag-and-drop and AutoFill from one computer, but you will not be able to access it from other systems. This particular issue still seems as if it’s a bug, particularly with a lack of specific documentation or even UI feedback about how manual mode is supposed to work on the iPhone.

Notably, however, Apple has not changed this behavior since manual mode was first introduced for the iPhone in iTunes 7.6 and iPhone v1.1.3. Having now been through two major iPhone firmware updates and a major iTunes version update, we can only conclude at this point that this is either intentional on Apple’s part, or it’s a bug that it simply doesn’t care about enough to actually address.

We still receive a lot of questions about this particular issue, indicating that it is still a widespread concern among our readers. We would encourage those of you who are concerned about issues such as these to head over to Apple’s iTunes Feedback Page to make your views known directly to Apple.

Performance

From our testing, iTunes 8.2 does not seem to differ significantly in performance for better or worse from iTunes 8.1.

Generally, the Windows version of iTunes in our lab environment performs a bit more slowly than our Mac version when dealing with the same library database on the same computer platform. However, we should note that these performance issues in our testing environment are not nearly as significant as the reports we have had from some readers, suggesting that iTunes continues to have odd performance issues on certain platforms that are likely the result of the wide variety of Windows hardware and software configurations that exist.

Bug Fixes

Although Apple has indicated that iTunes 8.2 includes bug fixes, we haven’t observed any significant changes in this area, suggesting that any of the bugs fixed were platform- or configuration- specific. It should be noted, however, that our testing platforms have not traditionally had any huge performance problems with either the Mac or Windows versions of iTunes.

If you have noticed that iTunes 8.2 has fixed any other problems with iTunes 8 or other previous versions, we would certainly like to hear from you, either in our comments section below, or in our iTunes Discussion Forum. Likewise, please let us know if iTunes 8.2 has introduced any new problems for you.

Update or Wait?

iTunes 8.2 provides nothing notable in terms of new features unless you are an iPhone or iPod touch user planning on upgrading to the 3.0 firmware when it is released. For those users who are looking at iPhone 3.0, this will essentially be a mandatory upgrade, and it’s reasonable to expect that the same will hold true for any future iPod models Apple releases.

For other users, however, iTunes 8.1 should remain completely functional and iTunes 8.2 offers nothing of interest.

On the other hand, the good news is that from our testing thus far, iTunes 8.2 doesn’t appear to have broken anything significant compared to previous versions.

Although each user’s mileage may vary, this seems to be a relatively safe upgrade. Be aware, however, that this upgrade is a one-way process, so be sure to keep a copy of your old iTunes library database somewhere safe in case you wish to revert back to iTunes 8.1. iTunes itself will back up your iTunes library database to the “Previous iTunes Library” folder when you first launch it, but we strongly recommend making an additional backup of your iTunes library database files prior to even installing iTunes 8.2 just to be safe.

 

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