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Series: All about iTunes 11
iTunes 11 debuted late, but its new interface was what generated the firestorm of press coverage.
Article 1 of 8 in series
Apple’s smorgasbord of media management gets a spare, iOS-like visual overhaul while enabling you to stream previous music and video purchases from iCloud. It also adds the Up Next song queuing feature and a unified search across all media types.Show full article
After missing its promised October ship date and nearly missing the revised promise of a November ship date, Apple has finally released iTunes 11 with a redesigned interface that attempts to get rid of the clutter that had bogged down previous versions. In addition to its streamlined good looks, iTunes 11 also introduces the Up Next song queuing feature, unified search across all your media, and the capability to stream previous purchases from iCloud (without requiring a $24.99 subscription to the iTunes Match service).
You can download iTunes 11 for free via the App Store (in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion), Software Update (in 10.7 Lion or 10.6 Snow Leopard), or directly from Apple, and it requires Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later.
Stripped-Down Interface (That Can Dial Back to 10) -- On its initial launch, iTunes 11 looks quite spare in comparison to the busy user interface of version 10.7. Reminiscent of the iOS Music app on the iPad, you’re greeted with an edge-to-edge grid display of album covers from your music library along with the familiar playback controls in the top left corner, a display of what’s playing in the center, and a search field in the top right.
Rounding up several view elements that were previously sprinkled hither and thither, iTunes 11 consolidates its music view options in the bar directly under the toolbar, adding Videos, Radio, and Playlists to the standard Songs, Albums, Artists, and Genres (iTunes 11 drops the Composers and Cover Flow views). Switch among different media types such as movies, as well as shared iTunes libraries on your network, using the pop-up menu below the playback controls. Click the buttons on the right side to access available iOS devices and the iTunes Store.
Single-clicking an album displays an expanded view of the album’s individual songs below the thumbnail, tastefully rendering this view using the primary hue of the cover as the background color as well as using secondary colors for text. Similarly, clicking the thumbnail in Movies displays the title’s details (such as cast, genre, and running time), while a TV Show expanded view displays a list of episodes. (If you double-click a thumbnail, iTunes starts playing the first song of an album, the first episode of a TV show, or the movie.)
If the rejiggered interface of iTunes 11 feels like a push over the cliff, you can bring back many of the interface elements of iTunes 10 without much hassle. Head to the View menu to choose Show Sidebar (Command-Option-S) to bring back the familiar view of media libraries, connected iOS devices, shared libraries, and playlists. Additionally, choosing Show Status Bar (Command-/) displays a selected file’s size and play time at the bottom of the iTunes window.
One under-the-hood change to the interface takes place in the search field, which now features unified searching across all your media types — music, movies, and TV shows, as well as apps, podcasts, and books. In iTunes 10, you could search only within the contents of a selected media type (such as music). If you want to return to that more-focused method of searching, click the search field’s magnifying glass menu and then deselect Search Entire Library. Your searches then return queries pulled from just the media type you are currently viewing.
Up Next Feature and Revamped MiniPlayer -- Exclusive to music playback, the new Up Next feature enables you to view the songs that are slated to be played next. To view upcoming tracks, click the three-line Up Next icon at the right of the “now playing” area to view a popover showing a list of tracks (or press Command-Option-U). What appears in the Up Next popover depends on where you start playing music. If you start playing a song within the Albums view, you’ll see just the remaining tracks from that specific album. However, if you start playing a song in either the Songs or Playlists view and then check what’s Up Next, you’ll see a list of the next 20 songs listed in the current sort order.
The magic of the Up Next feature is the capability to add tracks to the play queue on the fly. To do so, click the circular arrow icon next to a song (either in Songs view or in the expanded area underneath a thumbnail in Albums view) to bring up a popover. Clicking Add to Up Next places the song ahead of the previous play order, and any additional songs added to Up Next are subsequently placed in the order that they were selected. If you want to ensure a song is played directly after the current song ends, click Play Next in the popover and that song floats to the top of the Up Next list. This trick also works within the Up Next popover to shift songs to the top. At the top of the Up Next popover, you can clear the entire list or go back to previously played songs by clicking the clock icon.
The Up Next feature is also fully accessible from the new MiniPlayer, which you activate by clicking the small rectangular icon next to the Full Screen icon in the top right corner of iTunes. Pressing Command-Option-3 reveals the MiniPlayer; pressing Command-Option-M reveals it and hides the main iTunes window. As you’d expect, the MiniPlayer displays title and artist information about the currently playing song, along with playback controls when positioning the pointer over the MiniPlayer. You can also access the Up Next list, search field, and AirPlay controls from the MiniPlayer.
The iCloud Streameth -- As you explore your media library, you may notice that it has been bulked up with albums, movies, and TV shows that you don’t actually have stored on your Mac’s hard drive. This is because iTunes displays all purchases you’ve made from iTunes (from the account that you’re currently signed into) and enables you to stream them from iCloud. To determine which music, movie, and TV show files are stored in iCloud, look for a cloud icon in the top right corner of a thumbnail.
You can stream songs without having to download them first, enabling an iTunes Match-like functionality that’s limited to media purchased from the iTunes Store. It’s mostly useful for avoiding storing files locally, which is handy for those with Macs with limited space, such as a MacBook Air with only 64 GB of flash storage. To preserve a local copy of an album or song on your hard drive, click the iCloud icon (on the album thumbnail or next to a song) to download it. Additionally, you can use the Up Next feature just as easily with streamed tracks as you can with local music files (but you’ll need an Internet connection for this to work).
To start streaming a movie or TV show, double-click the thumbnail to start the movie or the first episode of a TV show (or click an episode from the expanded view underneath the thumbnail). You can save the video file to your hard drive by clicking the iCloud icon in the thumbnail (or expanded view). If you decide to view a video at a later date, you’ll have to re-stream the video unless you downloaded the file to your hard drive.
Note that if you stop watching a video file that’s streaming, the digital bits continue to download in the background (you’ll be able to see the progress of the download in the “now playing” area). It seems the only way to stop the stream from downloading is to start playing another item from iCloud (whether it be a song or another video).
Finally, if you don’t care to see your iCloud music purchases mingled with the files residing on your hard drive, you can turn off this option by selecting Hide Music in the Cloud in the View menu. To hide videos as well, switch to Movies and TV Shows and choose Hide from the View menu for each of those media libraries.
Article 2 of 8 in series
iTunes 11 brings with it an attractive new interface, which Adam Engst suspects may inform the interfaces of future versions of OS X and its bundled applications. But while some of these changes (the return of color and larger fonts, in particular) are generally welcome, other changes in iTunes 11 are more troubling.Show full article
What I’m finding the most interesting about iTunes 11 is not its features, which are almost entirely the same as in previous versions, but the way that it thinks about interface in a rather different way from the previous versions. iTunes is sufficiently central to the user experience of most Apple users that its interface changes could give a sense of where Apple might take OS X’s interface. That may be good or bad, depending on your perspective, but it’s certainly something you should keep an eye on.
The Sidebar Returns to Oz -- The last few versions of iTunes (and the Finder, and Mail) rinsed all color from their sidebars, relying solely on tiny icons and text to help users differentiate among the items. This was widely decried when it first happened, but most of the critics lapsed into sullen silence when subsequent releases maintained the monochromatic look.
Although iTunes 11 deprecates the sidebar in general, when you do show it with View → Show Sidebar, it now appears with color icons throughout. The color is still relatively understated, but works well as a visual cue when attempting to distinguish between the different icons. The screenshot compares the sidebars in iTunes 10 and 11.
I hope to see color return to other parts of the Macintosh experience. Most of us live in a world full of color, and while taking it out of our computing environment may have made a design statement, it was a step backwards in usability.
Fonts Get Bolder, with More Leading -- Notable for anyone who pays attention to fonts is the switch in iTunes 11 to Helvetica, from Lucida Grande. But Apple didn’t stop there, and iTunes 11 features a significantly different approach to application typography that’s more in line with the Web or with iOS apps than with traditional Mac apps. The fonts are larger, and there’s more leading (space between lines), which renders the screens more readable, although at the cost of information density.
As you can see in the comparison windows below, iTunes 11 uses 8 percent more vertical space to display the same information as iTunes 10 did, largely thanks to the added spacing between text. The sidebar comparison screenshot above is even more indicative of this, showing a roughly 15 percent increase in height. That will mean more scrolling, especially on small MacBook screens, but overall, I think it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
I could easily see this sort of typography come to the Finder and Mail in future versions of OS X, where it would likely have the same effect of reducing the amount of information showing on screen at any one time, in favor of making it less crowded and more readable.
Modal Screen Displays -- One of Apple’s notable interface trends with Mac OS X has been the move from multi-window apps to those that incorporate most of their interface into a single window with panes and sidebars. iTunes was in many ways the poster child for this move, offering multiple sidebars and radically changing the contents of the main window based on the selection in a sidebar.
iTunes 11 continues this trend, seeming ever more like an iOS app running in constrained screen space. The loss of the default sidebar plays into this screen-based approach, since there is no longer a ubiquitous sidebar that clearly identifies the top level of the selection, as in iTunes 10. Without the sidebar showing, various menus and buttons at the top of the iTunes 11 window, just under the toolbar, control what shows underneath. The problem is that this navigation bar packs a lot of these controls in, and because they occupy only a single horizontal row, it may be clear what is selected, but it’s not clear what is available to be selected.
To be more specific, the pop-up menu on the far left of the window lets you select among media types (music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, iTunes U, books, apps, and ringtones; fortunately, these can also be accessed by pressing Command and a number matching their place in the list, such as Command-1 for Music and Command-2 for Movies). That’s just like the items in the sidebar, and again, while you can see what is selected, you must open the menu to see the other options. Then, the lozenge-like buttons in the middle let you either refine what appears below (such as by limiting the view to only iPad apps or audiobooks), or offer an entirely different view of the contents (such as playlists or genres). A popover toward the right side of that top bar lets you access your iOS devices, changing the screen yet again, and the final button gives the entire window over to the iTunes Store.
Using this interface isn’t terribly hard, but when you navigate around, leave the program for a while, and then come back, it can be hard to get your bearings. This is made all the more confusing by the many different types of views that iTunes 11 supports. I count at least the following seven types:
- List, with an optional three-pane column browser (Songs)
- List, with a sidebar and an optional column browser (Playlists)
- Detail list, with one (Podcasts) or two (Playlists) sidebars
- Thumbnail (Albums)
- Thumbnail with sidebar (Genres)
- iOS device screens (which vary significantly, and add the On This iPhone and Add To screens)
- iTunes Store (which at least has a white-on-black bar at the top to differentiate it).
That’s a lot of different screens, especially given that many of the iOS device screens differ from one another while being named similarly to the media screens.
Three additional facts make this approach all the more troubling. First, unlike a Web site’s breadcrumb trail, there’s little in the way of locational cues. For any given screen, you must look at the left side of the top navigation bar to determine what type of media you’re looking at, and then at the lozenge buttons in the center of that bar to figure out what view or refinement to the listed contents is showing.
Second, at least when you are viewing an iOS device, it’s possible to shrink the window horizontally so that some of the 12 center buttons disappear entirely with no indication of where they’ve gone. Imagine trying to help someone click the On This iPhone button when the window is too small to display it.
Third, working with an iOS device not only takes over the entire screen, it requires that you click a Done button to escape back out to the media screens. If you use the Add To function to put media on your iOS device, you go down to another level that looks like the media screens in every way, except for the addition of a right sidebar and yet another Done button.
Frankly, I think Apple has rather gone off the rails here. You can quibble with the old sidebar interface, but it was always clear where you were, and what you were working on. This new approach is undeniably more attractive and probably easier to use when you are within a screen, but moving between screens with so few locational and navigational clues is going to be a major problem for less-sophisticated users. I sincerely hope that this doesn’t become a model for other Mac applications, and the fact that Apple lets you bring the sidebar back says to me that they’re not entirely comfortable that this new approach is better — it’s unlike Apple to allow users to revert to older ways of working.
There’s another aspect of this push to a single window. Missing in iTunes 11 is the capability to open a playlist in a separate window or, more to the point, multiple playlists in multiple windows. For those, like our own Matt Neuburg, who use iTunes as a music database, the loss of that functionality is seriously problematic. But more to the point of this article, the Finder is a perfect example of an application that needs multiple windows for file manipulation. Should Apple attempt to shoehorn the Finder into a single window interface, significant power and flexibility would be lost.
Multiple Menu Types -- Lastly, I find myself perturbed by some of the ways Apple has started concealing what are effectively menus underneath buttons, with no indication that the button is in fact a menu — the FaceTime button in Messages is particularly glaring. In iTunes 11, Apple has four types of these controls (ignoring the traditional pop-up menus you’ll find in all of iTunes 11’s dialogs, which haven’t changed at all from iTunes 10, oddly enough).
First is the custom pop-up menu used for choosing among media types. It’s good, because it includes a pair of arrows to indicate that it’s a menu and it responds to a click-and-hold action like a menu should, along with responding to individual clicks to open the menu and choose an item within it. It always has a required state — some media type must always be selected.
The second type of menu is a graphical button with a name beneath, much like a Finder icon. The main instances of this that I can find are the View button in the Playlists screen and the Options button in the CD import screen. These are also a good approach, since they combine text and graphics, have a downward-pointing triangle to indicate that they’re menus and not normal buttons, and respond both to a single click and to a click-and-hold. That said, these two are quite different in what they contain: the View menu affects the display of the Playlists screen, remembers its selection, and even changes its button to match, whereas the Options menu holds commands that perform other tasks.
Third, we have a button/menu combination, where clicking once on the button has one effect, and clicking and holding on it reveals a drop-down menu that provides additional options — the buttons in the iTunes Store nav bar are good examples of this type. There’s no indication that these buttons also have associated menus until you hover over them, at which point a small downward-pointing triangle appears. (Usually, at least. The iTunes account button containing your email address is actually only a menu, and doesn’t get that arrow.) They do respond properly to click-and-hold, and to individual clicks, though the latter must be precisely on the triangle to reveal the menu rather than invoking the button. Also, these menus don’t have a required state or change to indicate the selection — clicking the Podcasts button takes you to the Podcasts section of the iTunes Store, for instance, but that button’s menu just lets you dive into particular categories of podcasts and doesn’t reflect what you’re viewing.
Fourth and finally, is the popover, which appeared in iOS relatively recently. Popovers are called forth by a single click on a button; there’s no indication like the downward-pointing triangle that the button will generate a popover ahead of time, and a click-and-hold won’t work. Popovers also aren’t exactly menus — what’s in them is entirely unpredictable, and may involve additional interface elements. Look at the AirPlay popover, which lets you select between one and multiple destinations, adjust the volume for each independently, and control a master volume. The iOS device button also generates a popover showing the available iOS devices and the memory usage on each; the Up Next button (the three stacked horizontal lines) has yet another popover interface; and selecting or hovering over a particular piece of media shows a right-pointing triangle that reveals another menu-like popover.
I see what Apple is trying to do here — traditional pop-up menus are much more limiting than popovers, with their unique interfaces, and the button/menu combos are more like Web-based navigation menus. But I know that many people — including myself — find some of these buttons, particularly the obscure graphical ones that invoke popovers, utterly inscrutable, and the fact that they have become the only ways to access certain features like AirPlay worries me. Back when button bars started to become popular, it became clear that some people simply don’t do well with arbitrary graphical images, and far prefer words. We as a people don’t share a common graphical language, and no matter how popular Apple products get, a graphical language will always be obscure and poor in vocabulary.
Because there’s no way to know what the graphical buttons do, users are forced to play iTunes like a video game, clicking everything in sight and trying to remember the sequence of clicks that reveal necessary controls. At least some of the buttons have text on them, even if they act in different ways: the iOS devices button reveals a popover whereas the otherwise identical-looking iTunes Store button next to it switches to the iTunes Store interface.
There is one aspect in which these button menus are good thing, and that’s when they bring forth functionality that was previously hidden only under contextual menus. Contextual menus are good when they provide an additional or faster way of accessing commands or options, but since they’re even less discoverable than these buttons (how would you know to Control-click something in the iTunes sidebar?), it’s a major problem when they’re the only way certain commands or options are exposed. That’s always been bad interface design.
In the end, it’s good to see Apple trying to extend interface concepts with all these new approaches in iTunes 11 and some, like the use of color and the new approach to application typography, are welcome. But there’s a distinct lack of consistency and attention to discoverability that renders the single-window model and multifarious button menus less successful than they might be. I cringe at the thought of trying to help someone use iTunes 11 over the phone — it will be nearly impossible to describe the screen successfully and to walk someone through different actions if you can’t do so in person. And that will happen, since while iTunes 11 is attractive and certain actions are simple, plenty of other actions are made all the more difficult by some of these new interface conceits. Let’s hope Apple puts more thought in before extending these concepts to other parts of OS X.
Article 3 of 8 in series
Although many people like the look of iTunes 11, and are finding that most of iTunes 10’s features have been brought forward in some way or another, there are a number of features that Apple removed entirely. If the lack of those features is a problem for you, read on for such solutions as we could find.Show full article
iTunes 11 is such a major interface change that it has generated two common refrains among users. Some people have exclaimed about this or that “new” feature, when it was actually present in iTunes 10 all along and they simply hadn’t noticed it before. Others have emoted about the loss of beloved features, when those features have merely moved to a different location, or are available only in certain scenarios. (For details of new features, see “Redesigned iTunes 11 Brings iCloud Streaming and New MiniPlayer,” 30 November 2012.)
But at the risk of opening myself up to being told that I just didn’t look in the right place or hold down the necessary modifier keys, there are a number of features that Apple really did remove from iTunes 11, much to the consternation of some users. What should you do if you’re missing these features? It’s possible, though not likely, that Apple will bring these features back in a future version of iTunes 11, but more realistically, you can:
Avoid upgrading to iTunes 11. The train may have left the station for many people, but if you haven’t yet upgraded, you may not want to. But remember, you’re just delaying the inevitable, since iTunes updates are often necessary for new iOS devices.
Downgrade to iTunes 10.7. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though iTunes 10 and iTunes 11 can coexist on the same disk, and downgrading isn’t easy.
Switch to an alternative media management tool. Given the competition from the free and ubiquitous iTunes, there aren’t many options here for Mac users, most notably Songbird and doubleTwist.
Missing in Action -- I’ll discuss those options in more detail later, but let’s first consult the back of some milk cartons to see what features are missing from iTunes 11. Note that I’m intentionally not including features that are present, but are more awkwardly accessed or displayed differently in iTunes 11. (For an example, consider album artwork, which no longer appears at the bottom of the sidebar and can be added by dragging an image either to the song information display at the top of the window or to the Artwork view of the song’s Get Info window.)
Playlists can’t be opened in their own windows, which makes comparing playlists nearly impossible and thus significantly reduces the utility of iTunes when it comes to managing large or complex collections of music. This is a big deal for some people, and the best workaround suggested (by Chris Pepper) is to export the playlists as text (Control-click the playlist in the sidebar and choose Export) and then compare the text files using BBEdit or a similar tool. It might also be possible to load a copy of your iTunes library on another Mac, share that Mac’s screen, and then compare playlists. Either way, moving tracks between playlists will be awkward.
Cover Flow view, which showed a carousel of album covers and scrolled the list of songs to focus on the centered album, is gone. This is odd, given that Apple made such a fuss about Cover Flow when they introduced it in iTunes 7, and Cover Flow later migrated to iPods, Mac OS X (starting with 10.5 Leopard), Safari, and even independent apps like Panic’s Transmit. The iTunes Store even still uses a Cover Flow-like mode. If Apple wanted to bring Cover Flow back, it would fit nicely in the various list-based views.
While you can still choose whether or not the Column Browser shows in list views, it appears only at the top, as three scrolling lists. In iTunes 10, you could put it on the left, as a second sidebar that showed only one of the three lists when on the top. That’s gone in iTunes 11, not surprisingly, since it could have resulted in three left sidebars in certain views, which would have made usability engineers cry.
Apple clearly wasn’t listening to Tom Petty’s “The Last DJ” when they let iTunes DJ go in favor of Up Next. While Up Next lets you fiddle with the order of what tracks will play in the future, based on your current album or playlist selection, iTunes DJ algorithmically selected upcoming tracks, let you restrict selected tracks to a specific playlist, and enabled party guests with the iOS Remote app to request songs. My suspicion is that the party features of iTunes DJ were almost never used (clearly, I was never invited to the right parties!), and the combination of Genius and Up Next was deemed sufficient.
Although iTunes 11 retains its equalizer (Window > Equalizer), the spectrum analyzer display that was available by clicking a tiny left-pointing triangle in the song information area is gone. It was useful for visually verifying the changes you’d made in the equalizer, plus it provided separate displays for the left and right channels. There is an LED Spectrum Analyzer visualizer for iTunes from Graham Cox, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work in iTunes 11. Perhaps those who want it back can prevail upon Graham to update it.
Power Search for the iTunes Store (Store > Search) has disappeared. I’d guess that relatively few people used its field-specific queries in favor of the standard search field in the upper right corner of the iTunes window, so Apple pulled it. It’s a shame, since although advanced search features aren’t commonly used, they’re nice to have on occasion.
The File > Display Duplicates feature (and its Option key-enhanced Display Exact Duplicates) has disappeared. That’s nominally a shame, but there are lots of utilities that do a better job anyway, including the $15 Dupin and $7.99 Dupin Lite from Doug Adams, whose Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes site has long helped iTunes users extend the app’s capabilities. To find others, search Google for “iTunes duplicate finder Mac OS X” and be sure to look for comments about iTunes 11 compatibility.
The “Part of a gapless album” checkbox has disappeared from the Options view of the Get Info window for songs. Its purpose — when checked — was to prevent the Crossfade Songs option (in Preferences > Playback) from working on sequential tracks with the same album. It also prevented non-iOS iPods from inserting space between songs. Got that? No, neither did hardly anyone else. (I had to look it up in “Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ, Second Edition.”)
Downgrading to iTunes 10 -- If one or more of these features is essential to your iTunes usage patterns, it is theoretically possible to downgrade to iTunes 10. It’s not easy, though, and there may be problems that aren’t initially apparent. The problem is that iTunes is essentially part of OS X now, so getting iTunes 10 back involves more than just reinstalling the application. Several people in an Apple Support Communities thread have posted sets of directions: one relies on pulling necessary framework files back via Time Machine, and the other relies on the Pacifist utility that makes it possible to install older files over newer ones.
I must admit, I’m leery of this approach, for two reasons. First is the concern that it may not work as well as initially thought. But second, and more important, it’s only staving off the inevitable. Apple won’t continue supporting iTunes 10, and it’s only a matter of time before you buy a new iPhone or do something else that requires iTunes 11.
iTunes Alternatives -- A better approach might be to stick with iTunes 11 for working with your iOS devices, but switch to a different application for playing music. There aren’t many options here, but I found two that replicate many of the features of iTunes (but alas, not playlists in separate windows). Whether they’ll meet your needs is a question only you can answer, but both are free so you can test them easily.
Songbird can import all your media (and playlists, though not smart playlists, which must be recreated) from iTunes and can also export any new media added to Songbird back to iTunes, thus ensuring that you don’t get out of sync. It doesn’t duplicate files, but instead just points at them, so you don’t have to worry about it consuming vast amounts of disk space. In my initial usage, Songbird appears to be a reasonably full-featured music player that mimics a lot of what iTunes has done (note the three-pane column browser in the screenshot) though with less depth. As a cross-platform app, it also doesn’t look particularly Mac-like, though you can download and install themes (called “feathers”). It also sports a full Web browser (a version of Firefox, I think) inside, and can open multiple tabs to different pages and aspects of its interface. I worry a little, based on the way the Songbird site focuses on the company’s Web, Android, and iOS apps, that the desktop version may not get much attention, but that’s just an impression at this point.
doubleTwist looks far more Mac-like than Songbird, but has fewer options. It too builds its music library from the contents of your iTunes library (as well as browsing videos from either iTunes or your Movies folder, and photos from iPhoto or your Pictures folder) without duplicating files. You’ll find features like support for manually defined and smart playlists, a three-pane column browser, and an album thumbnail view. doubleTwist also lets you browse the contents of physically connected iOS devices (although it saw only photos on my devices), but what really sets it apart is its capability to sync music, photos, and videos to Android devices. To that end, it provides access to the Android Market (now called Google Play) and the Amazon MP3 store (another top-level Podcasts Search item has been deprecated in favor of the doubleTwist for Android app). As with Songbird, I get a sense that the people behind doubleTwist may be focusing more on Android than on the Mac.
Let me close by saying that I don’t think Apple has done a bad job with iTunes 11. It’s a beefy program that does many different things, and some of the features that failed to make the leap from iTunes 10 didn’t make sense within iTunes 11’s new interface. It’s also not necessarily a bad thing to remove features from an application over time; sometimes the new must sweep away the old. But none of that will make you feel better, or work as productively, if you’ve become reliant on one of those now-defunct features. Hopefully one of the options I’ve laid out above will meet your needs.
Article 4 of 8 in series
Returns the capability to display duplicates and improves responsiveness when searching a large library. (Free, 198 MB)Show full article
With the release of iTunes 11.0.1, Apple rectifies one of the glaring omissions of its initial release — displaying duplicates (just one of the excised features noted in “iTunes 11: The Features Apple Removed, and Alternatives,” 4 December 2012). Previously found in the File menu, the new Show Duplicate Items command has now been shifted to the View menu. Another complaint about iTunes 11, especially for those with large music libraries, was its frustratingly slow search. (In a library of over 41,000 songs, just typing the first character of a query in the search field would bring up Mac OS X’s spinning beach ball for 5 to 6 seconds.) Apple promises that iTunes 11.0.1 will be more responsive when searching through larger libraries, and this does seem to be the case in our initial tests. The update also fixes a couple of bugs: one where new purchases in iCloud wouldn’t show up in libraries with iTunes Match turned on and another where the AirPlay button didn’t appear as expected. We’ve also noticed that the column browser can be displayed in certain situations when the sidebar is showing, something that wasn’t always possible in 11.0. You can get the new release via the Mac App Store (Mountain Lion), Software Update (Lion and Snow Leopard), or direct download. (Free, 198 MB)
Article 5 of 8 in series
The search field at the top right of the iTunes 11.0 window thought different when you searched the whole library. See why you want to get the iTunes 11.0.1 update to save your sanity.Show full article
Back in the days before iTunes 11, the search box at the top right of the main iTunes window would search only the list at which you were looking. For example, if the search field in my iTunes window were set to search All metadata (a click of the magnifying glass let me set that) and I were to begin typing “fel,” iTunes would immediately filter the song list to show me only the songs that had those characters, in that order, somewhere in the song metadata: name, artist, composer, and so on. If I were to keep typing so the field contained “fell,” the list would continue to be filtered, showing, in my songs list, all the songs from Howard Shore’s “Fellowship of the Ring” soundtrack, “If I Fell” by the Beatles, and “Fell in Love with a Girl” by the White Stripes. If I continued typing so the field contained “fell ring,” only songs from the Howard Shore album appeared.
The search could also start from anywhere within a word: if I were to type “ellow” I’d find the Howard Shore songs and others that had “ellow” in their metadata, like “Yellow Submarine.”
Three things were happening. First, the search was dynamic: each character entered into the field was immediately added to the search string and the results appeared (almost) immediately. Secondly, iTunes treated separate words as separate search terms with an implicit AND between them. Thus, typing “fell ring” meant “show me only the songs with both ‘fell’ AND ‘ring’ in their metadata.” Third, the search looked anywhere within the metadata text, not just starting on word boundaries.
In iTunes 11.0, however, a new capability was added to the search field: Search Entire Library. With that option chosen, as it is by default, not only was the currently displayed list searched but all the other collections in the library were as well. Of course, that meant the results couldn’t appear as a subset of the list shown in the main window, since that list doesn’t show the entire library’s contents. Instead, the results appeared in a popover below the search field.
Hooray! What an advance! Except for one subtle difference in the initial release of iTunes 11 that was very confusing: in iTunes 11.0, an entire library search did not treat separate words as separate search terms with an implicit AND between them. Instead, it treated the contents of the field as a single matching string. Furthermore, that single matching string had to match starting from the beginning of a word.
What did that mean? Three things, in fact:
In my example, if I searched the entire library for “fell ring” or for “ellowship,” the popover displayed the following discouraging message: “No Results.”
The popover offered to let me search the iTunes Store via a prominent button at the bottom of the popover.
It offered to let me search just the list displayed in the main window via a pale blue header at the top of the popover — a header that doesn’t look much like a button at all and is easy to miss.
If I clicked that header button or pressed the Return key, iTunes filtered the currently displayed list just as it did in previous versions of iTunes: “fell ring” or “ellow ring” would both show me the songs from the Howard Shore album in my song list, if that’s where I was searching.
To see results for any occurrences of “Fellowship of the Ring” and only those in the popover with iTunes 11.0, though, I had to type the exact string, “Fellowship of the Ring” (or, at least, “Fellowship of”). When I did that, the popover displayed the songs from Shore’s album, and the Peter Jackson movie in my Movies collection.
So, even though you could now search the entire library in iTunes 11, you couldn’t search it in the same way as you could individual lists, and the difference was subtle enough to baffle the average user.
This, of course, was madness. Fortunately, Apple’s iTunes engineers regained their searching sanity and (mostly) eliminated those two very different ways of searching with iTunes 11.0.1. Now, the entire library search recognizes parts of words and uses implicit ANDs just as the search in iTunes 10 and earlier did, and the popover presents the matches that you would expect to see. What is more, the very slow searches that those with large iTunes libraries experienced with the iTunes 11.0 entire library search now produce results much more quickly.
Only one distinction remains between the two methods of searching in iTunes 11.0.1: in a search of a single list, you can type any part of a word to find matches, so that, in my example, “ello ring” will find songs from the “Fellowship of the Ring” soundtrack. However, the entire library search in iTunes 11.0.1 still requires that partial words in a search must begin with the start of a word: “ello ring” still tells me there are no matches, but “fello ring” works as I expect.
Obviously, users shouldn’t have to know that searches have to start on a word boundary in one kind of search and not another. It should all just work. That still needs to be fixed, but iTunes 11.0.1 has done a lot to eliminate the confusion that entire library searches in iTunes 11 created.
Article 6 of 8 in series
Watch (or listen to) the latest TidBITS staff roundtable to get our take on the continuing story of iTunes 11 and the varying levels of accuracy among antivirus apps.Show full article
iTunes 11 continues to occupy our thoughts, largely thanks to all the comments and email that we continue to get about it, so we devoted a lot of this 45-minute staff roundtable to discussing just why iTunes 11 is so important. Michael Cohen hit the nail on the head with his comment that iTunes 11 is actually a sort of meta-operating system, and how that makes it fertile ground for user interface experimentation (and mistakes!). Matt Neuburg pointed out that iTunes 11 is nearly identical in interface to the new Remote app for iOS, leading to some argument about whether Apple is pushing all interfaces to be more like iOS. Other issues that came up include problems being encountered by classical music buffs, the Command-1 and Command-L tricks for getting back to Music from wherever you might be, how to sort the Albums view with View Options, and the continued lack of any coherent approach for sharing a single set of music within a family.
Next, responding to a number of recent reports about the differing accuracy of antivirus apps, Rich Mogull educated us about the techniques that different apps use to identify viruses and why they do better or worse at identifying viruses. This still isn’t as big a deal on the Mac as on Windows, where Rich said there are, by some counts, 65,000 new virus variants appearing every day. But most interesting were Rich’s insights into the murky world of cybercrime, where companies offer virus-creation toolkits with 24-by-7 support and sites where new viruses can be tested against all existing antivirus programs before being released. Rich also shared his experiences infiltrating this world with a fake identity that applied for a job as a “money mule,” culminating in a phone call to his recruiter while on stage at the DEF CON security conference.
Though there are a few visual jokes in the video, you won’t miss anything important if you instead listen to the audio-only version, which you can do by clicking the Listen link above, or by subscribing to the TidBITS podcast to listen during your commute or workout.
Article 7 of 8 in series
iTunes treats books as songs when it comes to metadata, and iBooks on iOS doesn’t help matters. Read on for confusion-reducing information and practical steps you can take to better wrangle your iTunes book library.Show full article
A Take Control reader recently asked if we could provide any tips for using iTunes on a Mac to organize books in iBooks, since it is awkward to organize them directly on an iOS device. The request was forwarded to me, and, after some thought, I came up with a few recommendations, though they are, to my mind, clumsy and unsatisfying, suggesting areas where Apple could improve the experience.
Leveraging the Possible -- The biggest obstacle to book-organizing paradise on an iOS device is that the iBooks app provides few ways of arranging and organizing books. Here’s what iBooks gives you:
The familiar shelf view, which is the default. It shows books by thumbnails of their covers, arranged on a set of skeuomorphic bookshelves in an infinitely tall bookcase. You can organize the books on the shelves by dragging them around manually, one at a time. Just as on an iOS home screen, you can’t leave empty spaces on a shelf: they close up automatically, so you can’t dedicate a particular shelf, or set of shelves, to a particular set of books.
List view, which provides a scrolling list of the books in a bookcase sorted in one of four ways:
Bookshelf: This view lists books in the same order as they appear on the bookcase.
Titles: This view lists books alphabetically by their titles.
Authors: This list is sorted alphabetically by the books’ authors.
Categories: This displays the list alphabetically by the books’ categories (more on that later), with each category in the list headed by a separator bar that displays the name of the category.
Collections, which are separate bookcases to which you can move one or more books, and to which you can give names, such as Previously Read or Short Story Collections.
When you edit a list view by tapping the Edit button in iBooks, you can select books only for moving to another collection or for deletion — except for the Bookshelf list view, which provides drag handles for books so you can drag a book up or down in the list and so change the order shown in the shelf view.
That’s it: no other organizing and viewing tools are offered. You can’t even edit titles, authors, or categories in iBooks. For that, you need iTunes.
So here’s one useful book organizing thing you can do in iTunes: normalize the books’ categories and authors to get rid of variants, which will allow you to better use the paltry few viewing and organizing options that iBooks does provide. Here’s what I mean:
In iTunes, show the books in List view. Using View > View Options, display the Category heading. This displays the genre associated with each book, such as Fiction or Romance. (Genre? Category? More below on this nomenclatural inconsistency.)
Sort the list by Category by clicking the Category column heading.
Scan the list and for each book that doesn’t have a category, assign one: click once to select the book, pause for a moment, then click near the left edge of the Category column to get an insertion point and start typing; iTunes auto-completes what you type if it can. (Yes, this text-editing interface for iTunes’ list views is worthy of a usability case study in how best to baffle users.)
For books that have the “wrong” category (in your opinion, which is the only one that matters, since you are organizing your books for yourself), select the book, pause briefly, click the displayed category to make it editable, and type something else.
Sort the list by author, and then edit the author names so they are consistent; for example, “J.R.R. Tolkien” is not, as far as iTunes and iBooks are concerned, the same author as “J. R. R. Tolkien” — spaces and punctuation matter.
For each author, select all the books, choose File > Get Info, click the Sorting tab, and, in the Sort Artist field, type how you want that author’s work sorted; for example, you might specify “Tolkien, J.R.R.” for books that have “J. R. R. Tolkien” listed as author so his books sort among the Ts instead of the Js in Authors list view — iBooks respects the Sort Artist field in that view. (Artist? Author? More about that nomenclatural inconsistency below, too.)
Once you have the metadata (that is, data that describes the data) for your books squared away in iTunes, the list views available in iBooks become far more useful. In addition, you can make use of the list views in iBooks as an aid to organizing your books into separate collections.
For example, you could create a new collection for each author in iBooks, list the books in the default Books collection by author, select the books by each author, and then move them to the new collection named for that author: voilà, you now have an iBooks library with a collection bookcase dedicated to each of your authors.
Similarly, you could create collections for each category, and move books belonging to each category to the appropriate collection (in this case, of course, you may want to create more fine-grained categories than, for example, Fiction and Nonfiction for your books in iTunes — or maybe not, if that’s how you roll).
(Note, by the way, that recent versions of iBooks can sync your collections, and the books within them, among multiple iOS devices: you can find that option in Settings > iBooks on your iOS device.)
If you decide to parcel your books into separate collections as I’ve just described, you have to do a little housekeeping whenever you add books to your library in iBooks: sync your iOS device with iTunes, get the book metadata in order there, resync your device, and, back in iBooks, move the books where they belong.
Like I said, clumsy and not very satisfying. Incredibly unsatisfying, in fact, for a librarian, archivist, bibliographer, or bibliophile.
What iTunes Ignores -- As it happens, the EPUB standard used by ebooks in iBooks (I am ignoring for now the fact that iBooks also can handle PDFs and iBooks Author books) has a robust specification for including metadata in an ebook. This information is usually found in the
.opf file that each EPUB includes, and it goes, not surprisingly, by the name “metadata.” For example, here’s the metadata included with one of my Take Control books:
<metadata xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/" xmlns:opf="http://www.idpf.org/2007/opf">
<dc:title>Take Control of TextExpander (1.1)</dc:title>
<dc:creator opf:role="aut">Michael E. Cohen</dc:creator>
<dc:contributor opf:role="bkp">Pages v4.2</dc:contributor>
<meta name="cover" content="cover-image"/>
In it you can find the book’s title, author, subject, and a bunch of other stuff: the metadata included in an EPUB can be quite extensive. iTunes and iBooks, in fact, are both capable of finding the
.opf file inside of an EPUB and reading the metadata from it. In fact, that’s how iBooks and iTunes “know” the title of a newly added book. However, unlike the extensive use that iTunes makes of tags in your music collection, neither iTunes nor iBooks makes much use of book metadata.
In the case of a book that you add directly to iBooks, iBooks extracts the title, the category (labeled in the metadata as “subject”), and the author so it can sort its list views appropriately.
iTunes also reads these particular metadata items, and a couple more if they are present, and then places a new file inside the EPUB named
iTunesMetadata.plist that contains the information that iTunes has extracted. From then on, if you change a book’s metadata in iTunes (for example, the name of the author or the category of a book), iTunes modifies it in the
iTunesMetadata.plist file and leaves the
.opf file intact.
One consequence of this approach is that other ebook reading apps won’t see the metadata changes you make to an EPUB in iTunes. Another, of interest probably only to ebook publishers, is that when iTunes adds the
iTunesMetadata.plist file to an EPUB, it doesn’t modify the “manifest” that’s also part of the
.opf file to note the inclusion of the new file, so any EPUB-validating software reports its presence with a
Also note that iTunes extracts only a few of the EPUB’s metadata items. For instance, there is an optional metadata item, “description,” often used by publishers to provide a capsule summary of an ebook, but iTunes ignores it. If you add a comment about a book in iTunes (File > Get Info, and then put something in the Comments field on the Info pane of the Get Info window), iTunes puts it in the
iTunesMetadata.plist file, but it won’t pre-fill that field with any description metadata that the book already contains.
The Get Info window’s interface with which you can modify the
iTunesMetadata.plist file, in fact, is strongly biased in favor of audio media — in particular, individual songs. The Genre field is used for songs; the iTunes Books library uses that field for a book’s Category, but iTunes doesn’t bother to relabel the field when you are editing a book’s information. Similarly, songs are performed by “artists,” and books are written by “authors,” but in the iTunes Get Info
window for an ebook, the author name goes in the Artist field. (And don’t even get me started on the inability of Get Info’s artwork pane to show a book’s cover!)
Bake It Longer -- With the major overhaul that Apple gave to the look and feel of iTunes in iTunes 11, Apple had a chance to revamp the Get Info interface to handle the different kinds of media that iTunes manages more fluidly and accurately. Instead, Apple left Get Info virtually unchanged, so that you have to guess that authors are really artists, that categories are really genres, and that books don’t have anything corresponding to Beats Per Minute (yes, you can set that field in Get Info for a book, though why you would want to do that – or why iTunes even allows you to do it — beats me).
More sadly, Apple has done little in iBooks to provide readers with the ability to see or to search through their books by any metadata beyond titles, categories, or authors, nor has Apple provided any organizing tools in iBooks other than those I described earlier. For the only ebook-reading software that Apple provides on any of its platforms, the lack of basic organizing tools in iBooks is embarrassing.
Apple has said on more than one occasion that it views its Apple TV product as a “hobby” — from the short shrift that iTunes gives to book metadata and the needs of book lovers to organize their libraries, it seems that ebooks remain only a hobby with Apple as well.
Article 8 of 8 in series
If you’re having trouble with iTunes 11, whether with its new and changed features or with managing large media libraries in general, Kirk McElhearn’s new “Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ” has the answers you need.Show full article
Few upgrades of late have engendered as much press — and hand-wringing among users — as iTunes 11. It’s not surprising — millions of people rely on Apple’s media management tool for a wide variety of tasks, but the new version revamped the interface and moved controls for many long-standing features. We’ve written a good deal about iTunes 11 in TidBITS, largely from the news and “what’s new” perspective (see the series “All about iTunes 11”).
But our articles can’t address every question you might have about iTunes 11, particularly since many of them are undoubtedly more about iTunes in general than what’s new. That’s where Kirk McElhearn’s new “Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ” ebook steps up to the plate — its goal is to answer all the frequently asked questions about managing audio and video in iTunes 11. And Kirk is the go-to guy in the Mac community for iTunes help — along with two editions of this book about iTunes 10, he’s also a Senior Contributor to Macworld, where he frequently writes articles about iTunes, most notably in his “Ask the iTunes Guy” column.
So whether you’re having trouble figuring out how to use iTunes 11’s new and changed features or you have larger questions about the best ways to organize, view, and play your media, “Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ” has the answers you need.