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iTunes 11 Thinks Different about iOS Devices

iTunes 11 promises a simpler interface for interacting with your media library, but don’t forget that iTunes is also a central hub for working with your iOS devices. If you sync and configure an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch using iTunes (versus doing it all via iCloud), the new version may initially be confusing.

The Hidden Sidebar — In iTunes 10 and earlier, iOS devices show up in the sidebar at the left side of the screen. When you select a device, the main iTunes window reveals options for choosing which media to sync, which apps to include, and so on.

iTunes 11 doesn’t have a sidebar — at least, it doesn’t appear so initially. If you prefer the old look, choose View > Show Sidebar (or press Command-Option-S) to reveal it.


Tasty Popovers — If you’d rather give the new approach a try (and you should), iTunes 11 handles iOS devices in a new button at the right edge of the toolbar. If you have only a single iOS device, clicking the button (named for the device) displays its settings; if you have more than one, clicking the button (now named Devices) shows a popover listing connected devices, along with how much storage is being used and current battery level.

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If your devices are set to sync wirelessly, they show up whether they’re physically connected or not, although the battery level appears only for physically connected devices. (You enable Wi-Fi syncing in the iTunes Summary screen with “Sync with this iPad over Wi-Fi” in the Options box. If you’ve turned off Wi-Fi sync, you need to connect using a cable to re-enable it in iTunes.)

Click a device name to access its settings, but beware that it may take a few seconds to appear if you’re using Wi-Fi syncing. When you’re finished, click the blue Done button at the upper right to return to your media library.


Redesigned Controls — The device syncing options are similar to what appeared in iTunes 10 and earlier, with a few notable differences:

  • The storage indicator at the bottom of the window incorporates labels for each type of media into the bars, instead of listing them below it. That means labels don’t appear at all for small items, such as books in the screenshot above. For any media type, hover the pointer over a section to reveal how many items there are and how much space they take up.

  • The data backup options have become more obvious. You can choose to back up data automatically to iCloud or to the computer, as was available previously, but now there’s a Manually Back Up and Restore section in the Summary screen. Click the Back Up Now button (previously hidden in a contextual menu when you Control-clicked the device in the sidebar) to back up your data to the hard disk. If you normally back up to iCloud, this feature gives you a local backup; that’s great if you’re about to travel and want to be able to restore your data quickly if necessary when a lengthy iCloud download isn’t feasible. Should you want to revert to an earlier backup, you need only click the Restore Backup button — previously, you had to Option-click the Restore button.

  • On the Apps screen, Apple has brought a dedicated search field back to the app list. In iTunes 10, the main Search field at the upper-right corner of the window switched to apply to the app list when the App screen was visible, which was confusing.

  • Also on the Apps screen, the apps list now includes an action button for each program: Install for apps that reside in iTunes but not on the device, and Remove for apps that are already installed. This functionality was present in iTunes 10 as well, via the checkboxes next to each item, but it’s decidedly more clear now.

  • If the normal sidebar isn’t showing, a new On This iPhone/iPad/iPod button shows the content stored on the device, with an unusual new left sidebar look. This option is particularly helpful if you subscribe to iTunes Match and don’t store much media on the device itself.


    You can add new items individually here by clicking the Add To button (which flips the sidebar to the right side, oddly), and then dragging them from your library to the device. However, you can’t add music if you also use iTunes Match.


  • When a device is syncing, you can cancel the operation by clicking the sync indicator (the two arrows following each other in a clockwise circle).

Overall, the changes related to iOS devices in iTunes 11 aren’t as dramatic as they first appear. You can go back to the familiar behavior of accessing your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch in the sidebar, or enjoy a less-cluttered interface by jumping to dedicated screens for each device. And some of the ways Apple moved previously hidden functionality out into the open is certainly welcome.

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