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Examining iTunes 12’s New Interface

In the almost two years since iTunes 11 debuted, Jony Ive and his team have been slowly painting over gradients, sanding down rounded buttons, eliminating shadows, and stripping out any user interface element deemed extraneous to arrive at a brave, new iTunes. Flat is the word for iTunes 12 (officially version 12.0.1 at launch), which is in some ways a radical reinterpretation of Apple’s digital bouillabaisse of media player/organizer, online store, and device synchronization hub. While there aren’t any groundbreaking new features, Apple has shifted around (or pared down) many interface elements. In the end, the essence of what remains retains familiarity with previous versions of iTunes, and there are some welcome tweaks that
actually help to streamline the app.

Fewer Shades of Gray — Two years ago, I described iTunes 11 as having a spare look (see “Redesigned iTunes 11 Brings iCloud Streaming and New MiniPlayer,” 30 November 2012), but that version looks decidedly bloated in comparison to iTunes 12’s frugal design elements, which are right out of Scandinavian Design 101. When you first open iTunes 12 (with its new red icon) and find yourself in the new My Music view, you notice that the functional interface elements no longer dominate as they did previously. The top gray control area has shrunk, enabling more of a focus on the music titles in your collection displayed against
a white background (with just a few shades of gray replacing all the drop shadows of iTunes 11).

For comparison, here’s the Albums view from iTunes 11.4:

The thinner gray control area retains the previous version’s playback, volume, and AirPlay controls; search field; and Up Next button (the three-lined “hamburger” icon in the Now Playing area); but it adds a new button that opens an Account pop-over with options for accessing your Wish List and Purchased items, redeeming gift cards, and opening your Account Info. Replacing the media type pop-up menu of iTunes 11 is a lineup of icons at the left that display your Music, Movies, and TV
Shows, and you can choose to view other media by clicking the three-dot More icon (which includes an Edit feature so you can permanently add the icons of your favorite media types to this lineup).

You can also quickly switch to other media types using keyboard shortcuts (such as Command-1 for Music and Command-7 for Apps). These were available back in iTunes 11, but they’re now explicitly listed under the View menu. Clicking the Home Sharing icon to the left of the media type icons gives you quick access to other iTunes libraries stored on other networked computers. At the far right of each media type view, you’ll find a popover that provides additional sub-views for that media type, different ways to sort, and control over how far the Recently Added section looks back (six months by default).

Bringing Back the Sidebar — Sidebar purists (such as myself) might be a little cheesed off by the starkness of the My Music view, but you can easily return to the sidebar by clicking the Playlists text button placed in the top middle of each media type view. This selection is sticky, so if you choose to view Playlists in Music, and then head over to view the Movies media type, you’ll return to Playlists once you select Music again. However, the iTunes Store view (available in all the media types, save for Tones and Internet Radio) trumps this stickiness. If you select iTunes Store while in Movies and then choose the Music media type, you’ll find yourself still in the
iTunes Store — only switched to the Music section.

You have more control over the views within individual playlists in iTunes 12. Select a playlist, and then click the sub-views button at the far right to select different ways of viewing that playlist’s media. The Songs, Albums, and Artists views replace the List, Grid, and Artist List views from iTunes 11, and iTunes 12 adds Composers and Genres views to the mix. Each view also has its own additional options. For example, Songs enables you to choose sort order as well as what columns to display and whether to
show album art, while Albums provides two-step sorting (such as first by Artist and then by Title, Rating, or Genre).

Shifting the Info — The Get Info dialog (select a file, and then choose File > Get Info or press Command-I) also gets an overhaul with a much cleaner look and shifting around of panes (the former Summary pane with file info such as bit rate and modification date is now the File pane at the far right). I got excited when I saw the Add Field button on the Details pane, thinking that it was a gateway to creating custom fields; unfortunately, it only provides access to fields that are currently unused and thus hidden from view. It might look like the fields in Get Info are static, but you can click the visible text to make the field editable.

Activating the MiniPlayer — The MiniPlayer button found in the top right corner of iTunes 11 has disappeared in iTunes 12, but the MiniPlayer itself remains. You must now click the cover art thumbnail in the playback control area at the top of iTunes 12 to switch to the MiniPlayer (or press Command-Shift-M; pressing Command-Option-M displays the MiniPlayer next to the full iTunes window). To switch to the most minimal MiniPlayer size, click the Hide Large Artwork button in the top left corner (under the Close Window button), and then drag either side inward to eliminate the album artwork thumbnail on the MiniPlayer.

Connecting Devices — When you connect an iOS device to your Mac, a new Device view icon appears to the right of the three-dot More icon. (If you’ve set a device to sync with iTunes over Wi-Fi, the Device icon appears automatically with that iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch selected.) Clicking a device’s name opens the standard Summary view as well as the sidebar with views of options for syncing different media types and what’s currently residing on your device. If you have multiple devices connected to your Mac, their names appear just below the playback control area; click a name to switch to that device.

If you have the Playlists view open to any of the media types, you’ll also see any connected devices in the sidebar; click the expansion triangle to see what media is stored on the device. Drag files from the iTunes media view (such as Music) to the device to move it there without having to go through a full sync operation.

Wrapping It Up — While there’s not much functionally new in iTunes 12, the cleaned-up interface can be a bit of a mystery for some who are looking for their favorite features (such as the sidebar or MiniPlayer). But once you’ve discovered those, I think iTunes 12’s new interface should actually make it easier to move around within the app.

As usual, iTunes 12 is a free download from the Apple Web site or via Software Update. Version 12.0.1 requires OS X 10.7.5 Lion or later.

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