Apple has released iTunes 10.2, a minor upgrade that hides a number of interesting changes. Apple mentions only support for syncing under iOS 4.3 and improved Home Sharing, although iTunes 10.2 for Windows also receives some security fixes.
But looking closely at iTunes 10.2, there are some noticeable changes to other features as well, though, luckily, nothing that makes my advice in “Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ” ebook obsolete. Let’s start with the preferences, where there are a number of changes.
The Show section in the General preferences, which lets you decide which types of items to display in the sidebar, includes a new choice: Shared Libraries. In theory this enables you to turn off the display of the Shared category and the shared libraries underneath it, but in back-and-forth testing, it doesn’t seem to work reliably.
The Sharing preferences adds a welcome option: “Home Sharing computers and devices update play counts.” I’ve often avoided using sharing to play back iTunes content, because I want play counts, and last played dates, to update when I play something. I’m a bit obsessive about this; I want to know what I’ve played and when, and I use a number of smart playlists with these conditions. Both of these items — plays and last played date — are updated, even though the preference only mentions play counts.
The Store preferences has lost one item: “Use full window for iTunes Store.” There is, however, now a View > Use Full Window for iTunes Store command. Does anyone really use that?
The Device preferences has lost the “Look for remote speakers connected with AirPlay” setting. This is another change that affects sharing; presumably, iTunes will always look for remote speakers now, as well as iOS devices that they can stream to.
The Advanced preferences are now missing the “Use iTunes for Internet playback” setting; I don’t recall iTunes ever nudging its way into the playback of any Internet content on my Macs. It has also removed the Streaming Buffer Size option, which applied to streaming content or the download of previews from the iTunes Store.
Gone are the dismal, Soviet-inspired silver-gray icons for the different preference panes, at least for some of them. The General and Advanced icons are still gray, as they generally are in other programs, and the Playback icon is still silvery — imitating the silver sheen of the Play button in the iTunes controls. But the four other icons are blue, green, yellow and black. When iTunes 10 was released, one of the big interface complaints was this loss of color, and Apple seems to have done an about-face here. (Apple has not, however, added color to the sidebar icons.)
One other menu item has a minor change. The Advanced > Open Audio Stream command has become simply Open Stream.
The new Home Sharing system has an interesting feature. If, in the Energy Saver preferences, you check “Wake for network access” on one of your Macs, and have iTunes running with Home Sharing enabled on that Mac, and then put it to sleep, its library will remain visible in iTunes on other Macs. If you then click on that library on another Mac, the sleeping Mac will awaken, and the library will load.
In initial usage, iTunes 10.2 seems a tad snappier, notably when deleting files from a large library. This is something that, with my library of more than 65,000 items, could take a couple of seconds, and present the spinning beachball. While I haven’t had time to test this very much, deletion is nearly instantaneous now.
Importing files from CD seems a bit faster as well; previously, there was a noticeable lag at the end of each track, during which iTunes would display the beachball as it, apparently, was writing the file. While I still see the beachball, when it goes away the next track is well on its way to being imported; in the past, this was not the case.
The main reason for this update is to provide compatibility with the iPad 2 and iOS 4.3, both due on 11 March 2011, but Apple has done some work under the hood. While changing preferences is relatively minor, some apparent minor speed enhancements are certainly a good thing for anyone with a large library. Again, these are first impressions, and I’ll have to test this a bit more to see if these speed increases show up anywhere else.
[Kirk McElhearn is a Senior Contributor to Macworld, an occasional contributor to TidBITS, and writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. Kirk’s latest book is “Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ.”]