Hands on: iTunes 11
Apple's iTunes 11.
Apple giveth and Apple taketh away when it comes to features in the new-look iTunes.
To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to upgrading to iTunes 11. Apple has an annoying habit of stripping out desktop functionality in order to mimic the iPad, which was painfully evident in the upgrade to Lion. Cupertino's habit of deciding what's best for everyone wears thin after a while.
It's the concept of "next" that's new here, sort of replacing iTunes DJ which let you drag songs around in a dynamic playlist.
If you dig around you'll find that Apple has indeed scrapped a number of minor but useful features in iTunes 11. To be honest they're mostly features which I don't use, but that's not the point. iTunes power users are entitled to be annoyed that Apple has removed existing functionality for little more than aesthetic reasons. Having other people turn around and say "but I didn't use that anyway" only adds insult to injury.
When you dive into iTunes 11 the first thing you'll notice is that the long-standing sidebar is missing, which lists your libraries, devices and playlists. You might feel a little lost without it, but thankfully you can click on the View menu to reinstate it. iTunes also defaults to displaying a grid of album covers, but it is still possible to switch back to list views offering extra detail which you can sort by column.
Looking around it's clear that Apple has made the font and icons a little bigger, mimicking the iOS look, which feels a little insulting at first but soon grows on you. A few things have also moved around, for example the AirPlay speaker icon is now at the top left alongside the volume slider -- once again bringing it into line with iOS conventions.
The way your music is listed has also altered slightly, with the changes most obvious when you switch to the artist view (pictured above). Artists are now listed in a column down the left, accompanied by one album cover. On the right you've got a large panel listing each album and its tracks. This is where the most significant changes to iTunes 11 become clear. Rather than simply choose "Play Selected" you've extra options; Play Next, Add to Up Next, Add to Playlist or Show in iTunes Store.
It's the concept of "next" that's new here, sort of replacing iTunes DJ which let you drag songs around in a dynamic playlist. The "Up Next" feature in iTunes 11 lets you see what's coming next if you've shuffled songs but, more importantly, it finally lets iTunes users cue up a list of songs as you already can in many other music applications and streaming services. The list icon, alongside the details of what's currently playing, now offers you a dropdown list of songs cued up to be played (along with the option to clear the Up Next list or see what you've played recently). You can drag songs up and down in the Up Next list or delete them.
The easiest way to add an album, track or playlist to the Up Next list is to drag and drop it onto the details of what's currently playing at the top of the iTunes window. When you let go you'll see the album cover shrink down into the list icon. Alternatively you can click the Plus symbol to add albums or tracks to the Up Next list. If you hold down the Option key, the Play symbols become Plus symbols. If you click on the arrow alongside albums and songs you'll get a dropdown menu which offers the Plus symbol for adding the album or song to the end of the Up Now list, as well as the option to Play Next which puts it at the start of the Up Next list and bumps the rest down.
While Up Next is a welcome addition to iTunes 11, a number of features have been dumped along the way. The once praised Cover Flow has been scrapped, as has the ability to see the album cover in list view. The latter is the more frustrating for me, as it was my default iTunes view. The ability to open multiple windows has also gone, which seems nothing more than bloody-minded aping of iOS. We've also lost the ability to display duplicates when sorting your iTunes library, as well as edit gapless playback, both handy features which surely didn't have to go.
All up there's probably more to like about iTunes 11 than to dislike, but it all depends on which features you relied on the most. As always, it seems Apple knows best.