iTunes 9 Software Walkthrough

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Along with iPhone 3.1 and the new iPod nano, iTunes 9 was the big news at Apple's It's only rock and roll but I like it annual music event. And for iPhone and iPod touch users -- our focus here at TiPb -- a large part of that 3.1 update (see our iPhone 3.1 walkthrough) comes from iTunes 9.

Last things first, no, it wasn't re-written as a 64-bit app, or in Cocoa for the Mac. (Get of our iLawn!) However, with iPhone and iPod touch users firmly in mind, let's take a look at the new features we did get...

Improved Syncing and App Organization

Syncing is more robust in iTunes 9, with more panels and more options within each panel (especially Applications).

The Summary tab, if you're syncing an iPhone 3GS, now includes a "configure for universal access" option, which pops up something very similar to iPhone 3.1's universal access menu if home button triple-click is enabled.

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The Applications tab received the most stupendous make-over. Instead of a raw list with check boxes, you're presented with a more useful list view on the left, showing app icons, category and the file size. You can sort by name, category, or date of download, and there's even a handy search box. On the right is a replica of your iPhone home screen, along with thumbnails of additional home screens along the right hand side. (iPhone 3.x allows 11 home screens).

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 7.51.33 PMScreen shot 2009-09-12 at 11.11.21 PM

You can still add apps to the sync list by checking or unchecking them, but you can now also add them by dragging the icon directly to the home screen -- and exact position on the home screen -- you want them. To delete them, just select the app on the home screen and click on the X, just like on the iPhone in "jiggly" mode. (And no, you still can't delete Apple's built-in apps, sorry!) Likewise, you can move icons around on -- and between the different -- home screen representations, making it much easier and faster to get the exact iPhone layout you want (when you apply your changes and sync them over). You can also drag iPhone home screen pages around to re-order them, much like PowerPoint slides in thumbnail view.

The Music tab (yes, we're skipping Ringtones, it's fairly pedestrian) gives you a bit more control, as now in addition to the previous ways you could sync music, you can also choose to move across entire artists and genres. You can also choose to have iTunes automatically fill up any space you may have remaining on your (now potentially beefier 32GB iPhone and 64GB(!) iPod touch) with music. (We didn't test this, but presumably it doesn't do Genius fills... yet!). No album art deco, here, however.

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The Movies tab has been liberated from the generic iTunes 8 "videos" catch-all to get its own space, and it uses it well. Poster art is displayed, along with run time, file size, and age-rating. You can choose to automatically sync, or just check the ones you want.

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 11.25.59 PM

The TV Shows tab, similarly liberated, now has a two column view showing artwork and, in the epic win category, a second column where you can choose exactly which episodes of a given show you want to sync over (no more generic "last 3..." whatever! -- though you can still choose to automatically fill that way if you like.)

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The Podcasts tab allows for the same episode-by-episode custom syncing options as TV Shows. Did I say epic win already?

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The iTunes U tab, independent now from Podcasts, nevertheless gets the same new features.

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 11.45.02 PM

The Photos tab, for iPhoto users on the Mac, is a much more significant update than it is for PC users. If you have iPhone 09, you can now sync based on folder, event, and faces (if you've gone through the facial recognition process and set some up). You can also choose to sync and videos in iPhone, such as those you took with your iPhone 3GS. Once synced across, they'll appear in the photo galleries on the iPhone just as they did in the camera roll on the 3GS. Great addition.

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 11.45.18 PM

Bottom line, the syncing really is much improved, especially for apps.

iTunes App

Subtle differences the gradients in the iTunes chrome aside, there are a few changes worth noting in the iTunes app itself. First, the sidebar has been tweaked, with iTunes U broken out and iTunes Genius Mixes added (though you need to update Genius first to get it to show -- more on that later).

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 7.49.03 AM

Music gets new column displays, and better options for organizing them.

Apps are now full citizens in the iTunes interface, with list, "album", and CoverFlow views, to help better manage all of our growing app collections.

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 8.22.19 AMScreen shot 2009-09-13 at 8.20.04 AMScreen shot 2009-09-13 at 8.22.11 AM

For Music, Movies, and TV Shows (but strangely now Applications, Ringtunes, or other purchasable content), if your library is empty, instead of showing you that emptiness, iTunes will show you how to go about filling it.

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 8.43.43 AM

If you let iTunes automatically manage your folders, there's a new, better organized way of doing it. If you're upgrading to iTunes 9, however, you have to manually tell it you want to switch to the new format (File > Library > Organize Library). The new format stops dumping movies, TV shows, and other video at the same directory level as music artists, and now puts the alongside the top music folder proper (though the overall folder is still, strangely, still called iTunes Music). Regardless, a great change and about time.

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 7.47.34 AM

Speaking of about time, one of the new folders is called Automatically Add to iTunes, and iTunes will watch this folder and automatically add any new, compatible content to the library. (Incompatible content is isolated and flagged as such). So, if you get your content from a service other than iTunes, you can have it download here and iTunes will still see it and add it. Longtime coming, this feature. And -- pow! -- take that faux-monopoly pundits.

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 8.18.17 AM

Lastly, on the Mac, the green widow button at the top left no longer switches between the regular iTunes window and tiny player. It now uses default Mac behavior of switching between full size and user-defined size. To get to the tiny player, you can alt-click the green button or use the menu or keyboard shortcut (shift+cmd m).

Genius Mixes

Added to Genius Playlists are Genius Mixes, though in a very un-Apple-like way, it's not immediately intuitive where to find them. That's because you can't find them until you go to the Store menu and choose Update Genius. (Tip of the hat to TUAW).

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 8.50.26 AM

Once that's done, Genius Mix will pop up in the sidebar beneath Genius Playlists and... create a few mixes you can't view a list of or edit or alter in any way (you can only see 4 album covers stitched together to represent the mix). Apple made them sound like radio stations, which aside from calling in requests, you have zero control over anyway, but still, this feature feels a little incomplete right now.

iTunes will create up to 12 Genius Mixes depending on how much music it finds and can work with. I got 4. 2 of those were soundtrack mixes with similar soundtracks. Apple says you might discover music you forgot you had. I sure did. Deleted some of it...

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 7.50.00 PM

Your results will hopefully be better, and if they are, you can sync the resulting Genius Mix Playlists over to your iPhone or iPod.

iTunes Home Sharing

No, it won't let you elegantly sync your iPhone or iPod from different, authorized machines. Unfortunately, that holy-grain of functionality still eludes us. (Granted, it may be complicated to properly sync when, for example, you have a movie in your iTunes library on a large desktop drive, but don't happen to have it on your smaller laptop library -- but we know you can do it, Apple!)

Home Sharing is, however, an improvement on the plain vanilla streaming that was provided in previous versions of iTunes. Now, once you've properly authorized your computer for Home Sharing (and you're limited to 5 authorizations, as before) using your iTunes username and password, you can not only see and play media on other machines, you can copy it from one machine to another. What's more, you can set up iTunes to automatically copy any new media from one machine to another, allowing you to keep that home theater machine in sync with the home office machine and laptop, for example. However, iTunes will only automatically copy content your buy over the iTunes store. If you get your media from somewhere else, it's up to you to copy it over, manual-style. Also, display of a shared library is limited to list view, which is odd considering Back to My Mac can display network folders in icon or CoverFlow view just fine. Perhaps Home Sharing is another of those early introductions that will mature in time (with multi-machine iPhone sync, right?)

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One really nice feature that is in place, however, is a handy Show drop down at the bottom. You can flip it from All items to Items not in my library, a perfect way to find content you may have missed copying over.

Screen shot 2009-09-13 at 9.44.06 AM

iTunes 9 Store

The iTunes 9 Store has a new look and feel. First of all, it's whiter. The backgrounds, that is. Except where they're black, in the Movies and TV section, and framed in blue for iTunes U. Way to nail down that consistency.

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The new backgrounds, expect for iTunes U (which has been re-organized and separated out from Podcasts where it used to live), look both roomier and less well segmented at the same time. There's also a new, almost iPhone-esque black menu bar which introduces the the drop-down to iTunes. It's convenient, if a tad gauche at this point.

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When you search, results share the new, breathable layout, and easy, iconified filters appear in a sidebar on the left.

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 10.02.35 PM

Definitely more usable than before, though I'm not sure the little "buy now" with drop menus on the side will ever grow on me. You can, however, use them to gift, add to wishlist (yes, wishlists replace shopping carts in iTunes 9), copy the link, tell a friend, or share via Facebook or Twitter.

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 10.02.55 PM

Social media integration was one of the big rumors preceding iTunes 9, with everything up to a "social app" and massive cloud-served, crowd-sourced recommendation engine said to be on the horizon. Turns out you can just autofill a Twitter form with the item in question. It's a first step, to be certain, albeit a tiny little one.

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 10.07.09 PM

A few of the larger changes, we'll cover separately.

iTunes LP and iTunes Extras

HT3823_LP3iTunes LP, much gossiped about under the code-name Cocktail, is an attempt to either harness the nostalgia of by-gone days when vinyl records played on turn-tables and hours were consumed listening and pouring over cover art, liners, lyrics, and other assorted goodies, or dodgy scheme to get people to buy entire albums again instead of cherry-picking singles.

Likely its equal parts both. There are only 7 iTunes LP-format items available as of this writing, some for purchase (like the Doors), some as part of an iTunes Pass (like Dave Matthews). Four more are listed as available for pre-purchase.

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 10.28.42 PMScreen shot 2009-09-12 at 10.28.53 PMoverlay_lp_1_20090909overlay_lp_2_20090909

iTunes_ExtrasiTunes Extras are the movie equivalent, similar to the extra features you could previously only find on DVDs. Like iTunes LP, there's limited selection right now, and half of that is pre-order. And, what's a deal-breaker for me, it doesn't appear to be in HD (yet?)

Screen shot 2009-09-12 at 10.29.04 PMScreen shot 2009-09-12 at 10.33.18 PMoverlay_extra_4_20090909overlay_extra_5_20090909

There's a lot going on under the covers (so to speak) with both iTunes LP and iTunes Extras, including more WebKit interactive goodness, and a refreshing lack of DRM (keep it up!), but the 720p format of some of the material makes us think it's less intended for the iPhone (indeed, it's iTunes bound right now), and more for eventual Apple TV and... iTablet use.

Says Apple's support article:

The songs or featured movies can be viewed directly on iPhone, iPod touch, or Apple TV, but iTunes LP or iTunes Extras can only be viewed from within iTunes on an authorized computer. In order to view the complete iTunes LP or iTunes Extras, transfer the song or movie from your device to your iTunes library on the computer that contains the downloaded iTunes LP or iTunes Extras.

Like any new feature, or variation on a format, they're going to squeak a little right now when they turn around too fast, but it will be interesting to see how they develop.

Conclusion

iTunes 9 is free and has enough great new features for iPhone and iPod touch owners, especially the new App Management interface, that it's an easy upgrade to recommend. While not all of the new features appear fully mature yet, that's why they're new and hopefully Apple will continue to both evolve and refine them as they have with previously introduced features.

What will be especially interesting is watching Apple handle iTunes growth and -- according to some, -- bloat. The equal and opposite reaction to increased functionality is loss of focus, and iTunes going from a simple music player to a complex media and sync manager hasn't come without a price. Apple will need to work hard to make sure it's a price most users continue to be willing to pay.

As always, if any of you iTunes ninja notice that we've missed whole swathes of great new, if harder to find, functionality in the latest release of Apple's media hub, let us know in the comments and we'll update.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 35 comments. Add yours.

Chris Vitek says:

I don't know if it is just me, but iTunes 9 seems a little buggy. I have my Macbook and my PC, both with iTunes 9 and with home sharing on, but they don't "find" each other. My wife's computer keeps getting an 9812 error with iTunes 9 when she tries to login (either home sharing, the store, anything) even though with version 8 there was no problem. One of my computers doesn't show the iTunes mixes, even though it has the same songs that another computer has.

Dev says:

Faux monopoly pundits? You are cherry picking a totally irrelevant point. Microsoft made it very easy to migrate from or import content from other platforms and applications, too. It did not make them any less (or more) of a monopolist.
The test of a monopoly platform - of any closed platform, really - is not how easily you can get something in, it is how easily you can get something out when you need to use it differently than the company intended.

Al says:

Thorough as always Rene. Excellent job!

fastlane says:

Nice walkthrough. Sure beats having to find everything myself.

Joe McG says:

I think it's pretty dumb that you have to jump through hoops to get the new genius stuff to work. Shoulda been done in the installer package.

Hakala says:

Is it me or did you just mean to say iPhoto 09? It came out iPhone 09 and I've heard of no such thing as an iPhone 09. But maybe I'm just out of the loop. Ha don't forget to reread your article before you post it! Lol ha.

Frank Lowney says:

One of the features that Apple has improved but not perfected yet in iTunes 9 and iPhoneOS 3.1 is the ability to download iTunes U content directly to the iPhone or iPod touch. Discovering, previewing and downloading work pretty much as advertised and described in Apple's video tutorial on the subject (see: http://www.apple.com/education/mobile-learning/).
The murky part is what happens after that, after one synchs the iPhone or iPod touch. Apple's intent is a bit hard to read here and, of course, they haven't offered any documentation that I can find.
There is some evidence of synching back to iTunes 9 from the mobile device but whether and how that happens appears to depend upon various things. It it from a public or authenticated iTunes U site? Is it from a Top 10 or Categories listing?
Clearing all of this up would be a great service I would think.

jodiz1 says:

I love the genius mix feature. Don't like the new store colors/layout. It seems too busy to me.

Frank says:

Developers are complaining about the new design saying it does not give them the sane exposure as iTunes 8. Some developers say they have seen sales drop 20% since the debut of the new iTunes UI.

Kevin F. says:

I have also noticed a print feature under the file menu. This feature lets you print out a list of any of your libraries, be it your Music, Movies, TV shows, Podcasts, Applications, Ringtones, or Playlists. Please forgive if this feature was included in iTunes 6,7, or 8 and I hadn't noticed til now. Still a very cool feature IMHO.

Coach Brown says:

My podcasts are totally out of chronological order. Anyone else finding podcast sorting issues with iTunes 9?

matt_wood87 says:

A new feature that i've noticed, (or removal of feature as it turns out) is before the update if i couldn't get the album artwork for an album i had imported from a CD i would find album and one of its tracks on the store, right click it and select "get info". I would then see a dialogue box containing the pertinent information about the song such as title, artist name, composer, album artist, year, track number. If i then copied this information into the "get info" box of the song in my itunes library and tried to get the album artwork again, more often than not it worked.
now when i load up the itunes store and find the song i want to check the tags for i can no longer right click on it to get the information, i can only left click it to play a sample.
is it possible to access the "get info" information in the store anymore, if not does anyone have any good suggestions for fixing the tags on songs so that itunes recognises them and will download artwork for them and recognise them for genius.

icebike says:

If you click the Now-Paying window it Pops out.
Was this always there? If so I totally missed it.

Steve says:

Coach Brown mentioned podcasts out of correct order. I have the same problem with iTunes-U content. On my iPhone lectures appear in random order.

Johnny Knoxville says:

Does the iPhone need to be updated to 3.1 to get the App Management screen. All I see in iTunes in the app listing on the left, but no screens on the right?

Simon says:

@Steve
I've got the same problem with iTunes U content in random order.

Jerzyflix says:

I used to have a playlist with my "best of" podcasts, but now this playlist won't download to my ipod; the playlist is still visible on my computer, but won't sync up anymore. Anybody have similar situation?

Nate says:

@matt_wood87: I found the same problem. If you go to view->Show Column Browser, you can eventually get to the info, but it's a lot more work than it used to be

TonyM says:

Has anyone found a fix to get iTunes 9 to put Podcasts into chronological order on iPhones and iTouch? The random order is making my studying study a chore ... :-D

TonyM says:

FIO I found this on the Apple Support site:
I spoke to Apple tech support. This is not an iTunes issue, it's the iPod/iPhone 3.1 OS. The podcast and playlist sequence is correct in the iTune library and when viewing the playlist on the device when it is mounted to iTunes. The sequence is incorrect on the iPhone running OS 3.1
I sync'ed my iTouch running OS 3.0 to iTunes 9.0 and the same playlists that were out of sequence on the iPhone (OS 3.1) are correctly sequenced on the iTouch (OS 3.0).
Hopefully a fix will come soon.

Roger says:

ene, I couldn't find the Automatically Add to iTunes folder, is it an exclusive feature for Macs? If not, where is it exactly? Thanks!

TY says:

I'm having the same problem with Podcasts being out of order. I listen to a radio show, divided into 4 separate 1 hour segments. These appear to be in a random order now. The name is identical, except they end in: hour 1, hour 2, etc.
I have even tried renaming with a number in the beginning of the name, but it still syncs in a random order.

Sheila says:

I am having difficulty syncing my iphone with itunes 9. It keeps giving me an error message!!

Dwood says:

iTunes 9 is killing me. I just got a new iPhone 3gs 5 days ago well they set it up at AT&T I brought it home had to dl newer version of iTunes(mine was outdated not recognizing new iPhone I had 1g b4) so then I tried to register it cuz I bought a protection plan won't let me an unknown error (-2096). Then I restored it when
in emergency mode til this morning I got back to AT&T. I cannot buy apps or anything it sucks. Btw I'm hookin my iPhone up to MacBook also.

Dwood says:

It allows me to sync but not access the iTunes store it keeps saying unknown error apple needs to fix this crap

Barrack Obama says:

This new iTunes version 9 really is lagging what it needs to operate. 8.2 much better. In response to what someone earlier said with it not allowing to sync. Well it allows me to sync but not access the iTunes store it keeps saying unknown error apple needs to fix this quickly. Since I have the new iPhone like the above will 8.2 operate with this iPhone? Thanks Americans anyhelp much appreciated

RayChilds says:

I've noticed the same thing as a lot of you with regards to podcasts syncing out of order.
Prior to the iTunes 9 upgrade, when I would drag+drop podcasts to my iTouch it would always have them in chronological order. So when I would listen to hour 1 of a sports show, it would go directly to hour number 2 when the first hour finished. Now, after hour 1 it goes to a podcast from a month ago. Incredibly annoying and i have yet to find a solution. It MUST be a bug.
Has anyone troubleshooted to see if you can figure out how it's currently being sorted?

RayChilds says:

THE PODCAST PLAYLIST ORDER ISSUE'S BEEN FIXED IN THE LATEST ITUNES UPDATE!

Catman says:

Is everybody ignoring the glaring disaster zone of confusion that is the Radio section of Ver. 9? This version has dropped such well known categories such as Public (as in Public Radio), Folk, Latino, Ambient (was restored after massive outcry), etc. Many feeds were relegated to ill-fitting categories such as Eclectic or College/University. Some clear misfits are IranianRadio.com (Traditional Somati) stuck in Classical instead of International. SFSound (Electronic, Experimental, etc) thrust into Classical (many beg to differ on that one). It is obvious that the iTunes staff doesn't really listen to very many categories ou there, so we should be perhaps grateful that Staff Favorites is now buried somewhere out of sight.
What is Apple finding it so hard to build a simple search engine into the Radio section, so we mere mortals could find our favorites?
http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2151073

Bon Hommie says:

What is going on with the iTunes builders. The Radio directory is totally insane. They went and messed with a perfectly workable solution. Now I challenge anyone to find a specific favorite feed.

RF says:

In the movies sync tab, can I still get it in List/raw form with check boxes on the left-most column followed by the movie titles and other info on the right? The movies sync screen under iTunes in icon mode is difficult to manage and verifying which ones are on the portable device is a pain.
Thaks

Chauncey LePeu says:

Another bug with iTunes 9 is that you can't rename songs or any of the other entries in "music." Click on the song name and it doesn't highlight.

Chan Ron says:

Since upgrading to version 9, I keep receiving error while syncing music with my ipod. Only able to sync up to 10% of music. Does anyone experiencing the same problem.

sweetpop11 says:

i accidently downloaded the new software when I plugged in my iphone (16gig) and it went into "lock" mode, which means i can only call emergency calls. Apple tricks you into downloading the newest software so you cant use your iphone and so Apple earns more money. How do I take my iphone out of lock mode?