My initial impressions of iTunes 7 were very positive (read to the bottom for the very big BUT).
Top of the list of welcome new ‘features’ for me is that (finally) recordings that contain without pauses between tracks are now played back without (amazingly enough) pauses between tracks. This means that my collection of Fabric Mix CDs can now be enjoyed as intended, without the need to separately rip the whole CD as a single track. If only my iPod would exhibit similar behaviour!
Cover Flow – the ability to browse the contents of your library by the flipping through the album art, did initially seem like rather gratuitous (but nicely executed) eye candy. Nonetheless, I have to confess I’ve become rather seduced by it. The interplay between the visual display and the library text view is very useful. Click the genre column in the text view to sort your library by genre. Scroll to the desired genre, and you can then use Cover Flow to navigate visually through your collection by genre.
This turns out to be rather helpful – recognition of images is far easier than scanning (very) long lists of text for the desired item. Surely, this feature will soon appear in Front Row? The ability to navigate your collection with a remote from across the room in this way would be a useful, and visually seductive method of interaction.
Of course, any mention of the benefits of Cover Flow also requires mention of the fact that iTunes can now gather cover art automatically for you (assuming the images exist in the iTunes music store). There’s clearly the potential for privacy issues here – I can imagine Apple being subpoenaed for records of who’s been encoding what, by record companies. Still, for the time being, Apple states that they do not keep any information regarding the contents of your music library, and the CDDB functionality (present from day one) could theoretically, be used for similarly nefarious purposes. I’d conclude that we have to give up a little information if we want our applications to be more useful.
The administration of your iPod is now better implemented too. A mounted device now has a whole series of pages, directly accessible from within the application (as opposed to a preferences pane). This addition further improves the relationship between the device and the application.
Now… on to the negative. I bought 4 CDs yesterday. Arriving home late last night, I was hoping to quickly import them for inclusion on my iPod. What on earth has happened to CD Importing? It has become unbelievably slow! I actually thought that my Superdrive was broken, or that CD manufacturers have started encoding deliberate errors in manufactured CDs to cause ripping problems. I believe that the ripping of each CD was slower than playing the thing for real! At the very least, I ended up only encoding two of the four CDs before giving up and going to bed. I’m doing the remaining two this morning.
This is a huge step backwards for me, and compromises one of the core functions of the app very heavily. Conspiracy theorists will no doubt suggest that Apple are slowly trying to move users towards buying all music rather than encoding it (at the behest of the record companies) but I’d like to hope that is just a bug, and will be remedied in due course. Nonetheless, I’ve considered finding a way to downgrade to version 6 in the meantime. The new features are nice, but I need to import CDs in a time frame that’s measured in minutes, not hours.
Predicting the demise of the iPod and iTunes is clearly a popular sport, and a pretty safe bet given Apple could hardly become more dominant in this space. The only real uncertainty is the scale of the demise. I have begun to wonder this week however, if the change is beginning to occur.
The new iPod nano is the first new iPod whose design has underwhelmed me. I’ve only seen images, but the original Nano remains a far more attractive object to me – the new coloured cases leave the nano looking more like the original iPod mini, and consequently, as if Apple are running out of ideas. Of course, there are limits to how far the form factor can be changed, and why fix something that’s not broken? But on a purely subjective level, this is the first evolution of the iPod that hasn’t had me secretly wanting to go out and buy one, despite already owning a fully functioning 60Gb iPod Photo. Of course – the new Shuffle design does redeem them considerably!