Three new iPods were announced this morning in San Francisco (get the first takes here), and at first glance, they look great from design, features, and price perspectives. But it's the latest version of iTunes that steals the show, or should I say, the movie? iTunes 7 introduces, among a laundry list of new features, movies from Disney, Miramax Films, Touchstone Pictures, and a handful of other Disney-related studios. While other major studios are missing (presumably because they aren't seeing eye to eye with Apple's pricing scheme), the overall value of both iTunes' movie section and iTunes itself has been upgraded.
First off, movies such as A Bug's Life and Good Will Hunting (over 75 at launch-- kind of measly) are available today at a resolution of 640x480, an appreciable increase from the original iTunes TV show offerings of 320x240. TV shows are available at this increased resolution, as well. This means that content downloaded will actually be watchable on a computer or a TV screen. The previous 320x240 made for either annoying small screen viewing or artifact-ridden full screens.
Now back to the iTunes application itself. The iTunes 7 interface been upgraded not only to represent movies in the new "iTunes Store," but new interface, management, and graphical features have been implemented as well to increase both utility and wow-factor. Among the upgrades:
This is the main navigation area on the left-hand column where, in iTunes 6, content genres and playlists spilled down in a semiorganized fashion. Now it's organized into distinct sections, such as Library (Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Radio), Store (iTunes Store, Purchased), Devices (these will be your various iPods or other portable devices), Shared, and Playlists. It's feels scientific. Better organization, yes, but you'll still have to scroll down, as the headers add several lines to the list.
Though we've already seen utilities that can do this, iTunes will now add album art from its catalog to tracks you've added to your collection without album art. In other words, your artless-MP3s will most likely have album art once they've gone through the iTunes ringer, and that will make your music collection feel complete. We'll let you know how well this feature works in our full review, but so far it seems it didn't do a good job on my MP3 collection.
This one is rad. In addition to the plain-vanilla listing of your tracks and movies, you get two additional views. First option: A simple list grouped with large album art; we've seen this before in Windows Media Player, so it's not original, but it's definitely an improvement. The second option, dubbed Cover Flow, displays a big window for a "virtual shelf" of album art or movie covers. You can scroll through and watch the graphics whiz by, or select one with a mouse. Down below, the content associated to the graphic appears. The realistic graphics give music an additional dimension. Very useful, very cool, and very Apple.
Now you can manage your iPod settings within the iTunes interface rather than opening up a new preference window to do the same. Also, you're now allowed to move songs off the iPod as long as the recipient computer is authorized to listen to or view the content. This stuff just rings of user-friendliness.
This is a Source option that appears when you purchase content. Basically, it lists your selections along with a progress meter, and it's very useful if you want to reorder the queue to get the song or movie you want quicker.
Yipeee! Many music fanatics (especially those who like dance music) now can enjoy their music without annoying gaps. I think this is a valuable feature that should be implemented more throughout the MP3 world. The new iPods boast the same feature, which, by the way, was found in the old Rio Karma and in the current Archos 04 series of PVPs.
If you look in the iTunes Store, you'll notice that graphics, text, and organization of content is more refined. Also, you'll notice that the iTunes Store now sells games for $4.99--these are definitely better than the old stock games, and they work only on the iPod (not the Nano).
Now if there's an early complaint, we'd love to see movies available at higher than 640x480; these are after all, movies that we're buying for nearly the same price as a DVD. And of course, we'd like to see a better selection of movies, though we have a feeling that we'll see them soon. We'll have a full review of iTunes 7 soon. In the meantime, check out iTunes 7 for yourself by downloading the application for free.