The latest version of Apple's iTunes software (version 7.7) expands the offerings for iPod, Apple TV, and iPhone users. The popular Windows and Mac jukebox application has come a long way since version 6. Its integrated iTunes Store includes feature-length movies, TV shows, games, a free University lecture podcast section titled iTunesU, a selection of unrestricted (DRM-free) music downloads called iTunes Plus, and a newly added App Store offering third-party applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch. iTunes 7.7 has taken on an ambitious amount of features since the days of iTunes 6, but the essence of iTunes remains: it is an intuitive and (mostly) all-inclusive refueling point for iPods as well as a media platform that aims to be part of your living room.
iTunes 7's interface
There are several ways to view and arrange your computer's media library in iTunes 7, but one interface element remains constant--the source panel. Located on the far left side of iTunes, the vertical baby-blue strip known as the source panel includes separated sections for Library (Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Applications, Radio, Ringtones), Store, Devices (your iPods or iPhones), Shared Libraries, and Playlists. Selecting a source reveals all of its content in iTunes' main viewing pane, which offers an exhaustive amount of ways to sort and view content.
In addition to the plain-vanilla listing of your tracks and movies, you get two additional views. First new option: a simple list grouped with large album art, and a second option dubbed Cover Flow. The Cover Flow view displays a big window (that can be resized) for a virtual shelf of album art or movie covers, which reflect elegantly against the black background. You can scroll through and watch the graphics whiz by, or you can point and click one. Content associated with an album or a movie cover spills down below. As a new song plays, the appropriate cover will flip into place. Owners of slower systems will notice processor lags, though the gee-whiz visual appeal of this feature offers an extra dimension to the listening experience.
Integrated device management
Your iPod and iPhone settings are all managed within the iTunes interface. The main landing page displays a graphic and vital stats of your iPod or iPhone and allows you to check off universal settings, such as "Only sync checked items." Additionally, you can Update or Restore your iPod or iPhone from this Summary page. Content is managed by clicking tabs for specific content types such as Music, Movies, TV Shows, and Contacts. Finally, at the bottom of this window is a color-coded capacity meter that visually breaks down Audio, Video, Photo, Other, and Free Space. Competing applications such as Windows Media Player offer similar integrated management options; however, the use of a nested window rather than a new one helps.
This is a Source pane 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. You can also pause a single download or pause all downloads, and it's a great way to keep track of interrupted downloads.
Automatic album art retrieval
With Apple's emphasis on album artwork in both iTunes and the devices served by iTunes (iPhone, iPod, Apple TV), it can be jolting to come across an album with missing cover art. Apple makes it easy to automatically add artwork to you music collection by matching your music with album art from its iTunes Store catalog. The Get Album Artwork feature (found under the Advanced menu), can take several minutes to process your music library. We've noticed that iTunes has improved its ability to automatically retrieve album art compared with the spotty results we experienced in an earlier version of iTunes 7, but you'll still have some gaps in cover art that you'll have to hunt down manually.