iTunes has sorely needed a way to control music for a long time (usually left up to third-party apps) so it's nice to see this addition in the software.
The iTunes Store
Along with the updates to the interface for browsing and using your content, the iTunes Store got a few interface tweaks of its own.
Album, movie box art, and app icons are bigger, showcasing the colorful artwork to catch your eye. Big, new featured items revolve horizontally with an arrow button on each side if you want to speed it along. On the main home screen, you still get new releases across the categories of content below the feature items, and most popular lists for each category (music, movies, books) are still over on the right.
The changes in the iTunes Store are not as drastic as your content library views mentioned above, but it just feels cleaner than it did in earlier versions. There are some smaller tweaks, however, such as a list of small icons to show more recommended songs than you would have seen before, but overall the iTunes Store is similar to earlier versions -- it just looks a lot better.
iTunes Radio and more in iTunes 11.1
With the September 18 release of iTunes 11.1, Apple added a few new features for finding your music, listening to podcasts, and discovering new music. One of the biggest features in iOS 7 is iTunes Radio, and now you'll be able to use it on your desktop. Simply search for an artist or song, or pick from several different genres to create streaming-radio stations. There are also Apple-curated stations that are great for discovering new music.
Speaking of radio, you now also can create a podcast radio station. The way it works is, you can add your favorite podcasts to a station, and iTunes will play them back to back, and even update the station with new podcasts when they become available.
A new Genius Shuffle feature is another cool way to listen to your music. Just start a song, then choose Genius Shuffle, and iTunes picks songs that are supposed to go together. You can find it under the Controls menu at the top, or by using Ctrl-space in Windows or Command-space on a Mac. I tried it on both Mac and Windows, and it seems to match up songs from similar genres pretty well.
Over the years iTunes has been too bloated, with too many features trying to do too many things. That hasn't changed very much. Navigating the new version doesn't feel particularly muddy to me regardless of platform, with fast response times while changing menus and even when loading different areas of the iTunes Store. So it doesn't feel very slow to use on either platform, but it does still take up a significant memory footprint -- especially on Windows. On the Mac, iTunes feels a bit more responsive and quicker to react, but I think that's been the case in past versions as well, so there's nothing new here.
iTunes hasn't always been as resource heavy, but as time went on, it almost couldn't avoid it. In the beginning, iTunes started out as a simple music player, but Apple later added the iTunes Store. Then there was iPod synchronization and iOS device management, more TV shows and movies, iOS apps, and later the Ping social network. Even before this update, iTunes was not only a media player, but stood as the storefront for every song, movie, app, book, and every other content type you could purchase. With iTunes accounting for so much of your media and device management, it was no wonder it wasn't as agile as it could be.
The past few updates before iTunes 11 showed improvement across platforms. With this refresh I was hoping for not just a streamlined interface, but also a streamlined app. Unfortunately, in my testing, I don't think I have both things yet. iTunes looks great, but it still takes up a large amount of memory, even when just using the MiniPlayer.
Admittedly, it's probably tough for Apple to slim down a piece of software that has to do so much (maybe it's just not possible). So should iTunes try to do less? I don't think so, but if you were hoping that iTunes would suddenly become a lightning-fast media hub, it sadly was not meant to be.
iTunes 11 is a worthwhile update for the new uncluttered layout, better integration between your library and the iTunes Store, and a MiniPlayer with just the right amount of controls to access your library without opening the main interface.
Aesthetically, it's a great update on both platforms, but the app still needs to cover so much ground that it can't do it without using a lot of your computer's resources. The app still works slightly better on a Mac than it does on a Windows machine, but I noticed marked improvements over older versions with responsiveness across both platforms when it come to navigating the various parts of the new interface.
In the end, if you're already an iTunes user or an Apple device owner, you should download this update even with the minor drawbacks. It's easier to use and the new interface makes sense, but don't expect a turbo boost on a program that does as much as iTunes does.