Apple is taking a similar approach with video, adding the sort of bonus material and extras found on DVDs to many of the popular movies and TV shows available through iTunes. The format is called iTunes Extras, but just like iTunes LP, none of the added material or special menus can be transferred to an iPod or iPhone.
Apple's Genius feature, added in iTunes 8, harnesses Apple's vast collection of iTunes song data to give you educated recommendations when it comes to what music or videos may interest you based on the media you already have. The same data can also be used to create instant 25-song Genius Playlists, built around any song in your library. In iTunes 9, Apple adds another use for its Genius song recommendations called Genius Mixes. To minimise the amount of time it takes to launch iTunes and start listening to great music, Genius Mixes are automatic mixes of music from your library based around a common genre, such as Rock, Classical, Pop or Jazz. The effect is similar to switching on a good radio station, surrendering song selection over to Apple's Genius technology, and trusting it not to mix your Zappa songs with Ella Fitzgerald.
Of all the new features included in iTunes 9, the most practical by far is Home Sharing. Up until now, multiple computers on a common network could use iTunes to stream content between computers, but were prevented from actually copying files back and forth. In iTunes 9, you can now bless locally networked computers with Home Sharing privileges, allowing unrestricted access to their music, videos, podcasts, apps and playlists, which can be copied between computers directly within iTunes. It's a great feature for families or any multi-computer household, and can even be set up to transfer any new iTunes store purchases between all of your computers automatically. Of course, content added to your library using means other than the iTunes store (heaven forbid) is excluded from automatic updates, but can still be transferred manually through Home Sharing.
Finally, anyone with an iPod or iPhone will enjoy the extra syncing options available in iTunes 9. With your iPod or iPhone connected to your computer, the iTunes device summary window now includes a dedicated tab for iTunes U academic content (formerly lumped in with podcasts), and the syncing options for music, videos, photos and podcasts, now offer more control over what media you want to transfer. For example, in the music tab, you now have options for syncing the specific artists, playlists and genres you care about, and a check box for filling up any leftover space with random selections. iPhone and iPod Touch owners will be happy to see an improved Apps tab where you can arrange and customise the selection of apps that get synced to your device.
Worth the download?
Updating iTunes is about as inevitable as death and taxes. Try and resist, and some iPod or iPhone update will come along and twist your arm into updating anyhow. And while Apple hasn't done much to lighten the load of the iTunes installation package (or the bundled QuickTime install that comes with it), it's hard to complain when the program is free and offers such an impressive range of features. So yes, it's worth downloading — if for no other reason than the excellent new Home Sharing feature. Visit CNET Australia's Download section for the latest version of iTunes 9 (Mac or Windows).