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Did Apple advance music discovery?

Apple's Genius, a recommendation engine that relies heavily on a user's listening habits to build playlists, could help iPod and iPhone owners squeeze more enjoyment out of their devices.

Everybody knows what it's like to hear really good songs back-to-back only to lose that good vibe when the next tune is a dud.

Apple says it can help you stay in your groove with its Genius.

Apple launched an upgraded iTunes on Tuesday that features an automatic playlist generator called Genius. The technology, available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the new iPod Nano, makes a calculated guess from different data that includes the listening habits of iTunes users.

Helping people locate songs they like is one of the biggest challenges facing digital music. Apple has now given the industry a boost, according to James McQuivey, a Forrester research.

"If Genius works as advertised, it is a long-overdue and potentially market-dominating feature," McQuivey said. "With it, iTunes can do something no one else can do: build recommendations off not only your purchases, but your actual listening behavior."

Genius expands its knowledge and recommendation abilities by collecting data from all of the more than 65 million iTunes users, according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

The true genius (sorry) of the offering is that it's helping users enjoy their Apple devices more.

I've been thinking lately how I'm growing tired of the songs I loaded on my iPhone 3G. I love the device, but when the music is stale, I'm a bit less enamored.

My iPhone has now become my music player and that's what I use it for more than making calls, surfing the Web, or checking e-mail. I'm not thrilled with the proposition with always having to buy new music or conduct exhaustive searches for songs to get value out of my iPhone. Maybe Apple will help me squeeze more enjoyment out of the titles I already own.

McQuivey sees an opportunity for Apple to cash in on Genius that could also offer benefit users.

"The only thing they're missing is a way to slip a song they want you to buy into the playlist," McQuivey said. "If they could get the rights to do that, they would have an amazing music recommendation machine."

My colleague Jen Guevin points out that users could find that annoying unless Genius guesses right most of the time and suggests something they like. I'm thinking why not let me toggle that kind of service on or off?

It's important to note that iMeem, Pandora and other music services have been generating playlists and recommending music for a while to mixed results. But because Apple's user base dwarfs them, the iTunes service is likely to have a big advantage.

Music discovery was a big part of Microsoft's update to the Zune as well. It added two kinds of channels. First are pre-programmed channels such as selections from the Grand Ol Opry and various radio stations to weekly updated channels with the top Billboard hits in a particular category.

The second creates custom channels based on, but not limited to, a user's music collection. Because Zune can be tied to a subscription service, it can recommend and add songs that a user doesn't already have. Users can choose to only have them as part of a rotating channel or can add those tracks to their collection.

CNET News' Ina Fried contributed to this report.

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