iTunes 9: Hands-on with Home Sharing, iTunes LP and Genius Mixes
iTunes 9 has arrived, and it's awash with new features. Albums get DVD-style extras, the Store gets a refit, copying from one computer to another is finally possible, and Genius gets in the mix.
Let's start with Genius Mixes. Turn Genius on and you'll see up to 12 automatically generated mixes. This took a couple of minutes when we tried it, but we were copying a chunk of music over Home Sharing at the same time.
We're bemused by Genius Mixes. All you can do is start, stop and skip tracks. You don't get a playlist so you can't see what's coming up. Mixes is like a radio station, or an infinite Genius playlist, which is fair enough. But when we're used to fiendishly clever features such as smart playlists and iTunes DJ (formerly Party Shuffle), a feature which is basically a Genius playlist with its legs chopped off seems pretty bobbins.
In our quick test, the selection seems pretty smart, although lord knows what Idlewild, Flogging Molly and The Darkness were doing rubbing shoulders with Crystal Castles in the electronica mix. Oh, and be warned that if you ever turn Genius off it will delete all your saved Genius information.
Click through our gallery to see more of iTunes 9's more impressive new features, and go to Apple's Web site to download it.
The new-look iTunes Store is much more visual, with bigger pictures of artists, a scrolling banner listing highlights, and tabs at the top to take you to different types of media, with drop-down menus for each genre.
It also makes it easier to preview and buy music and TV shows from anywhere, without having to click to the item's page. This is handy if you want to preview the songs in, say, the besteller chart, to decide they're all rubbish.
You can also add songs and other items to a new wishlist or share them on Facebook and Twitter. Click share on Twitter and you'll be fired over to twitter.com, with the song title and iTunes URL ready to post. Unfortunately it doesn't shorten the link.
iTunes LP is similar to the concept rumoured to be called Cocktail, which packs albums with extra content. Think of it as DVD extras for music albums. It's an idea with potential, but it's down to you whether you're willing to pay for a whole album, rather than the single you like, to see photos or videos. One example of Apple's clout in the music world is the amount of exclusive content it can provide, such as interviewing the surviving Doors for the first Doors album. Far out.
Our favourite new feature is home sharing, which allows you to copy music from other computers on your network as well as streaming. To share between your computers, authorise them by clicking Store > Authorise. Then click on Home Sharing, in the Shared drop-down menu in the sidebar. Enter your account details and you get a short welcome message, including the warning that Home Sharing is for personal use.
Home sharing libraries show up with a small icon depicting a house. When you click on it, you can see playlists from your other computer and set the view to only show the songs you don't have on the computer you're using. You can then drag individual or multiple songs or TV programmes to your own library. In fact, this works with everything in your iTunes libraries, including apps.
It's a very cool idea, and one we've already used as an ad hoc backup tool for our home music library by copying it to our work computer.
Bear in mind that copying large numbers of songs will take a while, especially if they're lossless or high-quality files.
The really cool option is the ability to keep the libraries permanently synced by clicking on settings, and telling iTunes to automatically copy new items into the other libraries.
Home Sharing is surprisingly open to abuse. While we don't condone such behaviour, we noticed that by logging into your account on someone else's computer, authorising it, then copying their music into your library and deauthorising the computer, you and your mates can effectively stripmine each other's libraries. But don't tell anyone we told you.