After years of listening to people complain that iTunes was getting long in the proverbial tooth, that it was gaining too much functionality and was becoming increasingly confusing to work with, Apple finally released its rewrite and – somewhat – rethink of the entire iTunes application as iTunes 11.
Initial reaction has been quite positive by people who have spent the time to learn some of the basic functionality of the program, and negative by people who have learned the existing iTunes interface so well that they don’t want any change. That’s okay, if you’re in the latter category, I encourage you to choose “Show Sidebar” from the “View” menu. There’s that missing left side bar!
I’m definitely a fan, and the more I poke around in iTunes 11, the more impressed I am with the attention to detail in the program. The user experience team has done a good job rethinking a tired app and making it far more functional.
To show you what I mean, let’s just dig around in the Mini-Player view and see all the many features and functions that have been added!
While the main large iTunes 11 window obviously is the primary interface to the program, I am not alone in liking a very small display on my screen that just shows information about the current track. I don’t really need any controls as my Mac keyboard has next, previous, play, pause and volume controls and I use them enthusiastically!
Until iTunes 11 came out, I ran a handy little extension called “Synergy” which I had reduced to a one-line window on the bottom left of the screen, in very small type. Nothing overt, nothing too distracting, but when I was listening — typically with headphones — and wanted to know about the current track, a quick glance would reveal the information desired.
With its redesigned Mini-Player window in iTunes 11, however, I’ve permanently quit Synergy and don’t expect to be using it again. The mini view is 99% of what I want, and offers access to a remarkable number of features and controls.
First off, here’s the new mini-player view:
You can see the album cover (“Dark Shadows Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”. It is rather small!), the title of this track (“The End? (Uncut)”) and the artist (“Danny Elfman”). The user interface is really unlike any other Mac OS X application, notice, but it’s easy to figure out. Click on the “X” on the top left and the window closes. Click on the “O” underneath, however, and it switches back to the main iTunes 11 window. A handy shortcut to know about.
But there’s so much more here, as demonstrated as soon as you move your cursor over the information panel:
Now you can see the usual back, pause/play, forward buttons, but what’s everything else? The leftmost button is a control menu:
What I like here is that you can have your music on shuffle, as I typically do, and if you hear an artist or album you really like, you can really easily switch to listening to matching tracks. No fuss, no need to open the big window.
Notice you can also manage playlists with the “Add To”, meaning you can audition music at your leisure and add them to, say, “Party Mix” or “Romantic” or “Angry!” as they pop up and you realize they’re a perfect match.
Want to hear the song again, but stay in shuffle? Choose “Add to Up Next”.
Let’s close that, however, and see what the other buttons are on the mini-player window…
To the right of the “forward” button is the AirPlay control:
If you have a lot of AirPlay devices (AppleTV, AirPlay-friendly speakers, etc) then they show up here and you can switch output without leaving the mini-player too, even if you want to push your tunes out to more than one speaker at a time! Very slick.
Click on the three horizontal lines and you’ll find one of the best new features: “Up Next”:
You can see I’m trapped in a playlist of movie soundtracks. Pretty typical for me, actually, as a film critic (see my film blog for my reviews).
But there’s more functionality here. Move your cursor over a specific track and an “X” shows up on the left if you just want to yank it out of the playlist, while an “>” button on the right offers access to the music context menu:
I’m guessing most people will never use that feature, but it’s sure nice to be able to access it when you do want to more closely manage what you’re hearing.
Like what’s coming up, but want to reorder things? Just drag and drop:
In the above image I’m moving “At The Hairdressers” from The Bourne Identity to come immediately after “The Kingsroad” from Game of Thrones.
Curious about what just played a few minutes ago? You can click on the tiny clock icon on this playlist menu and it’ll show you “Previously Played”:
Click on the clock again to go back to “Up Next”, of course.
Or just click on the magnifying glass to do a search. The search view is elegant and succinct:
Start typing in the name of an artist, album, orchestra or anything else you’d like to match and it’ll show matching results, all neatly organized:
One more cool trick: Wish the album cover was larger? Click on it. Yup, it launches yet another window, this one just showing the album cover for the current track along with a bunch of controls if the cursor’s in that area:
One more tweak: I really like to have my mini-player window float above all other app windows and that’s something you can set in the iTunes 11 Preferences. Just go to “Advanced” preferences and look for this:
All in all, a terrific upgrade to iTunes and with all these features in the iTunes 11 MiniPlayer, who needs the big window? As I’ve demonstrated here, there’s much benefit to clicking and poking around in this new version of iTunes too, so don’t be shy about your usage.