December 05, 2012, 9:16 PM — iTunes 11, whose delayed release fueled much speculation about last-minute changes following an internal reorganization at Apple, sports the most radical alterations to the programs interface since its inception. Previous upgrades to iTunes were incremental, adding features and tweaking the interface, but iTunes 11 puts a whole new face on the software. In addition, iTunes 11 seems to be designed more for playing music than for organizing it -- a slightly anachronistic approach, given the prevalence of portable devices.
The most obvious change is the reintroduction of color to the program. In my review "First look: iTunes 10," written in September 2010, I lamented the absence of color, saying, iTunes 10 has a somewhat Soviet utilitarian look which, to my eyes, makes it less interesting to work with. Well, color is back, both in the sidebar and in the Library pop-up menu at the top left of the iTunes window. In addition, when you display playlists, their text will be larger and bolder, and the background of the Playlists column will be lighter, providing much better contrast. The program also uses a Helvetica font with reduced spacing between letters, enabling iTunes to display longer texts in short spaces (such as in the Playlists column).
Viewing your music
The new options to view music by Genres or by Artists display sidebars showing icons for genres or for artists, with icons from your album art. (Videos, Books, and other types of content offer similar options.) You can sort items in these views as you like: Press Command-J to display a tiny View Options window, where you can sort by Title, Artist, Year, or Rating, for example, when in Genres view.
Apple removed some views from iTunes, but it increased the number of view options. In each view mode -- Songs, Albums, Artists, or Genres -- you have sort options, but if you click Playlists, and then select a playlist, the View button near the top right of the iTunes window gives you even more options. Although I regret the loss of Album List view, I'm quite happy with some of the new options.
In Albums view -- the new default view -- everything is an album; that is, whether the actual content is a single song, a few songs from an album, or an entire album, a single graphic represents it. The only way to determine how many tracks are collected there is to click the graphic. This design choice is surprising, as younger music fans tend to focus on individual songs rather than on albums.