iTunes 8 First Impressions: Pretty, Good

By  |  Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 2:59 pm

It’s really tough to review any application or service that relates to musical tastes: The kind of music you like is intensely personal, and it can have a huge impact on how pleased you are with a product. Please bear that in mind as you read my initial impressions of iTunes 8–and know that my music collection, while quite sizable, consists mostly of stuff from the 1950s and 1960s. (Offhand, I’m not sure if I have more than fifty songs on my hard drive recorded in this century.)

iTunes 8, which Steve Jobs announced today at the Apple event in San Francisco, has a few major new features..

Feature one: Genius. This is a musical recommendation engine that aims to create playlists of songs that go well together, and to recommend music to buy from the iTunes Store. You activate it by selecting a song and then asking for a playlist or recommendations; after I installed iTunes 8, the software took about ten minutes to grind through my music collection, upload some data to Apple, and then download info to use for recommendations.

The playlist feature has worked really well with my music so far–it’s put together lists that are interesting, with some logical choices and some unanticipated ones. Playlists that are as good as anything I’d build myself, and maybe better. Here’s one of them, which will make sense if you share my taste in music and won’t if you don’t:

As for the Genius iTunes purchase recommendations…well, so far almost all of them have been either been really obvious (other songs by the artist in question), oddball (ones that seem to be based at least in part on name similarity, such as recommending Louis Farrar for Louis Prima and the Rustles for the Rutles), or nonexistent (Genius said it had no recommendations based on the Beatles, which makes me wonder if it only works if the song you use as the basis is available in the iTunes Store). I can’t imagine that the results are always so spotty, and am therefore curious to hear what other folks think about it. And you can kill the Genius recommendation sidebar easily enough, so it’s not in your way if you don’t want it.

Steve Jobs apparently spent much of the event today rhapsodizing about Genius; so far, I like the playlists and don’t get the purchase recommendations. I’ll live with it a bit longer and report back if my impression changes.

Feature two: Cover art view. iTunes now lets you browse through your music, movies, and TV shows by scrolling through thumbnails of cover art. Cool idea, but there just aren’t enough thumbnails in my music collection–which consists mostly of old CDs I’ve ripped–to make it work:

Feature three: HD TV downloads. Haven’t tried this yet–I’m on an EVDO connection at the moment, and a single program would gobble up much of my month’s data allowance.

Feature four: A new visualizer. It’s exceptionally pretty, with a space-age look that reminds me of a sort of hybrid of TRON and the opening credits of The Jetsons. And it can speak for itself:

I want to spend more time with iTunes 8, but for now, the Genius playlists feel like enough reason to download it in and of themselves. The visualizer’s a kick, too. The HD TV shows are at least worth a look, and the Genius purchase recommendations and cover art viewing don’t work very well with my particular music collection.

If you’ve given the new version a try, let us know what you think…


Read more: , , ,

4 Comments For This Post

  1. Tim F. Says:

    The Genius sidebar is basically the MiniStore while Genius playlists are decently cool. I wish you could have the preference to deactivate the former and not the latter; instead you can only deactivate the playlists when the sidebar is going to be useless for most users and will always be present. Unfortunate. Otherwise, incrementally improved.

  2. Michael Says:

    Thanks for the review. You don’t mention speed at all, or system resources.

    I’m wondering if they’ve done much under the hood to make it work for those of us not lucky enough to have 2GB or RAM and a dual-core processor.

    How does it feel to you? Sluggish still?

  3. Russell Says:

    I like the fact that you can hide the genius sidebar if it is not useful for you by clicking on the icon in the lower right of the iTunes window. It did work good for me but then I have a lot of adult contemporary titles from ’70’s through today. However, I was pleasantly surprised that it even found a few recommendations for my classical music.

  4. 5 minute membership Says:

    great site full of great info