iTunes 11: Worth Upgrading?

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iTunes 11 MiniPlayer hover controls

Hovering over the MiniPlayer reveals more controls, even an AirPlay control. You can browse the Up Next queue by clicking the list icon. Clicking the magnifying glass reveals a powerful search feature that can find all music in the Library. You can even add songs to Up Next using the search feature.

Without a doubt, you can do much more with the new MiniPlayer. Managing iTunes music without launching the full user interface is convenient, especially for users with small screens. It would have been nice to have a scrub/progress bar or at least some temporal information. Perhaps this glaring omission will be addressed in an upcoming release.

The new MiniPlayer can run standalone or concurrently with iTunes. For a standalone player, launch it with the icon at the top right. To keep the main iTunes window visible, launch the MiniPlayer from the menu (Window > MiniPlayer) or the keyboard shortcut: option + cmd + 3. It’s nice to have the option to do either, as the Now Playing display is often taken over by the iTunes Store or other operations.

The search feature in iTunes has improved. It is much more like Spotlight in OS X, but limited to searching your Library. Searching iTunes will now reveal music, movies, tv shows, books, Podcasts and iOS apps. The search results are grouped by each type, with music being listed first. The first four results of each type are displayed along with the option to view more of each type. It’s a much cleaner and easier way to browse all the different types of media within your iTunes Library.

Streaming has arrived. With iTunes 11, you are now able to stream music or video content that you own in iCloud. This almost makes up for the fact that you can no longer copy content from your iOS device to the iTunes Library on your computer. However, with the large file size of iTunes movies and tv shows, you need a fast connection or lots of patience for streaming to work. It’s a trade-off for quality video that I am not always willing to make. I still watch most of my video on my Apple TV with Netflix and Hulu Plus. They don’t look as good as iTunes, but like many people, I am willing to sacrifice quality for convenience.

I tried the new streaming with a 5 minute clip from Breaking Bad. It took 10 minutes before it started playing, with about 30% of the clip downloaded. My Internet connection could be faster, but it works just fine with Netflix and Hulu Plus. I get HD video.

As I mentioned in my how-to piece on downloading iTunes, the iCloud backend is slow. It is not something that can support streaming, like Netflix or to a lesser extent, Hulu Plus. Apple keeps their commitment to video quality. The new streaming will not pause or “thin” to lesser quality video. When it starts playing, you will most likely see the entire program without pauses (unless your Internet service slows down a lot). (continue…)

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