Apple announced yesterday that iTunes 11, which has been completely redesigned, will be released some time in October. The update to version 11 is one of the most dramatic redesigns of the venerable media player in recent memory.
iTunes 11 will take many cues from iOS, incorporating a better "edge to edge" experience. Gone is the persistent left bar for viewing playlists and different parts of the iTunes Store. Albums now expand when clicked on, revealing an enlarged and dynamically created background, which iTunes generates from analyzing the colors of album art. Pretty slick.
Along with interface tweaks, Apple has included tighter integration between your music library and the iTunes Store. Expanding an album will give you the option to view the artist's iTunes store page to purchase more tracks. There will also be recommendations and trending charts to make music discovery easier.
There had been rumors leading up to yesterday's announcement that Apple would release a streaming radio service that would compete with the likes of Pandora and Spotify. I was disappointed that Apple didn't announce any streaming features during its keynote.
Is iTunes still relevant in a world where streaming radio and subscription music services dominate?
There's no doubt that iTunes turned the music industry on its head, allowing people the convenience of downloading tracks individually and instantaneously. Music studios were not happy and wanted to lock down every track from the iTunes store with Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, which iTunes implemented until Steve Jobs famously came out against DRM.
Today, tracks purchased from the iTunes store are DRM free, but it almost seems irrelevant now that streaming services like Spotify give users access to its entire library for free. Sure, free users will have to endure ads, but paid users can enjoy Spotify's entire library ad-free for the low price of $10 per month. Consumers can either pay $10 for a single album in iTunes or pay $10 per month to have access to an entire library of music. The choice seems obvious.
But then again, iTunes and Spotify are different beasts. iTunes plays videos and is the media manager for your iOS devices, giving it much more functionality. iTunes, then, is a great media player for your local content while Spotify is exclusively a music player and streaming service.
Both will allow you to create playlists and share via social networks but Spotify does it better, allowing you to see what your friends are currently playing or have played in a live ticker. While it's nice that Apple has included Facebook and Twitter sharing, it just can't compare with Spotify's social offerings.
iTunes' tighter integration between local music and the iTunes store tries to improve music discovery but it just falls flat on its face. Without a streaming radio/subscription service or more fleshed out social features, iTunes fails to adapt to a music industry which it helped create. If Apple doesn't announce useful social features and streaming radio, iTunes may become a burden of a piece of software software that iOS users have to use instead of want to use.