Apple iTunes 8 - Mac

New iPods mean only one thing - that's right - new iTunes software to get excited about, so can the new version of the popular music software from Apple really offer us new features? We play some music to find out.

Aside from now supporting HD playback, the main crux of the new iTunes software comes in two areas: improved browsing and a new mode called Genius.

Browsing, taking hints from Apple's photo application iPhoto, offers you the chance to see your album covers in a grid formation. You can make the images small - 10 albums wide in fact - or really big - four albums across via a scroll bar similar to that found in iPhoto.

Information can be displayed in Albums, Artists, Genres or Composers and all are accessible at a click of a mouse button via a menu at the top of the new software interface.

The new browsing interface works well, providing you have album art, otherwise you just get a void black space and those who've got an older collection, sans album art, should bear this in mind.

What it does do however, is make the album "great" once again. Previous iTunes versions have been criticised by the audio purists for dissolving our music collection into a random collection of singles rather than a collection of works artists like to call "Albums". While songs still have strength in being just single songs, there is a greater feeling of the album in this software release.

Of course those not keen on it can still revert back to the list format or Cover Flow interfaces.

The reason that you'll be downloading this new software version isn't the new browsing options or the slight tweaks and refinements found in the iTunes store, but Genius mode.

Genius mode, as described by Apple, is a new feature that "lets you automatically create playlists from songs in your music library that go great together".

The idea is that you select a tune, and having analysed your music collection, it then recommends songs that fit with each other in your music library.

Failing that, the new software download will then suggest related music on the iTunes Store you might want to add to your music collection.

Sounds great, but does it work? All you have to do is select a song and then press an "Atom" symbol and the software does the rest.

Of course, before you get going you've got to get Apple to scan you music library. Initially we thought we had got off lightly with 10 minutes to catalogue and share 4300 songs with Apple. However on closer inspection Genius needs a lot longer to scan your files (we had plenty of tracks that we couldn't make a Genius list from even after the first hour), however according to the company, the process is completely anonymous.

Choosing Dandy Warhols "Bohemian Like You" gave us tracks from the Sugarbabes, Weezer, The Kooks and Snow Patrol. Not bad, but not sure why the Sugarbabes are in there.

Realising there is some serious cash to be made, Apple has also made the Genius software automatically recommend songs from the iTunes store. Here, presented in a pull out draw you can close, you get suggestions of songs from the Dandy Warhols we are missing, as well as recommendations from other artists that would go well with the song we've selected.

In this example it's more The Kooks, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs and Interpol to name but a few.

Buying a track automatically makes it disappear from the list and we can see how you could, with the help of Apple's "one click" system start buying a lot more music based on your music tastes and choices.

Testing the feature against music we've downloads from free music site Rcrdlbl caused greater problems though, probably mainly due to the fact that most of it isn't available in iTunes. Choosing music from The Presets for example gave us zero recommends.

According to Apple, when you turn on iTunes 8’s new Genius feature, information about your music library is anonymously sent to the iTunes Store, where it is combined with the gathered knowledge from millions of other iTunes users and processed through Apple-developed algorithms.

The Genius results, specifically tailored to your personal music library, are sent back to your computer to enable users to automatically create Genius playlists in iTunes and on your iPods, even when they are not connected to the Internet.

Of course, as time goes on, and more people turn the feature on in the new software, the better. We were told at the launch event in London that the system is already getting a lot better than it was earlier in the week and the more users that share their information the better it will get. It's like peer-2-peer actually working to benefit you without the worry of getting a lawsuit in the post.

Overall it works.

Verdict

iTunes 8 is a no brainer really, especially as it's free. The new browsing software will appeal to some, but not all while the HD movie and TV show support is moving with the times.

But the reason for the download is the Genius playlists. The idea isn't new and users of Pandora, Last.fm, and The Filter will all be familiar with how the "Genius" playlist works.

Where Apple has succeeded here, as it always seems to do, is making it simple. A quick press of a button and you've got a 100 tracks sorted - perfect for dinner parties, weddings, you name it, while the inclusion of the online store is Genius in helping Apple sell more tracks (we've already bought a song in the process of testing the software).

This is a case where Genius, while we've seen it before, really is Genius for both the consumer and Apple's bottom line.