As you know, Apple held its iPhone 5 event this morning in San Francisco. While we did expect a new phone from the tech giant, a massive update to iTunes was not at the top of our list! Alongside the iOS 6 redesign of the App Store, iTunes and iBooks apps, Apple will release a new, updated version of iTunes that brings with it many improvements in usability, design and functionality.
At the event, Apple showed off the new UI on Mac, but it is expected to come to Windows in an update in a similar fashion, though perhaps more bloated in October with the Mac update. I must say, I found the new UI to be stunning. There a few major parts to it: Library, Store, Mini-player, Search and iCloud.
The library in the new iTunes desktop app has been cleaned up massively. Now, instead of seeing a sidebar, then lists and album artwork and cover-flow views, you are presented a simple, elegant grid of album covers, much like the Music app on iPad. This layout provides a simple way for you to access all music in a visual and understandable, yet minimally designed interface.
There are still the same sections as in the previous version, separating Music, Movies, Podcasts, etc., and each is separated into similar sub-sections.
Clicking on an album cover presents you with a graphic dropdown menu with songs within that, and an image of the album cover. This applies to movies too, with details and the cover being shown in the drop-down. This gives a more standard UI that works across the app and provides a consistent metaphor for use. It makes the interface a much more flowing and simple – something that will be a nice addition to iTunes.
This layout is one which appears across the app, both in the library in the previously mentioned places as well as in the ‘In the Store’ section. Even the main Store menu, and other aspects of it, use this drop-down menu form. It is used universally, and very well implemented.
The iTunes Store for desktop has been updates, much like the library section of the app, to reflect Apple’s new, slightly more minimal design language. The Store is much more visual; it has a new carousel layout for the main page, which sits on top of album art which can scroll horizontally. To the right of this screen, similar to in the current version, are blocks including menus and charts.
As in the pre-October version, though a little better presented and less cluttered, popular items are given full-screen background images. This is true for curated collections as well. This approach of making each screen more like a display graphic - like a shop window – will, I suspect, make the Store more enjoyable to use.
A new feature added in this version of iTunes is the Mini-player. This is a simple widget-like interface that can sit above other apps, and can be placed anywhere on-screen, and allows music to be controlled and the Store to be searched, all in one tiny window. The design of this little window into the iTunes experience is just as minimal as the other screens. It consists of album artwork – again following the simplistic design language which seems to have been hinted at today at Apple’s event – and music, volume and search icons. It uses pop-ups on hover to display more details about the playing song. Overall, this addition is a much needed part of iTunes that will make it a more feasible desktop media player – competing against Spotify and in-browser solutions.
Search is the fourth major aspect of iTunes to be updated in this version. It now has more information within the search suggestions which appear while typing, including direct ways to access various results of different media types. One of the major ways in which this will improve the iTunes desktop experience is simply through an increase in discoverability; possibly with improvements related to Apple’s acquisition of Chomp. This is one area which was in need of updating, and now that it has happened, Apple has yet another way to drive traffic to iTunes content.
This version of iTunes is the first to take into account Apple’s cloud storage property, iCloud. The new version instantly syncs music to and from all of your iCloud connected devices, including all desktops with iTunes and iOS devices, keeping everything the same across all of your media devices. The ‘design’ of iCloud within iTunes is, in a way, exquisite: it doesn’t exist. iCloud synchronises everything in the background with no front-end interface apart from the initial log-in screen.
Apple design is becoming less skeuomorphic and is maturing into a cleaner, nicer aesthetic. This trend is clearly shown in the iTunes desktop apps, and many other UIs shown today in San Francisco. This change is one which interests me personally greatly as I like minimal designs – I like good designs – and things are beginning to turn that way for Apple.