Thursday September 8, 2005

iTunes 5: Music to My Ears, But not My Eyes.

After feasting my eyes on the latest MP3 wonder that is iPod nano yesterday, I was enthused to be notified this morning of an update to iTunes, my longstanding music player of choice. I definitely should have sought out a screenshot first.

First of all, I’m glad Apple has played nice with us poor Windows users for all these years, continuing to release updated versions of iTunes for Windows in concert with its Mac counterpart. Of course, it’s all part of Apple’s strategy: hook ‘em with iTunes, reel ‘em in with iPod and then throw ‘em on the grill with a light butter sauce, ‘cause the next stop is a Powerbook. For the most part, I’ve been pleased with how Apple has translated the iTunes experience over to the PC. I’ve never felt like I was getting a dumbed-down version of a great product just because I was slumming it on a Windows box. That hasn’t changed… or has it?

iTunes 5 looks terribly uncomfortable. That was my first thought upon loading it up for the first time. It just feels clunky. Let’s not even get into Apple’s identity crisis, marked by inconsistent GUI styles.

My initial criticism is of the application control area—the top section containing playback controls, display et all. The application header bar which used to house the “iTunes” application name and the minimize, maximize and close buttons has been removed, mimicking the Apple version. The most disconcerting result of this change is that the application menu has shifted significantly in position, now appearing very cramped in the top lefthand corner. The rollover state on “File” comes within two pixels of hitting the dropshadow. Cutting it close? While the design of iTunes 4.9- followed the Windows convention on placing the application menu below a header bar, iTunes 5 does not. The result looks like a ported Mac application with a hastily-placed menu tossed in for the Windows crowd.

It seems that great effort has been made to reduce the size of the entire top portion of the app, though I can’t imagine why. Even the volume slider has been moved out from below the playback controls to trim down vertical height. I’m almost tempted to think that many of these changes were made just for the sake of advancing a new visual style to accompany Nano, though I’d like to think better of the iTunes GUI team. While I can understand the desire to equalize the iTunes visual design across both Mac and PC platforms, I don’t believe it’s a worthy cause—most notably because of the awkward existence of the Windows iTunes menu.

In general, many of the application’s important ‘edge-defining’ elements have been removed; the chrome that used to close in the left and right sides are gone, as is the chrome divider between the Source and Artist panes. The removal of these elements makes the app as a whole appear to be less contained and organised. Set atop the grey colors of just about every Windows application I use on a regular basis, iTunes 5 simply feels lost and undefined. And I’m not even sure why the Source and Browse panes have a light blue background color.

But it’s not all thorns and thistles. These are just my initial thoughts, and maybe I’ll warm up to version 5 over time. Though I surely haven’t discovered all the new features (or have I?), the new search capabilities and the shared playlists seem pretty nifty. Besides, there’s always the next version on the horizon— right?

Commentary


Ash » 4308 days ago #

I’d have to agree with you. Although I do think the currently playing display (top center) is a lot nicer than in previous versions.

The new grouping playlists into folders feature might come in handy, although I haven’t used it yet.

Ryan » 4308 days ago #

Great feedback, Jared. I didn’t even realize that they moved so drastically on the Windows app (Mac user, haven’t checked out the Windows version yet). That would really bother me too. I always thought that iTunes looked a little out of place on Windows, but it was in an interesting way. Now, apparently, that’s not so true anymore.

If it makes you feel any better, the new look doesn’t even fit the OS X UI – not by a long shot. (Read Gruber’s latest for the details wrapped in dialogue.)

Jared Christensen » 4308 days ago #

Ash – Agreed. I love the new display area. There are definitely new features I haven’t seen. I’ll have to check out the playlist grouping.

Ryan – Ha! I guess it was only a matter of moments before Gruber weighed in. Love that post title. I’m off to read it…

Michael Heilemann » 4308 days ago #

Yeah, I’ll have to agree with you, the Windows version isn’t all that slick. It was pushing it with aqua elements to begin with, but now it’s even more out of place.

Jarno » 4308 days ago #

I prefer the iTunes5 look over the previous versions. It’s more slick than before which gives me more space to the listings of my library. I don’t really use that much of the programs options other than playing music, making playlists and moving files over to my sexy jPod.

M.E. » 4307 days ago #

As long as I can still jam out to herbie hancock’s “ROCKET”! I’m cool with it!

Alan » 4305 days ago #

I don’t like it either, heh. I liked brushed steel, I don’t see why they had to get rid of it…

Of note, is this is the same visul style used in Spotlight and Mail 2.0. I think Apple are slowly moving away from brushed steel into this, which sucks hard. This faux plastix look is really horrible.

Josh » 4303 days ago #

I echo your thoughts/feelings on the new look. It’s a total disaster on my desktop.

I think the new look aims to be a happy medium between Windows and OS X interfaces. I however, find it to be not so “happy.”

Though it does look much better when you edit it to make it unified white like the current Mail, it still is no brushed metal – and unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to get the corners the same radius as every other single app on OS X.

Petition, anyone? ;)

Justus » 4275 days ago #

Yeah, I liked the look of 4.9 much better…I just love brushed steel. I do like the new features, including the folder option.

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