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?