Press refresh: iTunes gets its biggest facelift yet

It’s been a while coming – there’s been a month’s delay, with Apple only saying: “The new iTunes is taking longer than expected and we wanted to take a little extra time to get it right.”

But, iTunes 11 is finally here, just in time to put together your Christmas play list.

And, it has been worth the wait. One of Apple’s flagship pieces of software, iTunes has gone from being the digital equivalent of the pub jukebox to a media management system that’s the most popular of its kind.

Celebrating its 11th birthday, the improvements to the latest version are mainly cosmetic. Things were getting a bit visually complicated of late, as iTunes struggled to make managing more than just tunes a simple task.

When it comes to your music, there’s now a focus on album covers that you can click on to expand so they show both your own songs along with a selection from the iTunes music store.

There’s also an improved mini player which lets you look for songs, albums and artists without needing to switch back to the full version.

A new feature called Up Next replaces iTunes DJ, so you can add a song or album to your Up Next queue simply by right clicking.

And the new iTunes copes better with extra media like television and movies, giving users fewer graphics, fewer pages of texts and an interface which seems more intuitive. The home screen gives you your libraries on one side, your other devices and the iTunes store on the other and the option to view by artist or album in the centre.

Once you click-through, the dialogue boxes you get are very similar to previous versions, but it is a lot easier to navigate.

It’s been a crucial move for Tim Cook’s Apple, which needs to take advantage of customers potentially consuming iTunes content through new gadgets like the iPad Mini. Analyst Salman Chaudhry said: “We expect to see Apple take sales away from the Kindle family of devices and the Kindle app itself, as Apple will be marketing the tablet as an iBook and iTunes consumption device.”

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services said Apple was keeping it simple, yet effective with iTunes 11. “We created iTunes because we love music and we’re going back to our roots with an incredibly clean design that keeps your music at the forefront,” he said. “The new iTunes works seamlessly with iCloud, always keeping your entire library at your fingertips, and we’re adding great new features that make listening to your music more fun.”

So far, iTunes has a behemoth catalogue of 26 million songs, with 20 billion bought by consumers over the past nine years, according to Apple figures. And, with the new iTunes version, those figures are only set to keep growing.

Now downloading Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas, or perhaps The Pogues Fairytale of New York is easier than ever before.

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