September 17, 2008

iTunes 8: Is it really Genius?

Way back even before the September special event held by Apple to announce iTunes 8 and the new iPods, several rumors and leaks have already popped up about a sort of "Genius" feature included in the iTunes 8 upgrade. Like the popular websites Pandora and, the feature tries to create a playlist that it thinks sound great together with this one song you yourself pick. Does it work? What about the other features in iTunes 8? Well let's see then...

This is the most advertised feature but does it work?

Well, it actually depends on how many songs (or rather, song genres) you actually have in your library.

But it's not exactly activated at first launch, though. First, you'll have to send your entire library to Apple, so they can process it and determine which songs sound great with each other. Of course, you don't need to fill in some private information, but if hackers found a way to access your computer via this feature, (because Apple sends information back to you) I'll be damned.
Anyway, once you activate Genius, you can plug in any upgraded iPhone 3G, upgraded first generation iPod touch, 2nd generation iPod touch, 4th generation Nano and 6th generation Classic to activate the feature in those machines. Besides that, you can now use that new atom button thingy below.

You first play a song- any song- and click that button so you can let iTunes generate a "Genius playlist". I based my first ever Genius playlist on Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours", and the results are snappy but some of the choices made are pretty questionable.
Panic! At The Disco? Daughtry? Fall Out Boy? Wait, I never knew they'd potentially sound good alongside something like "I'm Yours"!

Still, I have to give effort points to the system, and really, I don't blame it for the choices since I'm more of a rock/alt fan than pop. Still, if you're unsatisfied with the results, you can always Refresh it. And when iTunes gives you that perfect combination, you can Save that playlist (although you can still Refresh it anyway) and sync it to your iPod.

So I tried putting more varieties of songs into the library, then updating Genius, and what do you know? It became smarter. The questionable choices were less, and the playlist was a lot better.
If you hate Genius though, I won't blame you. It's very much new, so if you give it enough time, and if a lot more people use it, the system will become smarter. It's still off to a great start regardless.

New Browsing mode
Back then, it was just that "spreadsheet" style of music browsing. It was pretty boring, even with Cover Flow. Now, Apple gives the browsing style an overhaul. The spreadsheet style is still there for those who opt for it, but for those who want a new way to browse their music, they can use the revamped Grid view.
If you're a Mac user, you'll notice that the design is reminiscent to that of iPhoto. And if an artist has, say, 2 or 3 albums, you can look at them by pulling the mouse cursor up or down, left or right. To play the whole album or artist, you can just click the "Play Album" button that appears when you hover your mouse over it. You can resize the size of each album cover (and the captions underneath them) if you're blind, and you can sort them by Artist, Genres, Composers and Albums.

(AT TOP: You can view albums by Genre or; BELOW: ...get this view in the Podcasts, TV Shows and Movies menus. Noticeable in the Podcast menu are blue numbered circles marking the number of unwatched/unheard podcasts.)

New Visualizer
I don't know if you still use a visualizer in this day and age (I sure don't), except for Windows Media Player fans (they have no choice), but if you like them, you will like the new Visualizer Apple put in the new version. It's actually very pretty if you ask me.
But as I said: I don't think anyone would be using this very often. Especially since it's a...

Memory Hog
iTunes has a reputation of being a big memory hog. Unless you're running a Mac, not all processes run silky smooth in iTunes 8. It's slow, it's unresponsive, and damn, it just brings CPU usage up the roof. Heck, it causes the Blue Screen of Death in Vista! That can't be good. Of course, Apple has re-uploaded a fixed version of the Windows iTunes, but this just makes me ask whether Apple even tests its software before releasing it to the public? Surely, you should like any normal company? Or maybe your Windows developers just got lazy or something?

A hassle to download
It's like really HUGE! It's ginormous! It's a music and video player for God's sakes! Even VLC is only like 4-5MB's or something! I'd accept 20MB, but 60MB is like... a real hassle to download even on a broadband network. Apple needs to reduce the file size for this thing, damn it.

Genius needs a bit of time to mature, but it's off to a good start. The new view is welcome, and the visualizer is really beautiful, but kind of pointless. I'm not sure why Apple still hasn't fixed the memory leaks and all, and they sure haven't reduced the file size of this beast, but other than that, this upgrade is pretty nice- especially if you want to buy a new iPod (or upgrade your iPod touch or iPhones), but for other people who still don't plan to buy a new iPod or upgrade their existing iPod touch or iPhones can stick to iTunes 7 if they so choose to. Genius isn't really that much of a reason to download in the first place, but it's still a really fun feature to toy with.

Of course, you have the standard music and (limited) video playing options, and they work as they should. Aforementioned hogging may cause a broken listening and viewing experience at times, though.

Rating: 7.5/10

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