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Faster iTunes 8.1 with new import and Genius features due soon

Apple sometime later today or this week will make available for download a speedier version of its iTunes media software that will extend the company's Genius feature to more media types and support direct CD imports to iTunes Plus format.

The iTunes 8.1 update was listed among the requirements for a new pair of aluminum iPod shuffles introduced earlier in the day and is now prominently listed as "coming soon" on Apple's iTunes page under the heading "Faster. Smarter. More entertaining."

iTunes Plus import

More specifically, Apple says a new importing feature will let users import songs from music CDs as higher quality, 256-Kbps iTunes Plus files (see how).

"If your songs already exist in digital form on your computer, just drag them into your iTunes library," Apple says. "iTunes also converts unprotected WMA files on your Windows computer to AAC files."

Genius Sidebar additions

Meanwhile, Apple's Genius recommendation engine for music tracks is being expanded to movies and TV shows. When a user selects a song, movie, or show in an iTunes 8.1 library, the Genius sidebar on the right-hand side of the screen will offer recommendations for similar content from the iTunes Store, which can then be purchased directly from within iTunes.

Speed Improvements

Another major push behind iTunes 8.1 is to improve the overall speed of the application when performing various tasks. Apple says the new version will respond faster than previous versions when loading large libraries, browsing the iTunes Store, and syncing your devices.

itunes 8.1

Other changes

Apple also lists a couple other features as "new" on its iTunes features page, such as more refined parental controls and autofill options. However, there isn't enough information at present to tell what those specific new features are since Parental Controls and Autofill both have existed in previous versions of iTunes.