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Revamped new iTunes 11 user interface hints at future of OS X

Apple's upcoming new release of iTunes 11, due by the end of October (and likely to launch with the iPad mini), suggests several new user interface concepts that are likely to also be adopted its larger OS X platform.

Over the past five years, Apple has introduced a wide variety of new iOS features that have percolated their way "back to the Mac," as well as having introduced OS X features that have later shown up in its mobile devices. However, Apple's own first party apps, and in particular iTunes, have also served as harbingers of new user interface directions.

Apple has experimented extensively with user interface concepts in its iTunes, Safari, iLife, iWork and other apps, with mixed success. Two years ago, iTunes 10 debuted with a space-efficient, vertical stack of Close/Dock/Zoom buttons (shown below), an idea that didn't last long (outside of the mini player, shown below).

This year's new iTunes 11 release, however, boldly remakes the entire app, rethinking a series of features that have piled up within iTunes since it was first released by Apple in 2001.

iTunes piles up the features

The original iTunes was almost purely a music library management app, and slowly began to gain new features ranging from device support for the new iPod and for CD burning in iTunes 2, then smart playlists, ratings and Audible audiobooks in iTunes 3.

iTunes 4 introduced the first integrated Music Store with podcasts and support for AirTunes (now AirPlay) wireless distribution, and its overall look (but not really its user interface) was updated for iTunes 5 in 2005.

5 Years of iPod

Since then, Apple has loaded up on content features, adding TV and music videos in iTunes 6, full length movies, iTunes U podcasts and iPod games in 2007's iTunes 7, and iOS Apps (along with Genius features, HD video and rentals) in iTunes 8.

5 Years of iPod

Apple revamped its integrated music, video, audiobooks and apps store to be WebKit-based in iTunes 9, and experimented with TV rentals and Ping social sharing in iTunes 10, both of which failed to find traction along with the aforementioned new vertical window controls.

5 Years of iPod

Rethinking iTunes, with iOS in mind

For the first time, Apple is overhauling iTunes's overloaded user interface in version 11. The most obvious departure is the elimination of the Source List sidebar, which has for the last decade defined the iTunes user interface. Apple has used a similar sidebar in OS X's Finder, as well as other iLife apps, including iPhoto and the discontinued iWeb.

Unlike the Finder, you can't hide iTunes' current Source List sidebar. Instead, you can only show or hide iTunes' Genius recommendations that appear in a second sidebar on the right. The primary iTunes Source List sidebar includes Library items (including local music, movies, books and apps), separately lists Store-related content (the store itself, iTunes Match, and Purchased items available "in the cloud"), attached Devices, and Playlists (regular, Smart, and Genius mixes).

During the launch event showcasing iPhone 5 and new iPods, Apple's iTunes head Eddie Cue outlined why this was changing. Two thirds of iTunes downloads are now originating on iOS devices, he noted, prompting Apple to focus on redesigning its iTunes, iBook and App Store for iOS, "making them more fun and easier to use." While he didn't expressly state it, OS X sidebars are not really multitouch friendly, having been originally designed for the much more accurate targeting of a mouse-driven pointer.


Cue outlined the new design for iOS store apps (across music, movies, TV, books, and apps, pictured above), which are now outfitted with large promotional banners at the top and swipeable lists of available content below, with a heavy focus on album art rather than textual menus.

Cue also promoted the iOS stores' improved performance, search result and new integration with Facebook and Twitter (replacing Apple's own Ping for social promotion of iTunes content; artist pages and photos from Ping remain, although without the "Ping" branding). This results in a cohesive store experience across the desktop, iPad and iPhone version of iTunes.

iTunes 11