iTunes 9 – Interface Changes

From 8 to 9 - Whats Changed in iTunes

So Apple’s Media Event (on the memorable date of 09.09.09) is done and dusted, the new iPods are on the shelves of every Apple Store you care to visit, and iTunes 9 is most likely sitting on millions of people’s desktops.

But what’s changed? I’m pleased to say quite a few things, in varying degrees of magnitude. Most of the changes to the iTunes app itself are subtle, but could be good indicators of where Apple’s UI intentions are heading. Then there’s the iTunes Store which has seen its biggest overhaul yet. There’s no shortage of design tweaks to have a look at and learn from.

Changes to the iTunes Application

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The Toolbar

iTunes at first glance doesn’t look very different at all, but when we compare 8 and 9 together it’s clear they’ve been paying attention to the details and refining things – the main toolbar is 5 pixels shorter for example. Losing 5 pixels from the height of the toolbar may be overlooked by some as unnecessary , but any attempt to reduce the vertical space used (and often wasted) by toolbars in software is always good to see in this age of increasingly wide displays where vertical space is at a minimum.

The toolbar has also been lightened slightly – the vertical gradient is now more obvious than 8’s darker, flatter bar. I prefer the lighter feeling of 9, and I feel many apps are becoming a little too dark in Leopard, so I hope iTunes 9’s brighter more curvaceous toolbar will be making its way into more apps.

The Buttons

You will notice the playback buttons have also been altered slightly, going from a plain and simple linear gradient in iTunes 8, to a more sophisticated gradient with a subtle blur in 9. The volume slider has a lighter appearance making it clear that pulling the knob to the right will increase volume to its maximum. The speaker icons (that represent up/down volume) have been made lighter, and look more indented now.

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The Sidebar

The headings (still in all caps) are ever so slightly darker than in iTunes 8, but that’s probably the most subtle change here, along with the slightly lighter (OK, this is almost unnoticeable now) blue background colour.

Icons

What’s more noticeable are the changes to icons for different content types. Apps – now has a more understandable rounded square surrounding the “Application” symbol. The previous orb was a beautiful little icon, but perhaps it was considered too Vista-esque to represent Apple’s mobile software strategy? Almost all of the icons have had some attention paid to them – the Movies icon is now noticeably shinier, the TV Shows LCD screen looks like it’s been upgraded – with a smaller framed TV, and no longer representing one of the Sony Bravia LCDs. The Audiobook icon is now a more sober shade of brown rather than the old, almost garish, orange. The little person in the Podcast icon is now more central – before he was a little too low in comparison to the surrounding circles.

The iTunes U icon is entirely new – this media type never used to be given such a prominent location – perhaps a sign that Apple has realised how lucrative the educational market can be. Whether they start monetizing some iTunes U content or simply keep using it as another reason to keep users in the iTunes ecosystem remains to be seen. The bell for Ringtones seems to have a slightly different shade of bronze, but changes there are almost non-existent. And finally the Radio icon has been given a much lighter, more detailed look – the radio tower’s metal structure is now clear looking more like the Eiffel Tower. The radio waves have also been coloured blue, ensuring they are visually different to the radio tower structure itself.

Who’d have thought you could analyse something so small in so much detail? Having spent a lot of time working on small icons of similar sizes myself lately, I often find it takes much more time and effort getting something at 15 pixels to make sense than getting something at 256 pixels to look good. It’s great to see Apple have kept focussed on the details.

In our next post we’ll have an in depth look at the vast array of changes made to the iTunes Store.

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