iTunes 11: the convergence of iOS and OS X design

After 2 solid months of waiting— following its original announcement at the iPhone 5 press event, the release of the iPad mini, new Macbooks, some internal Apple affairs and news of Forstall’s leave— the much-anticipated redesign of Apple’s entertainment app is finally here.

iTunes 11.

If there’s software that Apple is known for (and it’s nigh impossible to find anyone in our industry who doesn’t know what it is), it’s iTunes. Ever since its beginning, through to the revolution of the online music store, up until yesterday’s 11th major iteration, iTunes has matured on and on through the years, improving features, integrating new platforms, and most importantly, adapting new ‘eras’ of Apple’s style of design. That said, if the last was focused on Lion— monochrome icons and conformity with OS style and design— iTunes 11 is a peek on Apple’s new overall direction in style: the convergence of iOS and OS X.

Here’s the breakdown:

The Convergence

To start, the main window of iTunes features a full-width display of albums and their artworks. Basically, Apple removed the classic OS X sidebar and replaced it with a drop-down toggle placed in the far upper-left of the app, just beneath the main toolbar. That means navigating through movies, TV shows and podcasts need an extra click to get through; a compromise for the new full-width look. However, this new edge-to-edge design mimics that of the iPad’s music player, and placing iTunes in full screen almost reflects that style. (Minus the wooden edges, of course).

Tapping an album opens its contents iOS folder style, giving you an expanded view. The background colors of the view is determined by the album’s artwork’s colors. Ingenious.

The Font

Also, just like its iOS counterpart, the entirety of the new iTunes redesign replaces OS X’s system default font, Lucida Grande, with Helvetica— a font that looks great on HiDPI displays (like the Retina Display included in the new Macbook Pros) yet mediocre on non-high-resolution displays. Because of that, iTunes 11 is indeed a peek into Apple’s new future: one that leans towards the use of more Retina Displays on all their devices. And that’s a good future.

The all-new redesigned iTunes Store is a wonderful improvement over the last. As it also reflects that of the iTunes store on iOS, the new redesign displays store content far better than it used to, and browsing the store is faster.

The Toolbar

Up top, the new toolbar (the most iconic out of iTunes) also has been redesigned. Looking almost unchanged, the toolbar is now grey-tinted, (the last few iterations had a yellowish-green tinted hue) and it comes with one of its new features embedded right on it: Up Next. The Up Next feature is an improvement over iTunes DJ (seemingly under-used in previous versions of iTunes) and instead of having it placed right under the playlists heading in the sidebar, Up Next is placed right where it’s incredibly accessible. It’s even more prominently integrated throughout the app (clicking the arrow next to the song title gives you an option to have the song ‘Up Next’) and it’s even more useful while in Mini-Player mode.


The Mini player has been redesigned, too: it’s smaller, much more sleeker and features more control over music instead of the standard play/pause forward/back buttons. It now has the option to search for music— even while in mini-player mode— and preview and add songs to the Up Next list.

Back to the main interface, the way iTunes displays album artworks and movie posters is brilliant (there’s no resize slider anymore, so the covers have a one-size fits-responsive-window approach), however the extra details like the inner highlights and the border are too overt in terms of display. The “new” badge on unplayed movies (see above) looks impressive, however iTunes’ new display of Apps is horrid; every app icon has an ugly faux-perspective bevel that just doesn’t seem to work.

More on faux-perspective, the new iTunes 11 icon replaces the once-defamed (yet incredibly beautiful) iTunes 10 icon design by Louie Mantia and this new version seems much more of a deterioration rather than an improvement. The new icon looks more like a Staples Easy button. Apple should have kept the original iTunes 10 icon. (Because Jobs might’ve picked it.)

Overall, iTunes 11’s new features combined with the radical new aesthetic change incites a mixed bag of excitement and disconnection.

The new direction Apple is taking with iTunes (noting that iTunes’ design takes a peek into the future of Apple’s style), leans towards a convergence of its iOS counterpart and OS X. OS X Lion made the first step with the additions of iOS-esque folders and the display of app icons in Launchpad mode, followed by Mountain Lion’s additions of Notes, Messages, Reminders and Notification Center. Now iTunes joins the batch.

So what’s next for Apple’s OS-wide redesign? The App Store (Mac)? After all, iOS 6 introduced a new Chomp-espue interface. I guess we’ll soon find out. In the end, however, it’s just a redesign.

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