Apple simplifies navigation with iTunes 12.4

Apple has thankfully made iTunes simpler to use.

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Apple on Monday released iTunes 12.4, simplifying some of the complex navigation features that have been criticized in this version of the media management app. Apple’s release notes for iTunes 12.4 say: “Now enjoy all of your music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and more in a simpler design.” You can update iTunes through the App Store app on your Mac.

When I reviewed iTunes 12 back in late 2014, I said, “Overall, I find the navigation confusing—it requires too many clicks to get around.” I find the changes Apple has wrought to the interface of iTunes 12.4 to be both positive and intuitive, and I think all users will find these new ways of navigation to be more efficient, once they get used to them.

Navigating iTunes is now—or, again—centered on the sidebar and a single menu in the navigation bar. (You can show or hide the sidebar in the View menu.) Instead of a lot of confusing media kind buttons in the navigation bar, there is now a popup menu that Apple calls the Media Picker. Click it to choose a media library, edit the Media Picker menu, or mount another iTunes library with Home Sharing.

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Choose a media library from this popup menu.

When you’ve selected a media library, you can then access its contents from the sidebar. Under the Library header, you’ll see a number of ways to access your media. For example, when the Music library is selected, you see, by default, Recently Added, Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, and Music Videos. If you right-click anywhere in this section and choose Edit List, you can add Composers and Compilations, or remove any of the view options if you prefer. Click Done, or click anywhere else in the sidebar to save your changes.

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The sidebar is back, and it's your control center for accessing your iTunes content.

It makes more sense to have a sidebar entry for Recently Added than to pile this content up at the top of the various views, as it was before. But I do not see any way to change the scope of this selection (weeks, months, etc.).

Also gone is the View Options menu, which was previously at the top right of the iTunes window. To change view options—such as how your content is sorted, whether artwork displays, and which columns are visible in list views—choose View > View Options, or press Command-J.

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The View Options window is back; it's now much easier to choose which columns you want to view, and more.

It’s interesting that iTunes now gives you more options for artwork size; in non-list views, you can choose from five sizes, up from three previously.

Another confusing interface element that has been improved is the Back and Forward buttons at the top left of the iTunes window. In iTunes 12.3, these buttons only displayed when you viewed the iTunes Store, and only affected navigation in the store. Now, they affect all your actions in iTunes: whether in your own library, Apple Music, or the iTunes Store. (There are also keyboard shortcuts for these buttons: Command-[ and Command-].)

Apple has thankfully merged the two different types of contextual menus, in most locations. Instead of one menu displaying when you click the ... button, and another when you right-click an item, the menus are the same, and work in the same way. I never understood why Apple wanted these two menus to be different, but it’s good that they’ve realized how confusing they were.

Unfortunately, there are some locations where the “new” contextual menu exists; click the ... button next to an artist or album name, and the new menu is still there. There’s also a new Song menu in the menu bar, which reproduces the menu items from the contextual menu. 

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Now, in most of iTunes, there's just one type of contextual menu.

The iTunes LCD—the display section at the top of the window—has been simplified, removing the Up Next button (it’s now to the right of the iTunes LCD), bringing back the repeat button (why had that ever been removed?), and adding a visible ♡ button. You could ♡ a track previously by hovering the cursor over the iTunes LCD, clicking the ... button, and then clicking ♡. See how much of an improvement this is?

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Even the iTunes LCD has been simplified.

One change that’s a bit surprising is the removal of the buttons below the sidebar that let you create a new playlist or smart playlist. These functions are now in the File > New menu, as is Genius. There is no longer a way to start Genius from the contextual menu, and no more Genius suggestions; now, you select an item, and choose File > New > Genius Playlist. This is a bit obscure; could it be a hint that the Genius feature will be deprecated? (Genius also hasn’t been working well for a while; even for many popular songs, it is unable to create playlists.)

There are still some elements of iTunes that need a refresh. Apple Music Connect is still present, even though Apple has hinted that it would be removed. You still cannot get from the iTunes Store to Apple Music; if you want to stream a track you see in the former, you have to manually search for it in the latter. But this may change when Apple Music is refreshed, most likely next month.

This update addresses many of the criticisms I’ve had regarding iTunes 12 since its inception. Bringing back the sidebar, simplifying the navigation of media libraries and views, and the Back and Forward buttons help make iTunes simpler and more intuitive. The playlist functions are a bit hidden, and it would be nice to see color again in the sidebar, but the changes in iTunes 12.4 make this app more usable. 

There are a lot of little changes I’ve spotted in the latest version of iTunes that aren't discussed here. Learn more about those changes.

Editor's note: Updated at 1:15 p.m. PT to remove an incorrect statement about the Command-L function.

This story, "Apple simplifies navigation with iTunes 12.4" was originally published by Macworld.

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