Elliot Jay Stocks logo by Emma Luczyn

iTunes 7

Returning from a holiday is always made that little bit easier when there’s a gorgeous new Apple product to return to, and on this day, it’s the brand spanking new version of iTunes – quite possibly the most important version Apple have released yet.

For those sticklers like me that love our CD-based music collections, there have always been two barriers in the way of going totally hard drive based: 1) the simple fact that it’s more pleasurable to browse CD artwork than text-based lists, and 2) iTunes falls apart in mix-CD / cross-faded tracks because it adds that evil milisecond gap in between songs. Well, no more: iTunes 7 has solved both of these very large problems with the introduction of ‘Cover Flow’ (wow, it even looks super-slick on my old G4 Powerbook (most of the time)) and ‘Gapless Playback’, the latter being a little-advertised new feature but the one that I think is really going to make the difference in bridging the gap between CDs and digital files.

The outright coolness of Cover Flow extends beyond the pure aesthetics, as well. It’s basically a scaled down part of Front Row, but the difference is that it’s now available to every single person using iTunes, and that means PC users as well – an audience whose attention Apple is getting better and better at grabbing.

But the devil’s in the detail and in this case it appears to have turned me into an Apple salesman. Other sexy new features include ‘iPod Summary’ for viewing your iPod info at a glance, and Apple now also allow you – shock horror – to transfer songs back from your iPod to the computer. Oh, and then there’s the beautiful new GUI (reflections, anyone?) and the new-look iTMS that now sells games. Crumbs.

Ok, so all this new-fangled coolness isn’t without its drawbacks. It took an age to populate my entire library with the album art, and there are several albums it couldn’t find. Perhaps worst of all, several of them are just plain wrong, but I’m confident that an improved image database and a few minor version revisions will fix this over time. The only other slight disappointment was that there didn’t seem to be an iPod Updater (at least for my first-gen iPod Nano) to bring Gapless Playback to iPods as well as iTunes. Anyone know if this is a feature on the new Nanos?

Anyway, I admit it. The time has finally come. I’ve been feeling guilty about those poor old CDs sitting in the box in my bedroom for the last couple of months, and I promised to buy them some decent storage shelves, but now that iTunes 7 has arrived, there really is no need for that trip to Argos – Apple have released what it undoubtedly the best version to date, and in terms of converting the public over from CDs to digital files – with iTunes being the market leader in playback software – this could be considered the most important.