"We now have over 200 million customers using iTunes in the cloud," said Apple's senior VP of software Eddie Cue. "But we're not standing still. Today we're introducing a new version of iTunes."
Citing the fact that over two-thirds of iTunes users now access the music platform via their mobile devices, Cue introduced a host of enhanced mobile offerings on Wednesday. The new iTunes can stash some 50 billion songs, apps, books and videos from iTunes in the Cloud.
Reports had surfaced as far back as April that Apple was building a new version of its popular music platform. While previous versions had focused largely on small adjustments, cosmetic tweaks, or new features (such as the Genius feature introduced with iTunes 8), the iTunes 11 application was rumored to feature many "under-the-hood changes" along with a widespread redesign of the user interface, music store, and greater integration with Apple's iPhone smartphone and corresponding operating system, iOS 6.
Given how advances for Apple's iconic music and media platform have tended to lag behind the massive strides the company has made in recent years with its revolutionary smartphones, tablets, and computers, iTunes 11 was expected to offer dramatic improvements and upgrades in two major areas: enhanced iCloud integration and a complete redesign of media platform itself along with the app store.
With regards to greater hardware and cloud integration, 9to5Mac.com reported that Apple was building a "dedicated iCloud settings panel within iTunes." The main impact of the new service was that users would have better control over what of their media they would share with other iOS devices. Previously iCloud was accessible only through settings tucked away in iTunes preferences and difficult for many users to find and use easily.
Apple unveiled complete redesigns for all of the iOS app stores on Wednesday, including the iTunes Store, App Store and iBookstore. New versions of iTunes on the Mac will have iCloud built-in, along with a redesign to make laptop and desktop versions of the platform more similar in appearance and function to the iOS versions. These changes should make for a more seamless experience storing, transferring, and accessing media across all of Apple's devices.
iTunes' classic music player has been shaken up. The traditional playlist and artist/album/genre media organization structure has a new "up next" feature that lets users see what songs are coming up next, making it easier to jump ahead or pick different songs rather than being forced to reorder the entire list. An updated mini player also gives users more control over iTunes, in addition to search capabilities, without having to open iTunes proper if they are multitasking on a device.
Undergoing the widely expected redesign, both iTunes 11 and the updated iTunes store will bear a much stronger resemblance to previous mobile versions of the media platform. Similar to Microsoft's announcements about the dramatic retooling of Windows 8, Apple's new and improved media platform is rigorously constructed to allow for greater integration and a unified aesthetic for personal computers and mobile devices alike.
Expanding its multimedia capabilities, the iTunes movie library will also allow for greater integration across multiple devices, meaning that users could pick up where they left off on a film or television show they were watching on their home computer with their iPhone or iPad. The iPhone will also be getting a new version of the iTunes store that will allow users to play track previews as they browse for new media and offer "better search results," Cue was clear to add. In a nice touch to expand beyond in-store sales, iTunes artist pages will also show information about upcoming tour dates and local concerts. This leaves open the possibility of increased Apple store offerings in the future, of course, or partnerships with a ticket service like Ticketmaster or Stubhub. Artists themselves will also be able to share photos and tour information on their dedicated fanpages through the service.
Historically, Apple has unveiled new iTunes together with other new products like mobile devices or operating systems. But with releases of the new iPad, new MacBook line-up, and the new Mountain Lion staggered throughout the spring and summer of 2012 with no mention of iTunes 11, the long-awaited iPhone 5 announcements that came today seemed like Apple's last chance to unveil the new platform this year.
The new iTunes is set for release in "late October," Cue said at the end of his presentation. No firmer release date was yet established, and the Apple website has not been updated with the new information as of the ending of Apple's press event on Wednesday.