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Nine new features to check out in iTunes 9

September 9, 2009 |  6:14 pm

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 4.30.04 PM

Contrary to rumors leading up to the Apple news conference this morning, we didn't get a touch-screen tablet computer or the Beatles on iTunes or a new Apple TV. But we did get Steve Jobs, who introduced cheaper iPods and a slew of improvements to the Nano, including a video camera and FM radio.

And, as Jobs promised, the new version of iTunes is available for download. This update to the most popular media player software brings a slew of small tweaks and big features.

You'll notice some of them immediately when you boot up the jukebox, but others are under the hood. So, we broke down some of the most notable changes.

You will need this guide: Apple attempts to alleviate the transition to the new application with an introductory video that launches the first time you open iTunes 9. It's pretty informative -- if you can get it to download.

Perhaps due to an influx of new users following the announcement, the tutorials took more than 20 minutes to load. Before that, we waited a few minutes for the new version to prep our music library. If you're impatient, start the install process now and keep reading this guide.

New look: ITunes' software design has traditionally been ahead of the rest of Apple's software. This new version introduces a number of noticeable visual tweaks in addition to a completely redesigned store. Apple has also given more options to the browser view, which lets you more easily sort through artists and albums. The new look is getting some mixed first reactions on Twitter.

Share on Twitter and Facebook: Speaking of Twitter, Apple is finally embracing social media, albeit in a pretty small way. The iTunes Store now has buttons to easily send messages on Facebook and Twitter about your favorite songs and videos. Baby steps.

ITunes LP adds goodies to album purchases: Thanks to chatty music execs, news of iTunes LP, formally called Cocktail, leaked long before the conference. But the store's new section of media-rich albums is definitely worth checking out. With versions containing digital booklets and ...

... behind-the-scenes videos for the Doors, Dave Matthews Band and Phish, it's a stoner's paradise. There's a similar feature for movies, called iTunes Extras.

Home Sharing lets you sync multimedia between five computers: College students living in dorms know all about the music sharing feature that's been around for a while. (A quick definition: It lets you stream songs from another computer's library as long as it's on the same wired or wireless network.)

Now, you can actually download those songs to your own library if the original buyer enters his iTunes Store password onto your computer.

Apple bills it as a feature for keeping music synchronized between your and your family's many home computers. But students will no doubt turn this into an exclusive circle of socialist song trading. Or they'll continue swapping music using torrents and memory sticks like they've been doing for years.

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 3.38.27 PM Genius Mixes: Genius just got smarter. The Genius feature lets you create play lists of similar songs spawned from a song of your choosing. Using Mixes, songs of a similar genre are automatically arranged together into a new section.

Here's a tip: You won't see the feature right away when you first load the software. You'll need to click "store" in the menu bar and select "update Genius" to generate the play lists.

Better organize iPhone and iPod Touch files in iTunes: Vocal iPhone users have long been requesting the ability to rearrange the placement of apps on the device's home screen using their computers. Adding this feature, the new iTunes also gives more flexible options for synchronizing large libraries with not-so-large iPods.

For bookworms, iTunes U improvements: ITunes U, the little-known educational-resources section of the store, is getting more attention. Lecture videos and podcasts now have their own cubby in your library and a more prominent spot on the store.

More technical options for importing songs from CDs: Are you still buying CDs? Really? I guess you'll have to get the remastered Beatles albums onto your iPod somehow.

ITunes 9 gets a new option to rip songs using a new high-efficiency encoding setting. HE, as it's called, is billed as a more advanced lossy format -- meaning your music will sound really good without eating up a lot of disc space.

The option is buried in the settings menu, though. To turn it on, open iTunes settings; under "general," click "import settings;" in the AAC "setting" box, click "custom;" now, check "use high efficiency encoding (HE)."

Now, pop in your shiny, new Beatles CD; hit import; and let it be.

-- Mark Milian

Follow my random thoughts on rock music and technology on Twitter @markmilian.

Images: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times