Here it is. A month after it was originally to be released, and barely scraping into the newly scheduled November release date, the new and improved iTunes slides in with surprisingly little of the fanfare which typically comes along with anything Apple do.
I've always had a strained relationship with the software as a Windows user. A few years back, iTunes was ultra crash-happy and fond of slowing mid-range computers to a crawl. Although, over time this has improved to a point where it seems that it's no longer an issue, the basic interface had remained fundamentally the same until now. The thing that made the various little problems with iTunes so annoying was that there were numerous superior media players around, but iTunes had a way of bringing you back.
An iteration or two ago, Microsoft seemed to stumble onto the perfect music organizer with WMP 11. It looked nice, was relatively stable, was intuitive, and had a couple of nice features - my favorite of which was the click to 'add to now playing' function. Other superior options included the likes of the highly customizable, zippy, and stable Mediamonkey and Winamp. However, if you owned an iPod, the easiest option to get the most out of it was to simply use iTunes. In recent years, this has become more entrenched if you own an iPhone/Pad/Touch. Sure, it's possible to get by without ever plugging these things into your computer, but for most of us, the traditional way of syncing these things is the most convenient. So until quite recently, I had always used iTunes rather begrudgingly.
I'll get the only negative I've found about the new iTunes out of the way first. For the most part, it's still rather bland to look at. Staring at the the various shades of grey is like staring at the ultra-sterile interior of a hospital while you're waiting for a particularly invasive operation. But the key phrase there was 'for the most part'. Apple seems to have taken more than a little inspiration from Microsoft's Windows 8 music app and made the focus of the main window the album. Clicking once on an album cover will expand the the view and display it in a rather pretty manner.
Nice. The background color even changes depending on the album.
If you check out the above screenshot a little closer you'll notice that the side bar has been kicked to the curb. iTunes was always pretty minimalist (as is the way of the Apple), and that's been taken a step further in the most recent release. Type of media is selected via the small button in the top left, with playlists and various sorting options selectable from the bar under the now playing window. Device icons are displayed in the top right. Clicking one of these will reveal a sync screen which remains largely unchanged from previous versions.
Transferring things to your device or various playlists can be performed by drag and drop; just drag something over to the right side of the screen and a side bar will appear in which you can choose where you want to send the item.
Another great feature is the inclusion of a 'up next' system. Click the list icon in the 'now playing' window and your shown a list of upcoming songs. Right click on a song in your library and you can choose 'play next' or 'add to up next'. It's been available in other music managers for years (although Microsoft completely ruined WMP by making it add albums to the 'playing next' playlist instead of single songs), but it would be churlish to complain now that it's here.
However, all of this is just window dressing, it's how the program performs that's most important, and from what I've experienced so far, there really isn't anything to complain about. No freezing. No lag. My iPad suddenly disappeared from the devices list this morning, but I've long since given up any hope of Apple doing anything to improve wifi syncing and sharing (a note to rabid Apple fans - unlike my Android, PS3 and every other thing that syncs and shares with my computer, it doesn't 'just work').
It's quite hard writing a concluding paragraph when everything before it is mostly positive. So I guess there's no need to. Go! Go! Download the new version without delay. It looks like PC users can finally download a new iTunes without having to worry about getting a whole heap of migraines coming along with it.
A cursory glance at the first page of Google results reveals that there is pretty much universal love for the Paperwhite at the moment, so in the interests of being fair and balanced, I think I'll play the annoying kid in the Emperor's New Clothes and be a negative dick (not really, I just have a couple of criticisms).
In a fit of impulsiveness, brought on from living in our wonderful commercial world, a few weeks ago, I purchased a new Kindle after deciding that my Kindle 3 just wasn't up to the job anymore. Just to make it clear, there's nothing wrong with the Kindle 3, but the new one's handle Asian characters (the old one's could only do PDFs), which means now that the Kindle is finally available in Japan, there are a lot more Japanese e-books showing up on the Amazon store. Me being me, I clicked Amazon's 'Buy Now' button without reading the glaring notice saying that the Paperwhites were out of stock and weren't expected to ship until early December. Given that I had already put my old Kindle on Trade Me, this looked like it would become a problem. Fortunately, Amazon got extra stock early and I've had my shiny new Paperwhite for about a week at the time of writing this.What was even better was that I got a great price for my old one, meaning I was essentially able to upgrade for free (I'll save the rant about overpriced electronics in New Zealand for another day).
So, what's the verdict? Well, my primary reason for purchase was to have the opportunity to read Japanese books. Done. Although there's nothing that great on Amazon at the moment, the selection is growing. Plus, you can go into your account and choose from a selection of free dictionaries in various languages, now including Japanese and Chinese, to make the foreign language reading experience easier. For these reasons alone I'm happy with the purchase.
The screen is absolutely beautiful and the ability to adjust the light to suit the environment is a godsend. There is a range of fonts and margin widths, so any speed-readers out there can gulp down chunks of text in a single eye movement. The touch screen is relatively responsive, roughly comparable in speed to the Kindle 3 and using the on-screen keyboard is far more convenient.
But. There is something that I miss about the Kindle 3 - the page turn buttons. Young people will probably sneer at old man Garth and his old-fashioned button pressing ways, but the tactility that the buttons provided was a better interface than the somewhat nebulous screen tap. Nothing wrong with screen taps on a tablet, but the Kindle just doesn't have the same quickness, speed or accuracy about it.
The other problem I have with it is entirely of my own making - the ads. I could have bought the ad-free version, but I honestly didn't anticipate them bothering me as much as they do. They don't inhibit the reading experience in the slightest, only appearing on the bottom of the home screen and when the Kindle is sleeping. However, there's just something about picking up the device and having a Bose speaker system or Lexus shoved into my face that is kind of off-putting; they're like intruders in my personal space. They're bearable for the time being, but I think I'll be paying the extra to get rid of them in the future.
So to sum up, if you want to read some east Asian books, or you found yourself frequently using the old keyboard and equally as frequently wanting to hurl the Kindle through a wall, then the Paperwhite is for you. Even if you just want to nerd out looking at the best e-ink screen yet seen, then you should get the Paperwhite. If, however, you're on the fence and are perfectly happy with your old Kindle or other e-reader, then there's not much reason for an upgrade. Save the money and buy a nice Christmas present for a loved one. Or, don't spend any money and be just as content as you are now - the planet will thank you for it.