A new version, 6.0.2, of iTunes has been released. The new point release of iTunes wasn’t mentioned in the keynote by Steve Jobs earlier on tuesday. So far I’ve only noticed one major change, and it’s the addition of a feature called MiniStore. This feature is turned on by default, and it adds a sub-window to the Library browser window, where Featured Artists, Main Categories, New Releases, Top Songs and Top Albums from the iTunes Music Store are displayed in a condensed Music Store view, thus the name MiniStore.
But the MiniStore goes beyond this, showing context sensitive information about the artists from the Music Store, as you browse your music library.
My first reaction to the MiniStore was negative, I didn’t really like that my library window instantly had been made something like 25% smaller. Still thinking like a Windows user, I was franticly chasing the “settings” pages for information on how to turn it off, until I noticed the icon, located next to equaliser icon, that shows/hides the MiniStore.
I understand that Apple want to drive traffic to the iTunes store, and to make it as accessible and easy to use as possible. I’m sure that market research has shown that it’s actually a limited number of iTunes users that access the Music Store, and I’m sure that the addition of the MiniStore feature will drive a lot more traffic to Music Store.
Final verdict! Well I think that I’ll keep the feature turned on, it is actually quite useful…But…Apple: Please keep iTunes simple and “tidy”, the MiniStore feature is pushing it, especially on smaller screens, like on my PowerBook 12″, where it eats a huge chunk of screen real-estate. I think that Apple should at least have announced this feature a little clearer, and at least mentioned it in the help file under what’s new – there’s no mention, what-so-ever, of the MiniStore in the Danish version of the help-file, or on the Danish iTunes website – I suppose that this will be updated soon – since the MiniStore is mentioned on the English website.
I’m sure that we’ll see even more integration between iTunes and the Music Store in the future. An obvious idea would be recommendations based on the listening habits of users, similar to last.fm. This would of course raise a lot of privacy questions, as I’m sure MiniStore will, but it’s not too different from what we’ve come to accept from Amazon and others. And you can turn the MiniStore off.
There’s room for improvement, I have a few suggestions.
I would welcome the addition of information from external sources, like last.fm, Wikipedia, MusicBrainz etc., but I don’t think that will ever happen, since it could drive traffic to competing music stores. Unfortunately this seriously limits the usefulness of the MiniStore, especially since I quite quickly found artists in my library that weren’t featured in the Music Store – I guess it’s not all about the music with iTunes.
Performance of the MiniStore could be better, but the requests are performed in the background so you don’t really notice the delay unless you’re actually waiting for the search results. I did also get the occasional error message while using the feature. I expect the performance of the MiniStore to improve, it is after-all, brand new.
I used the opportunity to check the “Just for you” section in Music Store – still in Beta. Since I’ve, so far, only bought audio-books from iTunes, the music suggestions were completely off, but the section is useful and it has taken clues from Amazon, making it easy to tweak the criteria. In fact it’s so easy, that it really shows the benefits of rich client applications, as opposed to a standard web client, that Amazon is forced to use.