During Apple's annual music event Wednesday, CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the 10th major version of its iTunes media management software. Since the program now handles music, video, books, iOS apps, and more, Apple has finally revised the logo to eliminate the CD. With a slightly revised UI, the main new features include compatibility with HD TV rentals, the new AirPlay feature, and a new music-focused social network called "Ping."
Jobs noted that one of the most important features of iTunes and the iTunes Store is discovery—that is, enabling users to discover new music from artists they might not already know. Ping is designed to add discovery features directly into iTunes.
Jobs described Ping as "sort of like Facebook and Twitter meets iTunes." You can follow your favorite artists to keep up with tour schedules and new album or song releases. You can also follow your friends to see what music they are listening to and downloading, or even what concerts they are going to. Ping will also track your top ten songs and albums and let you see the charts of your friends.
You can post updates to your Ping account, which your followers can comment on. You can also comment on posts and images that your favorite artists share as well. Jobs noted that there are fine-grained privacy controls that allow you to control what gets shared, and he described the settings as "super simple to set up." The $64 question is whether iTunes users have the energy and desire to stay on top of yet another social network. At least Apple won't have trademark worries—Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, better known as the maker of Ping golf clubs, has reached a trademark agreement with Apple over the use of the name.
In addition to the social networking features, iTunes 10 is compatible with new HD TV show rentals, which cost 99¢. Shows are available from ABC, ABC Family, Fox, Disney Channel, and BBC America, though Jobs expects that "the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board pretty fast." (The TV rentals are also compatible with a new Apple TV announced as well.)
iTunes 10 also has an updated AirTunes feature, now called "AirPlay." The name change is a result of Apple adding video and photo "streaming" to the mix. In addition to streaming music to an Airport Express, you can now stream music directly to remote speakers from the likes of Bowers & Wilkins, JBL, Denon, and iHome. iTunes also facilitates streaming of video content as well as iPhoto albums to other devices, including Macs, iPads, iPhones, iPod touches, and Apple TVs.
Jobs called iTunes 10 "even further refined," though he didn't discuss any sort of performance or architectural improvements. The only obvious UI change is that the close, minimize, and maximize buttons are arranged in an HIG-busting vertical orientation—a dubious refinement. While the social networking capabilities, TV show rentals, and improved AirPlay are appreciated, more users would have been satisfied with under-the-hood changes. (We'll be sure to let you know if we notice any performance improvements once we get to spend some quality time with the new version.)