Those reports about a new scheme to "stimulate sales of CD-length music" were true, and then some: Along with extras for albums and movies, iTunes 9 comes with media sharing (!) and iPhone app management. Updated with walkthrough gallery.
Here's what's new in the most significant update to iTunes in years:
iTunes LPs: These are effectively like bonus CDs for digital albums. Each one comes with extra songs that you only get if you plunk down nearly $20 on the whole album—you can't download these individually. Along with that, you get video content—in most cases, live concert recordings—as well as photo albums and lyrics, which serve as a sort of modern-day liner notes, I guess? It's a bit like buying one of those loaded-up "Digipack" CDs record companies used to release, except on iTunes.
Many albums come with a special custom display mode, so all this fancy new content isn't just dumped into iTunes' regular audio and video browsers, which would seem like a waste.
iTunes Extra: Like iTunes LPs for films, this gives you a downloadable equivalent of DVD extras for films, with interviews, supplemental clips and photo galleries. Some of the extras, like the ones for Wall-E shown here, are a little more interactive, and have their own distinct interface.
A New Store: As for the storefront itself, all content is now organized in a new layout, which looks a lot more like a software interface, and less like a heavily formatted webpage. For example, you can now quick-view albums, which opens Preview-style windows that let you see what's behind a given link in the store, and there's an ever-present menu bar that lives up top, replacing the cumbersome breadcrumb navigation from before.
A Tweaked Interface: Apple's rearranged a couple of interface elements here, moving the "Artists" browser to the far left as tall column, and changing the color of the app chrome so it's a little lighter than other apps, which is a bit odd, and visually jarring.
Media Sharing: The software's getting some pretty fantastic new functionality outside the store as well—it's got media sharing, at least on your local network: You can copy songs, movies, and TV shows to up to 5 authorized computers, or simply stream them. This is pretty huge, and a definite about-face for Apple, which has been slowly stripping out sharing functionality from iTunes from the beginning.
An App Manager: On the iPhone/iPod front, now you can rearrange and manage apps from within iTunes, which was one of those stupid-simple feature upgrades people (and by people, I mean we) have been clamoring for for months. Apple's version of the app manager is better thought out than the concepts we've seen before, which were already droolworthy. Apps can be dragged and dropped, either alone or in groups, and selectively synced. Awesome.
Syncing, Genius and Social Networking: A few odds and ends here—iTunes 9 also brings finer sync controls, including options to sync genres or artists instead of just playlists, and more options for video and photo syncing. There are also new "Genius Playlists," which are just general library mixes that iTunes thinks you'll like, rather than the old Genius playlists, which were based on a particular artist. Social networking support is nowhere near as deep as rumored—it just gives you shortcuts to spam your friends with links to iTunes store pages over Twitter, et al. Apple's also thrown in a little treat for Windows users: Playback controls from the Windows 7 task bar.—Thanks, Daniel!
But on the whole, this release raises just one big question: iTunes, did you just get good?
UPDATE: Here's a walkthrough gallery, for the best of what's new in iTunes 9:
Apple Premieres iTunes 9
Featuring iTunes LP, Home Sharing, Genius Mixes & Improved Syncing
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 9 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Apple® today introduced iTunes® 9, the latest version of the world's most popular software application to purchase, manage and play media, packed with innovative features such as iTunes LP, Home Sharing and Genius Mixes, as well as a redesigned store and improved syncing. iTunes 9 makes it easier than ever to discover, purchase and enjoy your music, movies, TV shows, and apps for iPhone(TM) and iPod touch® from Apple's revolutionary App Store. Plus, Home Sharing now lets you easily transfer songs, movies and TV shows to other computers in your home.
"iTunes 9 is a great iTunes release, with innovative features that make using iTunes better than ever and iTunes content richer than ever," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "iTunes LP, for example, lets artists share more of their creativity with fans and gives music lovers the feeling of being immersed in an entire album with art, lyrics, liner notes, photos and videos."
iTunes LP is the next evolution of the music album delivering a rich, immersive experience for select albums on the iTunes Store by combining beautiful design with expanded visual features like live performance videos, lyrics, artwork, liner notes, interviews, photos, album credits and more. iTunes LP debuts today with albums including Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me," The Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" and Dave Matthews Band's "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King: iTunes Pass." The new iTunes Extras provides a similar experience for movies on iTunes with features including documentaries, deleted scenes, interviews and interactive galleries. iTunes Extras is now available for select movies including "Twilight," "Batman Begins," "WALL-E," "Iron Man" and "The Da Vinci Code." Customers can enjoy iTunes LP and iTunes Extras on a Mac® or PC.
iTunes 9 also introduces Home Sharing, which lets you easily transfer music, movies and TV shows among up to five authorized computers in your home. Family members can now view up to five iTunes libraries on their home network, see only the portion of these libraries they don't already have, import their favorite content directly to their own libraries, and automatically add new purchases from other computers into their library.
The incredibly popular Genius feature gets even better with Genius Mixes which are created using the results of over 27 million music libraries with over 54 billion songs that have been submitted and analyzed by Genius. The new Genius Mixes feature is like having a "Genius" DJ that automatically generates up to 12 endless mixes of songs from your iTunes library that go great together.
With improved syncing in iTunes 9 and iPhone OS 3.1, you can now organize your iPhone apps right in iTunes and they will automatically appear on your iPhone with the same layout. Plus, syncing music, photos, movies and TV shows is easier than ever with the added ability to sync music by artist and genre and sync photos by Events and Faces. The iTunes Store on iPhone now features precut ringtone downloads with over 20,000 ringtones priced at just $1.29.
iTunes 9 is available immediately as a free download at www.itunes.com.