Alongside the new iPods that Apple announced at its annual September event, iTunes reached version 10. As well as stripping the colour from the sidebar, it introduced Ping, a social networking feature that enables you to see what your friends and favourite artists are listening to.
Apple added a couple of features in version 10.0.1, so make sure you're fully up to date. Let's first sign up for Ping and have a look at its main screen.
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You'll see Ping just below the iTunes Store entry in the iTunes sidebar. Click Turn On Ping, and fill in your details to set up your profile – it's very quick. When you're done, you'll see the main Ping screen.
The iTunes interface has been altered. Gone is the colour from the sidebar icons, and the close, minimise and maximise buttons now sit vertically next to the player controls.
The additional button in the panel next to the search bar is the new Album List library view, which we'll look at over the page. Add Playlist, Shuffle, Repeat and Artwork are now just symbols on the bottom bar.
The back and forward arrows to navigate Ping work just like a web browser. On the right, there's a Ping menu, giving you quick access to your Recent Activity feed, profile, the people you follow or who are following you, and featured artists. Use the Ping button to jump back to the main screen.
This newsfeed is just like the one on Facebook. As soon as you choose to follow someone, their updates are added to the feed. Scroll down to read more. If you get to the end and still haven't had enough, click the the More… link below the last posting.
You can follow another person or artist just like you would on Twitter or Facebook. Once you follow them, their updates will appear in Recent Activity, which is akin to your Facebook newsfeed or Twitter home page. Some people may need to approve you first.
Artists we recommend
iTunes suggests artists it thinks you might like to follow, based on things you've bought previously. We got 772 recommendations, which could take some time to go through, but the big names came up in the first few pages. To find out more about a given musician or group, click their name to view their profile page, where you can also choose to follow them.
This list of links helps you navigate various parts of Ping. It gives you quick access to your profile, any reviews you've written, the people you follow, and new, featured artists. Over the page, we'll look at your profile and reviews in more detail.
Click here to sign in; once you've done so, it displays the email address you're logged in with. Use your existing iTunes Store account. When you click and hold, a menu drops down, giving you quick access to your account details, your wish list and the options to redeem gift vouchers or sign out.
Find more people
To find a particular artist, or one of your friends or colleagues, type their name in the search bar and press Return. You can filter the results to show only Artists, or just the regular People. If you can't find who you're looking for, why not invite them to sign up to Ping? Just click Invite and type in their email address and a message.
Post, Like or comment
Seen something you like? Why not share it with your followers. Click Post to share an entry – you can even add a message to the posting. Alternatively, you can click the Like button or write a comment below it. The feed only displays the latest comment by default – click Show more comments to read them all in a handy scrolling pane.
If your children use iTunes and you're worried about them finding unsuitable content, you can disable certain features to keep them safe.
Go into iTunes > Preferences and click the Parental button. Here, you can disable the iTunes Store (which turns Ping off too), Podcasts, Radio or Shared Libraries. If you want to be slightly less draconian, you can simply restrict content based on its rating.
Pick your country from the Ratings for: dropdown, then use the options below to hide material. Remember to click the padlock to prevent anyone from altering your settings.
Now do more with Ping
You can access your Ping profile by clicking My Profile in the Ping menu. It contains the details you filled in when you set up your account.
On the right, you'll see a line of thumbnails of artists you like, which are based on purchases you've made from the iTunes Store in the past. Below all this is your Recent Activity, where you'll see any comments you've made, artists you've started following and more. A list of the people you follow is on the right.
Edit Profile, in the pane on the right, enables you to change your picture, bio and location. Under Music I Like, you can determine what appears in that section. Lastly, Privacy Settings is were you dictate if others are allowed to follow you, and if they require your approval first.
The new Ping sidebar in your music library shows you a mini feed of the recent activity of the people and acts you're following, and if you select a song by an artist who has a Ping profile, you'll see their latest activity at the top. You can also Like or Post the song that's currently selected in your library.
You'll notice a little Ping drop-down next to the song you've got selected. This also offers Like and Post options, as well as direct links to that artist's profile and album pages on the iTunes Store.
Social networking is all about interaction and leaving feedback, so what better way to do this than by writing a review of someone's music? Reviewing music on the iTunes Store is nothing new, but Ping brings all your reviews together in your profile, so others can browse them easily.
To write a review, browse to the album's track listing and scroll to the bottom. There, you can leave your thoughts on it. Now head back to your profile and click My Reviews, and your feedback will appear there. Others who browse your reviews get direct links to buy the music you critiqued.
Bring back the colour
If you, like us, miss the coloured icons in the sidebar or believe firmly that the close, minimise and maximise buttons should appear horizontally rather than vertically, there's good news – changing them back is relatively straightforward.
First off, make sure you've quit iTunes, then open up Terminal from your Applications/Utilities folder. Type the following and press Return:
defaults write com.apple.iTunes full-window -1
Terminal won't acknowledge what you've done, but type exit and quit Terminal. You're now ready to reopen iTunes and breathe a sigh of relief – the buttons will sit horizontally again.
Next up, let's give the sidebar back its colour. This not only looks better, but makes navigating them easier, because you'll probably have come to associate certain colours with certain entries – the Store is green, Home Sharing is orange and your Music library is blue. Without the colour, it'll take you longer to read each entry before you click it. This bit's a little more complicated, but just follow our steps and it'll work fine, provided Source Text is set to Small in the Preferences.
First, quit iTunes, open up Safari and go to here. Click the Download button and wait for the file to come in. While it's downloading, find iTunes in your Applications folder, right-click it and select Show Package Contents. Expand the Contents folder, then the Resources one and scroll down to a file called iTunes.rsrc.
Make a copy of this elsewhere on your hard drive, just in case anything goes wrong.
Then find the file you've just downloaded and copy it to the Resources folder. Type in your administrator password and choose to replace the file that's already there. Now reopen iTunes to be greeted by a glorious technicolour sidebar.
Wait, there's more...
Ping wasn't the only new feature added to iTunes 10; there's AirPlay wireless music and integration with the new Apple TV. AirPlay is designed to enable you to listen to your music anywhere in your house, wirelessly. You can pair speakers and docks to your Mac and then listen to your music in more than one room. You'll even be able to see song details and album artwork on supported devices.
How to use the new Album List view
iTunes 10 adds a new way to browse your music library. As well as the usual List, Grid and Cover Flow modes, there's now an Album List view. It works like the standard List view, but incorporates album artwork into the list. It does this by grouping whole albums together, with the cover art on the left-hand side.
Browsing in this way gives you the best of both the List and Grid views, in that you can visually search for an album you're after, before picking out a track without needing to switch screens. You can also rate the album quickly by clicking the dots next to the cover to give it a star rating. This applies that rating to all its tracks.
In Album List view, you can still sort your library by track name, or any of the other column headings, simply by clicking them. But if you try this, you'll see the majority of your album artwork disappear, because it only displays if there are several tracks to show alongside it.
You can force the artwork to appear, by going to View > Always Show Artwork, but if you then sort your library by track name, most tracks will take up between three and seven lines, due to the image alongside them. So as the name suggests, Album List view is really only for browsing grouped records.
How to explore people's profiles
1. Public profile
Just like you, artists on the Ping network have their own public profiles, which can contain a photo, a short bio, their recent activity and the music they like. If you're not already following them, there's a button just below their name – click on it to start doing so.
2. Music they like
Hover your mouse over one of the album thumbnails that the artist likes to find out the name of the song, artist and album. Click again for an iTunes Store window, where you can preview the record in question and buy tracks. Use the drop-down to Like the album.
In the bottom-right corner, you can see who's following that artist. This is a good way of finding other people who have similar music tastes to you, and then looking at who else they follow to discover new artists. Click someone's name to view their profile and Follow them.
4. Side box
If an artist has written any reviews of others' music, you can read these by clicking Reviews By Artist on the right-hand side. Below this are links to Like the artist, or post their profile to your followers – a great way to spread the word about new bands you've discovered.
5. Buy their music
If you'd like to listen to the artist's own music, click the Artist Page button below their name. This takes you to their regular iTunes Store page, where you have the list of albums, which you can explore, preview and buy. To go back to their profile, click Profile on the right.
6. Stop following
Musical tastes vary over time, so you might find you no longer wish to follow a given artist. You can do so by clicking Stop Following, which you'll find under Artist Links on the righthand side of their profile. Their updates will be removed from your Recent Activity feed.