iTunes 9, iPhone OS Updates Set Stage For Apple Innovation


Apple has always been a fan of spectacle, which is why the rock 'n roll theme of yesterday's Apple event was so appropriate. The company may not have rolled out the next iPhone, but the software announcements Apple made are just as important, setting the stage for the next round of innovation.

Apple's event started on a high note with the public return of Steve Jobs and the unveiling of a video-camera-equipped iPod Nano. While there almost always seems to be a sense of letdown after one of Apple's events -- the reality can never deliver on the hype built up on the Web -- the upgrades to iTunes and the OS for both the iPhone and iPod Touch should not be overlooked.

It is hard to deny the fact that the consumer hardware Apple puts on the market is usually close to, if not, best in class. The way other companies are gunning for the iPhone while simultaneously trying to mimic many of the features Apple pioneered, like its touch screen, is proof of that. Apple devices tend to be well-thought-out and executed, providing a good experience to customers who are willing to pay premium prices for the design.

While the hardware gets tweaked from one generation to the next, major overhauls of the products tend to be few and far between -- a faster chip, better antenna or turning the iPod Classic into the Touch, for example. But the updates to the software are a work in progress, and the updates to iTunes and the iPhone OS help bring the user experience on par with the hardware.

The iPhone OS 3.1 continues to get features that make it more useful as a pocket Internet device. Customers can now redeem iTunes Gift Cards in the App Store and also display account credits. The copy and paste function gets an update too, with users now able to paste phone numbers into the keypad. Exchange calendar syncing and invitations got an update, and syncing the device to a computer was also improved.

The updates to the iPhone OS may seem minor -- except for the ability to paste a phone number into the keypad, which was an annoying ommission -- but Apple continues to make the smartphone a smaller, lightweight analog of a notebook or desktop, in terms of features.

Apple, for the second year in a row, rolled out an updated version of iTunes as well, iTunes 9. Some of the new functions of the music distribution program were shown off at Apple's event yesterday, including updates to Genius and a new home sharing feature.

The most surprising feature of Apple iTunes 9 has to be home sharing. iTunes users can now designate up to five computers that can share songs and apps across a network once authorized. That means that an album -- appropriate because Apple yesterday also unveiled Apple LP, it was a rock 'n roll event after all -- hosted on one computer can be accessed and copied to another computer that is authorized through home sharing. The feature can be set up to check for updates and perform automatic syncs between computers when new songs or apps are detected.

It's almost like Apple is encouraging users to share their music.

Genius Mixes builds on the original rollout of the Genius feature in iTunes 8, which creates playlists based on information in a user playlist. For iTunes 9, Apple extended the capability of Genius to create mixes that play an endless number of songs that all pair well. Genius Mixes creates 12 playlists at first, but can be added to and customized by users.

Apple also listened to users about the difficulties they were having rearranging and organizing Apps. iTunes 9 makes app organization much easier. The program now hosts a replica of an iPhone or iPod Touch home screen with icons representing each app. The apps and whole pages can be moved with the click of a mouse, as well as deleted or re-added to the phone.

What might be most impressive about these changes to the iPhone OS and iTunes 9 is that Apple continuously finds new ways to tweak and change and overhaul the software to match the innovation of their products. While Steve Jobs' patented "One more thing" at the event may have disappointed some in the blogosphere -- that thing turned out to be the video-camera-equipped iPod Nano -- the updates to the software are laying the groundwork for the next round of hardware innovation sometime in the future.