Minor music improvements in iPhone update

Minor music improvements in iPhone update
I updated my iPhone 3G to the new iOS 4.0 as soon as it became available this morning, so was able to avoid the four-hour download times reported by CNET's Josh Lowensohn. It's definitely a worthwhile update--the improvements to e-mail alone are worth the two hours it took me to download and install the package. But it doesn't do much new for music playback. I've noticed two minor improvements. First, it's now possible to create a playlist directly on the phone; before, you had to create playlists in iTunes on your computer, then sync those playlists to the phone. I can't imagine building a lot of new playlists from scratch while on the road, but this feature does provide a rough equivalent to queuing--you can edit playlists in mid-playback to add a particular song next. This is a welcome addition, but it's still a lot clunkier than the "Add to now playing" option that's available next to every song in my Zune HD library.The update also changes how albums appear in the library. Before, it simply listed every song in a boring white list. Now, album art appears at the top of the list with some information like release date and total playing time. That's about it for this go-around. There's still no on-demand streaming service associated with iTunes, which means you'll have to rely on third-party apps if you want streaming music on demand--I've been enjoying Thumbplay's service ($9.99 a month), but you could also use Rhapsody or Spotify (if you live in Europe), and Mog and Rdio are coming soon. Or, if you want to back your entire iTunes library up to the cloud, then access it from your phone, MP3Tunes and the companion Airband app work for me.One other thing to watch out for: on my 3G, the update performed a clean wipe of my phone, restoring it to its original "factory settings," then re-synced my contacts, apps, and finally my music library. If you've got a big music library, this could add a few minutes to your total installation time.


Genius makes iTunes 8 a worthy upgrade

Genius makes iTunes 8 a worthy upgrade
I was worried that the feature would be too obvious--for example, that it would just recommend songs in the same genre or by related artists. In fact, it's much more interesting than that. I'd guess that it's comparing data from millions of other iTunes users who have signed up for the service (part of the install process sends information about your library to Apple), then matching songs that appear frequently with the selected song. It's probably also using my own playback data, favoring songs I've played back to back and have not skipped. For example, when I picked a Love and Rockets song, it came up with some predictable picks--two more L&R songs, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Catherine Wheel--but also had some outside picks like Ministry, The Pixies, and Sisters of Mercy. All of these songs might be broadly categorized as "music that loud-rock fans in their late 30s liked in their wasted youth," but I wouldn't have put them together. Other experiments revealed a similar mix of expected responses and surprises: a search on a George Harrison tune from All Things Must Pass not only threw up other classic rockers Neil Young and Steely Dan, but also modern-country chanteuse Neko Case and ethereal country-psych outfit My Morning Jacket. Very nice.I did have some problems getting the Genius feature to recognize certain artists, like Fantomas and Fela Kuti, and my attempt to update the Genius feature from the Store menu resulted in an error message, as it couldn't find some mysterious folder it was looking for. (On my hard drive? At Apple? Who could tell?)There's also a Genius Bar that recommends similar songs from the iTunes Store that aren't in your collection already, but I hardly buy any music online, and many of the recommendations are already in my LP collection but not yet digitized. So this feature doesn't do much for me, but could be useful for folks who buy lots of music online.At any rate, it's a free update to a free piece of software, and I can recommend it without reservation for Windows XP users. Vista users, however, might experience the dreaded Windows blue screen o' death when they upgrade and connect their iPhone--check out iPhone Atlas for some possible fixes.