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My first six months with iTunes Genius

I know it’s old, old news now, the new Genius feature in iTunes and on iPods and iPhones. I just don’t feel I gave it as much applause as I should have done in the magazine or on this here blog. That’s why, after a six months of use, I feel it’s time to recount my experience…

The thing is, the premise of Genius sounds like so many “advancements” to a piece of software that end up being ignored after some initial fiddling. I hate to say it, especially here, but Apple is sometimes guilty of slightly over egging new features that are A. Not all that. or B. Should have been included in the first place. I thought Genius displayed all the traits of an omelette but, fortunately, it’s is not worthy of a beating (Note: All egg-based yolks jokes are now oeuf limits).

Analyse This
The first thing to put me off about Genius was the extraordinary amount of time it took to “analyse” my iTunes Library. Any scrutiny of songs on my Mac usually makes me uneasy, I don’t want people to spot the Will Smith back catalogue nor do I want the origin of certain tracks to be queried. I’m assured the process is all about configuration rather than snooping and, once it finally completes, it’s worth the risk.

Sidebar Blues
The Genius Sidebar is a clever way to convince you to spend more money on the iTunes Store but likely something you’ll want to turn off. It does suggest some well judged songs based on your currently playing tracks but, like the bloody annoying iTunes Mini Store before it, is more of a hindrance than a help. To further emphasise the sidebar’s role as a sales tool for Apple more than a feature of iTunes, I recently noticed a message that read as follows:

“Genius is temporarily unable to show related music, but here are the
Top Songs and Albums in the iTunes Store.”

It may as well say:

“Don’t think you’re the one making the decisions, buddy. Buy this music now!”

Enter Genius
The star of the Genius show is the small button you now find at the bottom right of the iTunes interface. This is the real genius behind Genius. Say you, like I did, stick on The Beach Boys’ California Girls, to celebrate the break in snow and rain and a fleeting return of blue skies. The lift from such a tune was enough to make me think “I want more like this”. Your previous option was to play the album through to maintain your happy fix but that would mean inevitably reaching the moping harmonies of In My Room and bang – grey skies are back again. Genius makes this a thing of the past. Clicking the Genius button automatically builds you a custom playlist of 25 tracks (you can have up to 100) related to the currently playing tune. Suddenly, alongside the most famous non-surfing band in history I have The Eagles, Third Eye Blind and John Mayer among others (Hanson!?) fighting for a place in my sun-soaked selection.

It’s not just a simple genre-matching either, there’s some very clever analysis going on behind the scenes here, so much so that the earlier probing of my music collection has become a distant memory if this is the result.

Love the result of a Genius playlist? Tell it to add more tunes with the “Limit to:” menu, bring up a new list with the Refresh button or save it for later use with the Save Playlist button above your custom selection.

Available Everywhere
The fun doesn’t have to stop when you leave your computer. There’s a Genius button on iPods and iPhones too plus the option to save the playlist, as in iTunes. As few as two or three taps are all you need on an iPhone to be enjoying a Genius playlist while you’re out and about and, of course, you can sync saved Genius playlists to your iPod or iPhone too.

New Best Friend
I use Genius every day now. Marlena Shaw’s California Soul (I’ve been thinking about LA a lot recently) brought about a fantastic journey through Mark Ronson and Motown, rounded off with a crescendo of Daft Punk recently. Aerosmith have mingled with Elvis and Elton John held hands with U2. I actually get so excited about Genius playlists that I immediately minimise iTunes as soon as one starts so I’m surprised by the selections.

The further beauty of Genius is that this is YOUR music collection being played. These are songs you own crafted into a playlist to suit your mood. The analysis is constant so your freshly purchased tracks stand just as much of a chance of being played as any of the others and the matching of tracks is genuinely intelligent.

You’ll hear album tracks you’ve previously skipped or forgotten, find new favourites in your library and be amazed that iTunes even recognizes some of the songs it throws up. You’ll even find yourself question selections only to be corrected as you pick out subtle nuances and similarities between songs.

Just Do It
If you haven’t tried Genius yet, do it today. It’s available as part of the free iTunes 8, available HERE and is just about the best damn addition to iTunes I can think of in recent years. As much as the Genius sidebar attempts to lure you to spend more, I think Genius actually curbs my iTunes shopping (sorry Steve) by alerting me to some of the hidden gems I already own. Like a good partner, Genius is always there for me, it understands my mood, it soothes me and it shuts up when I want it to. I was going to buy a pet, but you don’t need to take Genius for walks or clean up after it either.

Forget diamonds and dogs, iTunes 8’s Genius should be everyone’s best friend.

Ben Harvell is the editor of iCreate magazine and He enjoys music, Twitter and rugby and spends too much time talking about wine. His iPhone is his most prized posession.