It's hard not to call iTunes 2 a success -- in the music-playing software's 18 months of existence, Apple says Internet users have downloaded it 14 million times. But with Wednesday's release of iTunes 3, it's now time to restart the count from the beginning.
Running only on Mac OS X, this minor update adds several new features that improve the customizability of your personal music library. You can now rate individual tracks in your collection, on a scale from zero to five, and the program tracks the number of times you listen to each song. Both of those pieces of information move beyond trivia and become quite useful when using another iTunes 3 feature: Smart Playlists.
With Smart Playlists, you can set up playlists that contain rules, rather than songs. The rules work a lot like those in an e-mail program: Smart Playlists will automatically fill up with tracks that match the rules you set (for example, all Rock songs from the 1980s). Like the Make Playlist feature in iTunes predecessor SoundJam MP, you can even create a playlist containing a random collection of songs of any running time or file size. Smart Playlists even carry over to your iPod when you sync.
Another new feature, Sound Check, analyzes your sound files and adjusts their volumes accordingly, saving you the trouble of constantly adjusting your volume controls when a quiet song fades out and a noisy one fades in.
And for people less interested in musical pursuits, iTunes and iPod are now much more intriguing, thanks to their new support for content from online audio book publisher Audible.com. The added support allows Mac users to transfer Audible content to your iPod and burn it on CDs.