iTunes is arguably the most important app for your Apple mobile device. It's the first program you use after you buy an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and it's the only way to backup and restore the device or update its operating system. There is an enormous variety of content available through the iTunes Store—so much so that it can be hard finding and managing content. Fortunately, there are some excellent "helper" programs available. Let's take a look at some of the best.
With over 13 million DRM-free songs available for purchase on iTunes, it can be hard to find the one you want. Fortunately, iTunes has tools to help you. You can have alerts about new music from your favorite artists sent to you. Simply click on your account name in the upper right corner of the screen, select Account, log into your account and click on the button labeled,"Manage My Alerts." You can also receive an e-mail alert for Apple's free"Single of the Week" as well as new and upcoming releases by subscribing to Apple's "New Music Tuesday" newsletter (mynews.apple.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/Subscriptions.woa).
iTunes automatically downloads the correct "Meta tags" (track titles, artists, genre, year, etc.) and artwork for the albums you buy, but if you filled your music library with songs you've ripped from your CD collection, you may need to update this information. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions that do that for you.
SongGenie 2 ($29.95, Mac only, equinux.com/us/products/songgenie/index.html) updates song information with ease by scanning your music library, identifying songs with missing tags, offering to add missing tags to tracks, and attempting to correct errors in tags (e.g., typos in artist or song names, incorrect year information, etc.). SongGenie 2 also downloads lyrics, which can be displayed when playing music on your iPhone and most iPods (see Fig. 1). You can toggle the display of "Lyrics & Podcast Info" in the iPod section of Settings.
CoverScout ($39.95, Mac only, equinux.com/us/products/coverscout/index.html) finds high resolution cover graphics for your CDs, allows you to edit them in an iPhoto-like interface, and then applies them to the albums in your collection. CoverScout can also apply the cover graphic to each track in the album (see Fig. 2) so you won't lose the graphic if you move the files. (I love this last feature.)
Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes (free, Mac only, dougscripts.com/itunes/) is a collection of over 450 Macintosh scripts (i.e., mini-programs) that solve particular problems or add functionality to iTunes. My favorite is the "Super Remove Dead Tracks" script, which identifies all the missing tracks in your library (indicated by the gray exclamation point) and removes them.
I am primarily a Mac user and not as familiar with iTunes helper programs for the Windows environment. There are fewer quality titles for Windows, and I usually don't like the cross-platform solutions. However, there is one that I can heartily recommend.
TuneUp ($19.95 Annual version, $29.95 Gold version, PC and Mac, tuneupmedia.com) runs in a window alongside iTunes (see Fig. 3). The Clean Tab works like SongGenie, finding unknown tracks and fixing any metadata problems. The Cover Art tab finds missing cover graphics and downloads it. The Tuniverse tab displays a wealth of information about the currently artist, CD, and track, including videos, links to artist bios, news and merchandise, concert notifications, album and song recommendations, and more. The Concerts tab scans your artist list and provides chronological and calendar views of upcoming concerts in your area. It even lists venue and ticket prices with direct links to purchase tickets. The Share tab lets you communicate your most played songs, top artists, favorite albums and so on to a variety of social networking sites. If TuneUp adds lyric discovery/download, it will be the only iTunes helper program you need.
Movies, Music Videos, TV Shows
The video content found on iTunes is nowhere near as complete as its vast music selection. Because of this, many users like to import their personal collection of DVDs.
Handbrake (free, PC and Mac, handbrake.fr) is the tool to use to get DVDs into your iTunes library. It includes presets for the iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and other devices, making one-click ripping easy. It also has numerous settings for someone who wants to fine-tune their import.
MetaX (free, PC and Mac, kerstetter.net/index.php/projects/software/metax) works hand in glove with Handbrake to find and add Meta tags (like director, release date, cast and crew) and movie cover artwork to your ripped DVD files. The end result is that videos ripped from your personal DVDs have all the same information as if you bought them from the iTunes Store (see Fig. 4).
Podcasts and iTunes University
Podcasts are series of video or audio files released periodically and covering a variety of topics. The iTunes Store lists thousands of podcasts to which you can subscribe for free. However, millions of podcasts exist, and a much wider variety can be found at Podcast.com and PodcastAlley.com. You can use iTunes to subscribe to any podcast you find on the Internet by going to the Advanced Menu and selecting "Subscribe to Podcast..." and entering the Podcast's URL.
iTunes U offers more than 250,000 free lectures, language lessons, audiobooks, and other content from hundreds of educational organizations (including Stanford, MIT, Yale, Harvard and Oxford). iTunes U content can be accessed through the iTunes app on your computer or Apple mobile device.
iBooks, AudioBooks and Ringtones
The newest content type to be supported in iTunes is electronic books. The iBooks Library contains iBooks (in ePub format), audiobooks, and PDFs. Unfortunately, you cannot read or purchase iBooks from iTunes on your desktop/laptop computer; you must install and use the iBooks app on your mobile device.
You don't have to buy books from iBooks - many books are available for free from websites like Project Guttenburg (gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page) or ePubBooks (epubbooks.com). Simply download the ePub file and drag it to the iBooks library in iTunes. If the eBook you want is not in ePub format, simply use the open source tool Calibre (free, Mac or PC, calibre-ebook.com) to convert it. Calibre can convert dozens of different file formats to ePub as well as download and apply Meta tags and covers to any item in your iBook collection.
While iBooks are a recent addition, audiobooks have been available via iTunes for years. You can purchase individual audiobooks from the iTunes store or sign up for Audible's subscription service (audible.com). For an excellent overview of AudioBooks, check out AldoBlog (aldoblog.com/audiobooks/itunes) which includes a tutorial on how to import AudioBooks on CD into iTunes.
iTunes: Gateway to a world of great content
A final word of warning: Back up your Mac or PC regularly so you don't lose your iTunes library if the hard disk fails. If you fail to, or if you run into a problem restoring your files, you can use TouchCopy ($24.95, Mac and PC, wideanglesoftware.com/touchcopy) to restore the contents of an iPhone, iPad, or iPod to your iTunes library.
If you only use iTunes to sync music and apps with your Apple mobile device, you are missing out on a world of great content, much of it free! You can make your music collection shine with updated song information and cover art, transfer your DVD videos to your iTunes library, download and listen to or watch podcasts on every conceivable topic, listen to lectures from top professors at some of the world's great universities, read and listen to books, and much more.
iTunes is the key that can unlock the full potential of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch!