Apple’s iTunes 11 — don’t give up on it yet

iTunes 11 is a speedy, free upgrade, and allows you to wirelessly manage your iPad and applications from your computer.

Apple released iTunes version 11 a few weeks ago, making it more responsive and adding new features. The new features are centered on music/video organization and playback, though you’ll find the interface of the entire program was also overhauled. The layout of the App Store in iTunes was also updated, allowing you browse and discover new apps more efficiently (we’ll explain the value of this later on). These updates were long overdue, but many iPad owners are probably asking, “Why does this matter, I don’t need iTunes anymore.” That’s an accurate statement, since you can use iCloud to backup your iPad and download apps directly from the iPad’s App Store. But iTunes still contains some powerful features that many will still useful; here are our favorites:

  • Forget the cable with wireless syncing – one of the hassles in the past was that you had to use a cable to connect your iPad to your computer to use iTunes. Last year Apple removed this requirement, allowing you to wirelessly connect over WiFi. You’ll need to enable this capability in iTunes from the Summary tab when your iPad is connected. One of the nice features here is that your iPad will automatically sync when on the same network as the computer when first plugged into a power source.
  • Automatic downloads – despite improvements in iOS 6, the app store on the iPad often runs painfully slow, making it a tedious process to find and download new apps. The new iTunes 11 for Mac and PC provides a much quicker browsing experience and shows all the same app descriptions and screenshots. You can even purchase new apps right in iTunes, and they’ll instantly download to your iPhone or iPad (you’ll need to enable this in the iTunes and App Stores section of the Settings app on the iPad).
  • Application management – iTunes 11 makes it convenient to quickly add, remove and organize your apps right from iTunes. When connected, select your device, and then go to the Apps tab at the top of the window. Here you’ll see options to install new apps downloaded directly from iTunes, and you can also remove currently installed apps. You can also organize apps on the iPad screen by clicking and dragging them around. This is a much easier way for those with a large number of apps to sort and move them into folders vs. doing it with the touch method on the device itself. Just remember to hit the “Sync” button in the lower right to apply the changes.
  • More robust backups – most are probably guilty of not backing up their mobile devices enough. The introduction of iCloud helped last year, allowing you to setup automatic daily backups of your iPad’s important data, like email, contacts, calendars, notes, photos and app data. If you were to lose your device you would be able to access and restore this data on a replacement iPad, but you would have to go through the time-consuming step of re-downloading all your apps and media. An additional step you can take is to enable WiFi syncing with iTunes on your home or work computer, and this will backup EVERYTHING, including apps and media (make sure to enable WiFi syncing in iTunes as mentioned above, and the backup will occur automatically each time you plug the iPad into a power source). With this method if you were to lose your iPad, you would just need to hit one button in iTunes when connecting a new iPad to transfer all media, apps and settings.
One last note–when you first open iTunes 11 you’ll most likely notice that the left sidebar is missing. Apple wants you to use the new drop-down menus at the top of window to select devices and navigate your media library. If you want the traditional look, Windows users need to click in the top left corner of iTunes and select “Show Menu Bar;” Mac users need to select “View” from the menu and “Show Sidebar.”
The items listed above are not new to iTunes 11, but are useful tools to help you make the most of managing your iPad (or iPhone). While Apple has removed the requirement of using iTunes to set up and sync an iPad, we think it still provides some extra value and can save you a lot of time if used correctly. Existing iTunes users can perform a software update right from the application to upgrade to version 11, or you can go here to download the latest version.