The latest update of iTunes (version 8) contains a new feature called Genius, which creates playlists from your library of music, as well as recommending songs for you to download.


iTunes Genius

With the popularity of music recommendations provided by sites like Last.fm, Pandora and the recently launched Filter, this seems like a smart move by Apple, so how does it perform? 

Recommendations

Now the Genius function appears as a sidebar on the right of your music library; as you listen to songs from your library, songs from the same artist that you haven’t already got appear there, along with recommendations from the iTunes Store.

Genius sidebar

Thus far, it’s impressive as well as being useful, both for users being able to identify songs by the same artists that they don’t have at the moment, and for recommending some relevant related music.

It is more convenient, in that you don’t have to go to the iTunes Store to listen to a preview of the track or to select to purchase a song.This is also excellent for Apple, as offering such temptation to purchase related tracks should be pretty healthy for the company’s revenues.

There were a few problems with recommendations, and the sidebar doesn’t work for all artists. Playing a song by The Beatles will not produce any recommendations, nor will more obscure artists, Captain Beefheart for one.

But it seems to be more about the popularity of a song, rather than an artist per se. And newer tunes need some time to bed in, before Apple has enough data to figure out listening habits and make recommendations. Some kind of ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button might work for those tunes off the radar, based on the artist match, or even using a third party API such as last.fm to fill in the recommendation gaps.

Playlists

Genius can also create playlists for you based on the song you are listening to. Clicking the ‘start Genius’ button will give you a list of 25 or more songs that fit in with the one you are listening to.

I initially thought this feature was pretty useless, as I was getting a message that ‘genius is unavailable for this song’ far too often, but once I figured out that you need to select (put a tick next to) all your songs first, the feature worked well. Apple could have explained this to me a little better though.

Selecting Miles Davis, for instance, gave me a jazz based playlist, while choosing a song by The Fall will give you a mix of 80s and 90s indie music (although obviously nothing quite like The Fall).

Even Ariel Pink’s tunes will generate a playlist. It’s that good / weird.

All in all, a good discovery tool, which will work better the more songs you have in your iTunes library.

Conclusion

Genius is one of the most welcome additions to iTunes; it manages to add value to the service by working as a discovery tool, and the easy link with the iTunes Store will no doubt have people spending more than they would have done before.

Related articles:

MySpace lines up music labels to compete with iTunes

Apple finally cuts iTunes prices in the UK