Apple gave a sneak peek at iTunes 11 back at September's iPhone 5 event, and the software will finally make its way to consumers today. The new iTunes features a sleek, streamlined interface, with a heavy influence on album artwork that calls to mind the music application for the iPad. Overall, it's probably the biggest UI revamp iTunes has ever received, and at a first glance it seems like a smart new system — albeit one that doesn't fundamentally change the still-successful purchase-based consumption model that Apple has pioneered over the last nine years.
Playlist creation in particular seems to be greatly improved — when you start a new playlist, it has its own dedicated pane for dropping songs or albums that's always available, so you can see exactly what you're doing without having to jump in and out of the playlist itself. Managing content on your iDevice works in a similar way — you can add content via a pane that appears on the right, but doesn't necessarily take up your entire field of view. Overall, it looks like iTunes 11 is quite a bit more efficient with the space it takes up than previous versions.
Apple has also increased the iCloud hooks found in iTunes — now, all purchased music, movies, and TV shows show up inside your library whether they've actually been downloaded locally to your computer or not. It sounds a bit like the way iTunes Match works, but of course it only works with purchased iTunes content. Another bit of iCloud integration is that you can now start a movie or TV show on any iCloud-enabled device and pick up where it left off on another — so if you start a film on your Apple TV and want to finish it up on your Mac, you'll automatically start from the correct spot.
Probably the biggest UI redesign iTunes has ever undergone
The iTunes Store itself has also undergone a visual refresh, but the main changes you'll find is that the store is even more hooked into your existing content than ever before. When you click on album artwork, it'll expand to show the track listing, but it also includes a quick link to the iTunes Store for related content without having to leave the player view. Initially, iTunes 11 feels much less like a group of sometimes-unconnected experiences (like having a store, playback, and iPod syncing all built into one app) and more like a nicely integrated media package.
Apple had promised that iTunes 11 would be released sometime in October, but late in the month Apple announced it would be delayed until the end of November — with the release this week, they're getting it in just under the wire. The software is available for OS X and Windows; the OS X update is currently rolling out through the Mac App Store, and Apple's iTunes page should be updated any moment.
Update: Apple's packed at least one extra surprise into the update as well. As spotted by 9to5Mac, iTunes 11 now allows users to redeem an iTunes gift card by simply holding it up to your computer's camera. We're taking a dive into the new software now, and will have our impressions — along with any new undiscovered features — ready for you soon.