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How to Recover the Left Side Navigation in iTunes 11

I can’t believe I’m writing this blog post, but I am.

Last night, I tweeted out my joy at finding out that Apple did, in fact, provide a menu item to re-enable the side navigation in iTunes 11.  Now, while I’m not a huge fan of the complexity and modality of the older iTunes interface, there is no doubt that after using iTunes 11 for a week, you wish for the halcyon days of the left navigation bar.

Surprisingly, enough people tweeted and commented in gratitude that I realized I should probably summarize in a blog post.

iTunes 11 – Default

This is the iTunes 11 default interface. (Try to ignore my taste in movies for a second)

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 9.09.42 AM

iTunes 11 – Sidebar

This is iTunes 11 with the sidebar enabled.

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 9.14.16 AM

All of a sudden, the shockingly horrid modality of the iTunes 11 default interface is resolved.  You can easily select which sub-category of content in your iTunes library you want to browse, and viewing connected devices and playlists has once again become trivial.  It turns out, you still end up with the horrid choices for navigation views within a “domain”, but at least we’re 80% of the way back to the (limited) usability of the previous iTunes interface.

Wait, How Did You Do It?

It’s hidden under the View menu, “Show Sidebar”

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 9.13.27 AM

Simple does not mean Easy to Use

Just as cuffs, collars and neckties are subject to the whims of fashion, so also do memes in design tend to come and go in software.  I think iTunes 11 represents a bit of a teachable moment on a couple concepts that have been overplayed recently, and what happens when you take them too far.

  1. Consistency does not always lead to ease of use.  Having a more consistent interface between the iPhone, iPad, AppleTV and Mac OS renditions of iTunes may seem like an “obvious” goal, but the fact is all of these devices vary in terms of input mechanisms and use cases.  The truth is, many users sit down at a desktop for different tasks than they sit down at a TV for, and the interface of the desktop is optimized for those tasks with large, high resolution screens and a keyboard.My best guess here is that Apple optimized the interface for laptops, not desktops, and for consumption, not curation. However, Apple would have been well served to provide a “first launch” experience with packaged pre-sets of these minor configurable options, to let users who are upgrading easily identify their primary mode of operation.I would love Apple to take a more proactive stance on how to build applications and services that provide elements of commonality across the multitude of devices that users increasing use to author, curate and consume content with, without blind adherence to making everything look & behave “the same”.
  2. Simple does not mean easy to use.   On the heals of Steve Jobs mania, it has become ultra-fashionable to talk about simplicity as the end-all, be-all of product design.  The fact is, there is often a trade off between reducing the number of controls that an application (or device) has, and introducing increased modality for commonly used functions.  The one button mouse was, in fact, simpler than the two button mouse.  However, it came at the expense of pushing a significant amount of functionality into a combination of selection and menu modality.Look at the poor “single button” on the iPhone.  Simple, but now stacked with modality based on the number and timing of presses.Designers would do well to consider the balance of simplicity, accessibility and the difficult decision of which functions are so key to an application that they require “zero click” comprehension of availability.  For iTunes 11, the hidden modality of managing the devices synched to your iTunes library is unforgivable. (The likely sin here is being too forward looking. As we move to iCloud for everything, the need for devices to be tethered to iTunes goes away.  But we’re not there yet with video.)

I hope this helps at least one person out there have a better experience with iTunes 11.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you, Adam.

    I ALWAYS loathe the “upgrades” Apple provides to their “i” programs. iMovie, iDVD, in particular, became useless for me around release 3…they may have presented “simplified” interfaces to the world, but the underlying software became so bloated that the programs ran poorly (and I’m speaking of working on a dual 2.66 MacPro which runs FCS3 and CS5 with no problems), and lost their appeal to me. And with each upgrade of iTunes I see the same effect; more crap that I don’t use on my desktop.

    December 18, 2012
  2. Thanks, Adam. I was going to need this.

    December 18, 2012
  3. Glad to hear I am not the only one who sometimes loathes updates…Maybe this iTunes is actually in Roman Numerals and is just iTunes 2 rehashed…

    December 22, 2012
  4. Thanks Adam for your fix.

    I a tech guy was helping a friend who had the same problem. He says the exact thing you do: “At least I’m happy that I’m not the only person who is frustrated by this unforgivable incompatibility!”

    January 31, 2013
  5. Thanks!

    I was frustrated to tears by the iTunes interface and missed the navigation bar. While being cloud-based is nirvana for most, its hell when you are in the middle of nowwhere.

    February 1, 2013
  6. Chris #

    Wow, thank you. That was shockingly easy and helpful.

    April 4, 2013
  7. Theresa R #

    Thanks.

    What a frustrating waste of time…twice! Sheez,
    How dumb to start hiding the navigation bar by default, sending users all over looking for the option to re-enable it.

    And the way they put small, very important buttons in random spots. Don’t they do usability testing over there at Apple? Thanks again.

    July 12, 2013
  8. Aubrey #

    Many, Many, Many thanks for writing this. I was going out of my mind trying to figure out how to get the sidebar back. Fyi, I like your taste in movies. :)

    October 2, 2013
  9. rosie #

    OMG THANKYOU! You’ve made me happy

    October 6, 2013
  10. kyle #

    adam, thank you for including screen shots. I thought I was just too stupid to use a mac bc the only “view” button I kept seeing in iTunes11 was the one way over on the right side next to “add to…” INSIDE the iTunes window. that button only drops down “list”, “grid”, and “artist list”. your screen shots finally showed me the “view” way up at top of entire screen next to “file” “edit” etc… I am a long time windows user and am fairly adroit in windows problem solving, but find these utterly simple problems w MacOS to be completely 100% needlessly confusing. I really thought I was going crazy – why did everyone seem to have a “show sidebar” in their “view” except me? – bc I was looking at the wrong “view”! boggles the mind ……… it’s all so obvious to those who already know how to do things, but really – shouldn’t the whole point of good design be to make it easy for those w minimal experience to use the product/item/program?

    December 31, 2013
  11. Kay #

    Is there a way to make the sidebar be the default on iTunes 11? Thanks for the help.

    April 9, 2014
  12. Thank you very much! :*

    October 16, 2014

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