Best Desktop iTunes Controller: iTunes

There are many Mac applications which will sit on your desktop, displaying cover art and other information about your currently-playing song in iTunes, and give some controls such as play/pause, next, etc. But since the recent release of iTunes 10, one application does this far better than any other, and that’s iTunes itself.

Apple (s aapl) must have realized just how many people use a third-party iTunes controller, because it has added the functionality directly into the latest version of its media application. The feature is built on top of what was just an album art viewer back in iTunes 9.2.1, adding Quicktime X-esque controls.

Launching the Controller

Getting the controller which is built into iTunes 10 running is simple enough; in the bottom left of the iTunes window is an icon which looks like a triangle inside a square. Click that to slide up the Now Playing pane, which shows the album art of any currently playing media.

Now all you have to do is click the Now Playing pane once. A new pop-out window will appear: simply a square containing the album art you just clicked on.

This window can be resized to as big as you like. It might not look anything special, but it’s a different story when you hover over this image while the song is playing. The name and artist of the song are displayed in the small title bar, and all the iTunes controls you could think of are shown near the bottom in the same way as when you watch a video in iTunes or QuickTime X.

Why this is better than a third-party application

For a start, using iTunes itself negates the need to run another application, which often takes up a space on your Dock, and uses considerably more CPU. Another reason I prefer to do it this way now is the fact that the pop-out window has standard window controls, so you can minimize or close the window as you would any other. All the dedicated controller applications I’ve seen require quitting the software to hide the album art.

While some may argue that this method isn’t as feature-rich as it could be — other applications offer the ability to rate songs — I find that once I’ve started iTunes playing, I leave it be until I want to pause or skip a song. I don’t rate my songs, and I certainly don’t need to be able to turn shuffle on or off once I’ve started the music. There’s also no control over the window’s appearance other than its size, but again, that’s something that doesn’t concern me too much.

The only niggle I have is that the window doesn’t like sitting in the very bottom corner of the desktop. When you click on it or when the song changes, it automatically floats up above the height of the Dock for some reason.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so post in the comments the application you favor to control your iTunes content consumption.

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