Since I'm not in the market for a new iPod, today's "big announcement" from Apple didn't really mean much to me until it got to the iTunes 8 update. The Genius feature (a bit misleading, considering they already use this term for their in-house tech support - I've generally had good experiences, but I don't want to tie in my music listening to the need for assistance) supposedly builds smart playlists based on a single song from your library. On my work computer (with no music library to speak of), it also gave helpful suggestions from the iTunes Store. Reminiscent of Amazon's suggestions and usually well-related, it still wasn't a huge leap. It also made me wonder why it was recommending German techno based off of the ill-received Roots/Patrick Stump collaboration "Birthday Girl." There's some inscrutable logic there I'm just not getting.
After installing iTunes 8 at home and letting it catalog my home library (a process that took just under an hour on an old PowerMac G4 - slow but a lot of storage capacity), I gave it a shot on the track I was practicing at the time. From Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely?", I received a 25-song list featuring Sly and the Family Stone, Al Green, The Spinners, Isaac Hayes, Maxwell, D'Angelo, Parliament, Sam & Dave, Van Hunt, Nikka Costa, The Time, and more. Decent selection of new and old, and all were good songs. At this point, it's looking like a more intelligent shuffle function - the tracks are random, but they're stylistically similar.
Tackhead and Supergrub produced no results from Genius. Even though both are in the iTunes library. A little disappointing.
The Hold Steady pulled tracks from The Gutter Twins and The Twilight Singers (both well-loved rock acts in my library, no surprise), Art Brut (former tourmates and excellent match), TV On The Radio and Gnarls Barkley (okay, I suppose I can see these fitting in) and Genesis. Nope, I'm drawing the line at "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway."* That just doesn't quite pull it.
I like the idea of Genius, and its results seem useful, if sometimes rather random. Most of it is still based on what's in your library, so you're limited there in a way that you're not with Pandora and Last.fm. However, your tracks aren't likely to disappear due to inscrutable royalty disputes either, so that's a plus. The feature is also another way for iTunes to sneak advertising into your music experience, so take that as you will. Some will enjoy the suggestions for the possibly new and different, others will resent the intrusion. I've always wondered what Amazon thought about me, too. It's a decent step forward, but it still does nothing to advance iTunes and the iPod to my ultimate wishlist - liner notes and info in the program AND on the mobile device WITHOUT DRM. I even set that up as a Boolean statement, for ease of programming.
*Incidentally, the track in question was "The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging." You're going to read into that what you will, so have at it.