Here is a roundup of new software that I've seen lately, most of which was also, in expanded form, in the MagBytes Christmas Special pdf.
It's a much reengineered iTunes partly to address long-term criticisms. Performance wise I'm not sure it's any better. These following tips definitely work for Mac users; not sure about the PC version.
iTunes 11 looks different, with the familiar left sidebar gone, but you can turn it back on in the View menu. If you don't, the iTunes Store and connected devices are accessed now from a button at top right.
You can jump between the new sections of your library by holding down the Command (cmd) key (on Macs) and while it's held down, press the number keys 1 to 7. The order is Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, iTunes U, Books, Apps - but NZ doesn't have TV shows yet. NZ's Next Top Idiot, anyone?
A whole new feature, which is echoed in the new Remote app for iDevices, is Next Track. Add any track to your Up Next queue by selecting the little arrow next to the title. You can also hold down the Option key and a '+' button appears to the left of the title. Click that and the song is added to the top of your Up Next queue. You can also just drag an item from the iTunes library window onto the iTunes LCD-looking area at top centre, where the song title of what's playing now is.
Drag a single song, a whole playlist or an album - the iTunes LCD window shows a blue border around it to let you know things are being added, and the Up Next icon will flash with its cover art.
Apple has removed the Downloads section, but active downloads can be viewed by selecting the Safari-like download button that appears next to Search. Click it to view a standalone Downloads window.
The Burn to Disc option is now under the File menu, but it's not visible unless you're viewing a playlist that can actually be burned to a disc. Get Album Artwork is also now under File.
You can now generate and manage Genius playlists in the top middle section of iTunes. Tap the arrow icon next to the track name as it plays and start a new Genius playlist. Up Next will display the created Genius playlist for you.
The Command/Option/M keyboard combo toggles normal iTunes view and the new MiniPlayer. Command/Option/3 brings up the MiniPlayer but also keep the full view open.
Search in iTunes 11 indexes your whole library in one view (music, movies, podcasts, etc.), but also offers to take you to the iTunes Store if you can't find what you're looking for. You can use Command F to trigger search in the MiniPlayer.
You can even redeem an iTunes Store gift card just by snapping it with your Mac's FaceTime camera. This is apparently handy for the visually impaired.
When you have devices connected to iTunes 11, selecting the device button now shows you a quick overview of what you have connected with appropriate icons. When an iOS device is connected via USB to your Mac, its exact battery percentage is displayed on its device summary page, and clicking on areas in the space indicator gets nice and specific when you put your cursor over it.
For the rest, other updates lately have also been significant.
Apple Final Cut Pro
Perhaps due to embarrassment about the way Final Cut Pro X was launched, the 10.0.6 update (it's now up to 10.0.7) sneaked out as a freebie. It may not have seemed significant, but turns out to give huge speed improvements in some operations.
One is boosting for rendering on the timeline by a massive 3200%, since the GPU is now used for rendering on the timeline.
It also added RED Camera support with native REDCODE Raw editing or background transcoding to ProRes and many other additions, which are listed on TUAW.
Apple has posted various White Papers as PDFs for those interested in Final Cut Pro X; note that Motion and Compressor updates also just arrived.
Little free updates to the iWork suite for Mac OS were really designed to work better with the updates to the iOS equivalents of Pages, Keynote and Numbers. It's these iOS updates that bring the more significant updates: crucially for some, they now work better with Microsoft Office, and Apple has posted pages describing how.
Check in Software Update on your Mac to net these, and also update your iDevice apps (free) to get the latest iOS versions. The paid apps for iOS are just NZ$14 each. TUAW lists what the updates mean.
On the game front, Call of Duty Black Ops for Mac finally arrived. As you probably know, one area Macs really fall down, compared to PCs, is gaming. There are lots of Mac games out there, but compared to the varied and rich games for PC (and consoles), they mostly seem like pale imitations or decidedly old fashioned.
With Call of Duty, the Mac versions are months (if not years) behind PC releases. This new-for-Mac version of CoD is Black Ops. It has a single-player start that teaches you the guns and milieu, but that's hardly the point: the reason to play Call of Duty is multiplayer, and this iteration puts you into an Aspyr-served Mac-only online environment with some incredible new settings. Check the specs in the Mac App Store (a Mac OS update recently qualified the Retina MacBook Pros). If you want to play alongside other Kiwi Mac users, look for the clan tag of [MdMx]; they play from 8:30pm on Tuesdays and new members are welcome: email email@example.com for info.
The original Borderlands was also very violent (that's a warning), but with a deep and richly-wrought post-apocalyptic sci-fi world that kept you playing for hours. It's still available on the Mac App store for NZ$39.
Aspyr Media's new Borderlands 2 for Mac comes with the extra pack Captain Scarlett and her Pirate's Booty and Mechromancer. B2 has all new characters and classes, cross platform online play, a new story, a new gun system, new environments and new enemies.
The usual price is US$60, but I have seen it on special for US$40 - check the system requirements before you buy.
If you love rich environments and sci-fi, here's a bargain. Check out Galaxy on Fire 2 by German developer Fishlabs, which has spent a year expanding and perfecting it. The app is on iOS too, but Galaxy on Fire 2 HD is available for Mac.
GoF2 has open-world space exploration, combat and trading across a huge galaxy to explore and with a large story to play through. This game is in the Mac App Store for just NZ$13.99.
On the iOS front, although not in the gaming arena, Forsyth Barr has just launched a free iPhone App.
The app provides market news and data for NZX and ASX securities alongside Forsyth Barr's investment view on over 60 NZX securities. Forsyth Barr clients can log in for even more features.
Happy (space or otherwise) trading.By Mark Webster