One of the marquee features of iOS 4.3 is an extension of iTunes' Home Sharing feature. Introduced in iTunes 9, Home Sharing was initially designed to allow you to share music and copy files between iTunes on different computers over a local network.
But with iOS 4.3 and iTunes 10.2, you can now use Home Sharing on iOS devices as well. Here's how it works.
To start with, you need to activate Home Sharing in iTunes on each of the Macs (and Windows PCs) whose libraries you want to share. To do this, go to the Advanced menu in iTunes and choose Turn On Home Sharing.
You'll be prompted to enter your Apple ID and password. This is where the Home Sharing feature has its limits, only those computers sharing the same iTunes account can use Home Sharing together. If your family members each have different iTunes accounts, you'll have to choose one for Home Sharing.
Once you've activated Home Sharing on your different copies of iTunes, they can see each others' libraries and any user can listen to or view content in another user's library. For any DRM material, each copy of iTunes still needs to be authorised to play that content. You can't share Audible files in this manner, however.
In addition, you can copy items from other libraries, just select any item, then click the Import button to add it to your library. Finally, the Settings window lets you tell iTunes to automatically copy any of five types of purchased content from another library.
A new feature in iTunes 10.2 makes Home Sharing a bit easier to work with. If you open the Energy Saver system preference, and check the Wake For Network Access or Wake For AirPort Network Access option (the wording depends on what kind of Mac you have), shared iTunes libraries will be visible in the iTunes sidebar even if the Macs hosting them are asleep. If you click on such a library, the Mac will wake up and you can access its content.
iOS 4.3 setup
With iOS 4.3, you can go even further. Home Sharing is now available on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad that can run the latest update to Apple's mobile operating system. To set it up, go to Settings > iPod on your iOS device. You'll see a new Home Sharing section, enter the Apple ID and password of the account you used for Home Sharing on your computer(s).
The next step depends on the type of content you want to stream to your iOS device (Apple could use a little more consistency in this area, for sure). For music on an iPhone, launch the iPod app to access music. On an iPod touch, launch the Music app and on an iPad, launch the iPod app. On the iPhone or iPod touch, tap on More, then Shared. You'll see a list of shared libraries that are available.
Tap on one to select it, you may need to wait a while for the library to load if it is large. It took several minutes to load my library of more than 60,000 items, which makes this feature somewhat impractical if you want to listen anything without pausing for a cup of tea first. On the iPad, from the main screen of the iPod app, tap on Library in the sidebar, then choose a library from the popup menu.
In either case, you'll see your different libraries (Music, Podcasts, Audiobooks and so on), as well as the playlists available. After you've selected a library or playlist, you can tap Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres or Composers to sort by those criteria, to help you narrow down your selection. Tap one to view its contents, then tap what you want to listen to.
To stream videos from an iTunes library, the step also depends on your iOS device. On an iPhone, the iPod app handles your audio and video content, so there's nothing different from the music process. But on an iPad or iPod touch, you'll need to launch the Videos app. On the iPad, you'll see the libraries available, on the iPhone or iPod touch, you'll need to tap Shared, then you'll see a list of libraries.
Tap one to view its contents, then tap an icon to view either a movie or the available episodes of a TV show. You can watch any videos on an iOS device just as if they were on the device, so long as your network can handle it.
This new Home Sharing feature is very nice to have on iOS devices. You can now leave all your content on your computer and access it on any device on your network. While this doesn't mean you can take it all with you when you leave your home, at least you can listen to or view anything in your library when you're within reach of your wireless network. The time it takes to load a large library limits the usefulness of this feature for those with large media collections right now, but hopefully Apple will tweak the process to speed things up.