Bowtie: Controlling iTunes with Polished Pixels

Any avid Mac user with an eye for style and simplicity will probably tell you they think iTunes is a bloated app. While it’s generally not in an Apple fanboy’s nature to question what Apple does or doesn’t do, iTunes is the one Apple app that gets the most “hate” from the same people who religiously love the tech company from Cupertino.

The acutely design conscious among us long for a simpler iTunes, one that — gasp — just plays music. All we really want is something to control our iTunes library, that looks pretty doing it.

Enter Bowtie. Bowtie is a free app created by the little software collective {13bold}. It functions as a controller for iTunes, and has a thriving customization community behind it creating new and beautiful themes all the time.

In this article, we’re going to look at just what Bowtie is, what it can do, and how to use it. Then I’ll go over a brief round-up of some of my favorite Bowtie skins to get you started controlling iTunes with beautifully polished pixels.

Getting Started

Thanks to the recent release of the Mac App Store, installation and set-up of Bowtie is a cinch. Simply search the Mac App Store for “Bowtie” or take a look here. The Mac App Store will do the rest.

Once Bowtie is installed and running, you will notice a new icon has appeared in the menubar. This is how you access Bowtie’s preferences and a few other important functions. The idea is that once you’ve set up Bowtie to your liking, you won’t have to use this menu much at all.

Bowtie's Menubar Options

Bowtie's Menubar Options

A Minimalist Feature Set

Bowtie is designed with one thing in mind: controlling the playback of music from iTunes. It’s not an iTunes substitute, or a media player all its own. Bowtie relies on iTunes being open, and having something playing to be useful.

In order for Bowtie to be a productive addition to your Mac lifestyle, you need to have a problem that Bowtie solves. For me, I utilize Spaces frequently while I work, and I wanted a simple way to see what song was currently playing in the background. Bowtie lets me do this.

The fact that I can pause and resume the music, and maybe switch to the next and previous tracks too, are just bonus features in my book. I think the key to using Bowtie successfully is accepting, and enjoying its limited feature set.

There are two features to Bowtie that extend beyond its simplistic core:

  • Scrobbling
  • Remotely controlling music on your iPhone or iPod Touch

For you fans out there, scrobbling is a pivotal feature. Bowtie handles it elegantly, and in the background, letting you simply enjoy your music. Remote control of an iPhone or iPod Touch’s music playback requires the purchase of the 99¢ Bowtie app in the App Store.

If having control over what’s playing on your iOS device from Bowtie’s controller sounds appealing, I highly recommend the app. Like Bowtie for the Mac, Bowtie for iOS is simple and elegant — software that just works.

The Fun Bit — Themes, and Skins, and Mods – Oh My!

Bowtie’s reason for fame is its powerful theming engine built on web standards like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The Mac theming community has jumped at the chance to create beautifully polished themes for an app they enjoy.

If you feel you possess the skills needed to create a Bowtie theme, {13Bold} has kindly created an in-depth guide to the process. Modeled after Apple’s own documentation, the guide is a soup-to-nuts explanation of what it takes to make a theme. It’s required reading for anyone looking to get into the Bowtie theming game.

Bowtie Themes – Writer’s Choice

Seeing as I’m the writer of this little review of Bowtie — and these are the themes I personally hand-picked as my favorites — I think the designation of “Writer’s Choice” is apt. The features I was looking for in a theme were: pause/resume controls, song meta data, and above all beauty. So, without further ado, I present to you — my Writer’s Choice Bowtie themes.

Zukunft Condensed by alx and janik

Zukunft Condensed by alx and janik

Zukunft Condensed by alx and janik

Where typographic themes are concerned, Zukunft is one of the best. It gives all the information you could want: song name, artist name, album name, rating, and a progress indicator. Its beauty is its simplicity. If you’re interested in always having that information on your desktop, you couldn’t do better than Zukunft Condensed.

Curl by Philipp Antoni

Curl by Philipp Antoni

Curl by Philipp Antoni

This is one of my favorite themes for Bowtie. Created by the incredibly talented Philipp Antoni — a real legend in the Bowtie theming community — Curl creates the illusion of your desktop peeling back and revealing the album artwork of the currently playing song.

It’s even self-aware, rotating to the correct orientation as you position it in one of your screen’s corners.
While it may be low on features — you can’t control iTunes at all, it simply displays the currently playing song and it’s rating — it’s extremely high on style.

Flip Nano by Side-7

Flip Nano by Side-7

Flip Nano by Side-7

A mod of the Default Bowtie theme, Flip Nano is a smaller version. It has the same double-click/flip effect, giving you access to all the information and controls you could possibly want.

Playlet Basic by Joe

Playlet Basic by Joe

Playlet Basic by Joe

In the same minimalistic style, Playlet by Joe shows the album artwork for the current theme. That’s it. On hover, pause/resume, next song, and previous song are shown. If what you’re looking for is just a visual reminder of what you’ve got playing in iTunes, this is the theme for you.

Gadgetry by Whitney St. Charles

Gadgetry by Whitney St. Charles

Gadgetry by Whitney St. Charles

Gadgetry is a beautiful combination of glossy goodness and functionality. All the basics are here: pause/resume, next and previous, and iTune’s rating. It features some slick animations and, frankly, just looks good.

GlossPlayer by Waseem Dahman

GlossPlayer by Waseem Dahman

GlossPlayer by Waseem Dahman

Similar to Gadgetry in style, GlossPlayer pares down the functionality, revealing simple pause/resume and next/previous buttons when you double click on the album art. As is the case with a lot of the themes in Bowtie, cover art is king.

HjH Vinyl by Hjalmer Heimburger

HjH Vinyl by Hjalmer Heimburger

HjH Vinyl by Hjalmer Heimburger

HjH Vinyl is probably one of the most feature-rich Bowtie themes out there, but it never feels overwhelming. It contains everything Bowtie offers: song info, playback controls, progress bar, ratings, and album artwork. If you want everything Bowtie can do, HjH Vinyl’s for you.


For all you pixel fiends out there, Bowtie is your ticket to controlling and displaying your music beautifully. Try it out — it’s available to all for the perfect price of free.

And don’t forget to explore the interesting and exciting world of Bowtie themes out there. That’s where the real fun is. Go forth and enjoy controlling iTunes with beautifully polished pixels!


Bowtie functions as a controller for iTunes, and has a thriving customization community behind it creating new and beautiful themes all the time.



Add Yours
  • Better than Coversutra IMO. And Free !
    A must-have for Apple Nerds :°)

  • According to Bowtie’s settings, it looks like it is supposed to hide when iTunes is paused or stopped, but it doesn’t….I wish they would fix that as soon as possible

  • It is simple and present the features I need. Been using this after CoverSutra.

  • Whoops, looks like you’ve got some Markdown in your post right under the GlossPlayer theme.

    Also: I use this in conjunction with CoverSutra for one reason: search. Search was present in the beta versions of Bowtie but it was really buggy so Matt decided to remove it until version 1.2. Except, it’s still not back in yet and we’re on version 1.3.

  • Anyone knows if works with Apple Remote?

    • Thiago, I suppose it should work with Apple Remote.

  • So basically this is just an alternative for the iTunes mini-player. It still requires iTunes to be running.

  • I think bowtie is better than coversutra and free but i think TunesArt is much better than bowtie try it

  • Tried Bowtie, not really a fan – I’m more partial to ByteController (just sits in the menu bar taking up next to no space –

    May I mention though that the author of this post has excellent taste in music :)

    • Haha, thanks so much Jono, appreciate that. :) Haven’t seen ByteController before. I’ll have to check that out.

  • It uses about 100+MB of memory. Sometimes it is more than iTunes uses. The more you switch the music, the more memory Bowtie uses. I dun think it is necessary to spend so much memory on Bowtie since i have limited 4G Ram.

  • I’ve been using bowTie for like a year or 2 now, after coversutra. I recently made the full on switch to Ecoute, and it just has the functionality I need. bowTie is solid though, Laurent! ;)

  • Nice wallpaper. Got a source link?

    • You know, I don’t think I do. I don’t even remember where I found it. Sorry. It lives in a Wallpapers folder on my iMac, and I grab it from there when I want to use it on another machine.

      • was it difficult to post a dropbox link or upload it on something like tinypic or imageshack?

  • One of things I always appreciate about Mac software is their minimalist, unobtrusive design. Bowtie gets a thumbs up from me!