Is iTunes broken? @jsnell thinks so…

I disagree with Jason’s view.

Every now and then someone comes along and complains publicly about iTunes. Sometimes you can read that it’s outright broken, other times it’s bloated, and so on.

I’m kinda sick of the moaning to be honest.

iTunes has evolved from a pure music player for our Macs, to the center of our entertainment world, connecting all our iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, iPods) to our Mac, and to iCloud, iTunes Match, etc. All this while weighing in at roughly 222 MB.

Let’s dive in:

Apple has packed almost everything involving media (and app) management, purchase, and playback into this single app. It’s bursting at the seams. It’s a complete mess. And it’s time for an overhaul.

Like I said above: Apple is chosing to use one app to manage our digital lives, excluding photos. I wonder how many would scream if they had to use, say, four apps instead. One for music, one for movies, one for iOS sync…you get the idea. That would be a mess.

I use iTunes every day to listen to music on my Mac at work, and it works just fine. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. My issues are not with the core feature of iTunes, the music player. My issues are with all the other junk that has been grafted on since then.

Define “perfect” music player. I mean, what exactly do you need a music player to do, except…you know…play music? I don’t mean to sound harsh, but come on…
I also doubt that the 99% would call iTunes capabilities “junk”, actually I’m pretty sure they’re very happy they don’t have to deal with several apps.

iTunes syncs the media and apps on all your iOS devices, and I haven’t found it to be either flexible or reliable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to delete everything and re-sync music, or videos, or apps because iTunes got confused about whether it had synced to that particular device before.

I’m seriously at a loss here. I’ve been using iTunes for many years now, and I never had problems with it. At all. Currently we have three iPhones (3G, 4, 4), two iPads (2, 3), two Macs (iMac 2011, Air 2011), one iPod Touch, and one Apple TV (2nd gen) connectd to iTunes. Different profiles on all of them. No issue. Ever.

Recently I connected my wife’s iPad to our Mac at home to add some videos for my kids to watch. The iPad had never been synced with the Mac before, because it was using iCloud and the App Store. The moment I plugged it in, iTunes attempted to sync its own parallel collection of apps to this iPad, which I didn’t want. When I tried to turn off this feature, it offered me a decision I’d never seen before: To delete all the apps on the iPad, or keep them and stop syncing. The second option was exactly what I wanted to do. So I chose it, and watched as iTunes proceded to delete all the apps on the iPad anyway.

I don’t doubt that this happened. It’s supposed to happen. When I set up my 3rd gen iPad a few weeks ago, I synced it wirelessly with iCloud. Several days later i wanted a local backup, so I plugged it into my iMac, and the exact same dialogue popped up. I was expecting this. My iMac didn’t know this new iPad, so it wanted to delete all apps and resync with it to back it up. If there were an easy way for Apple to fix this, don’t you think they would have done so by now?
Besides, wasn’t it possible to just download the movies from iCloud? I’m serious. If you right-click a movie in iTunes it gives you the option to upload it to your iCloud. End of story.

Given that all apps are available in the cloud these days, I’m not sure why iTunes is aggressively trying to sync apps with devices. In fact, given Apple’s aggressive moves with iTunes Match and iTunes in the Cloud, even Apple seems to realize that syncing media with a Mac or PC running iTunes is kind of a mess.

No, what they do realize is that people want the option to have all their stuff on a local drive, and that broadband internet is not available everywhere.

And let’s be honest: iTunes is at its worst when it comes to app management. The app-management interface in iTunes is ridiculously slow. iTunes can fill up your hard drive with tens of gigabytes of iOS apps that can easily be downloaded from Apple. Syncing apps frequently destroys folders and makes app disappear. The interface that shows where the app icons will appear on your iOS device is unstable, unreliable, and inefficient.

I’m sorry to be blunt, but this is a rant. A whiny one at that. Even my Core2Duo, 4GB RAM iMac from 2008 running on Lion (before I bought the new iMac), had no problem at all doing the things Jason describes. Nothing of the sort has happened to me, or anyone I know for that matter.

If Apple’s going to embrace the cloud wherever possible, it needs to change iTunes too. The program should be simpler. It might be better off being split into separate apps, one devoted to device syncing, one devoted to media playback. (And perhaps the iTunes Store could be broken out separately too? When Apple introduced the Mac App Store, it didn’t roll it into iTunes, but gave it its own app.)

I’ll refer you to the mess I mentioned above about several different apps to accomplish what one app does now.
The reason the Mac App Store is seperate is pretty simple: Apple recognizes that not everyone will use iTunes, but everyone needs OS X updates, and OS X app updates.

The iTunes we’ve all come to know has had a good run, but it’s reached the point where it is a crazy agglomeration of features and functionality. If someone were to design it today, it wouldn’t remotely resemble its current state. And as a portal to iOS devices and the iTunes Store, iTunes is too crucial to Apple’s business to ignore or run on auto-pilot.

Again, where exactly is this “crazy agglomeration of features and functionality”? iTunes is well structured, and easy to use.
Sure, if someone were to design it today, and I’m sure Apple is on top of that, iTunes would look different. No argument there, and I’m sure they will evolve it into something different over time – maybe even soonish, but it’s not their M.O. to radically change things, so I expect gradual changes, which is a-ok by me, and probably by most of you.

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47 comments on “Is iTunes broken? @jsnell thinks so…

  1. Gustav says:

    “My iMac didn’t know this new iPad, so it wanted to delete all apps and resync with it to back it up. If there were an easy way for Apple to fix this, don’t you think they would have done so by now?”

    That’s quite an apologetic statement. Apple has lots of outstanding bugs going back years that are easy to fix. One of them being when you click “don’t delete” it shouldn’t delete. That is the expected behaviour. And yes, there is an easy way to fix this. Sync code is complex, but not that difficult.

    • scottph says:

      It is in a way, but then again my thinking is that Apple would fix it if it were easy to fix.
      I guess they let you sync via iCloud, so you don’t need a Mac, but if you have done this, and then you want to sync with a Mac the iTunes DB (for lack of a better understanding I’m calling it that) on the Mac needs to be updated, and that’s the only way to do so. Again, this is a guess, and I don’t know what the code behind it is, but that seems the most reasonable explanation.
      Back to the original topic: I understand that there are use cases where this is problematic, but I have not encountered them.

      • It probably isn’t easy to fix in the current design and the current state of the code base (I’ve worked on projects that evolved over time, what tends to happen is a lot of bad code not always clearly documented, with bits that the programmers REALLY don’t want to mess with because they’re sure they’ll break something.

        That’s why iTunes needs a complete start-from-scratch redesign and rewrite. To make things like this work. It’s not easy, but if they do it well, they will be better set for the next decade of new features and product enhancements and new product categories.

      • scottph says:

        I agree with you, I’m just not sure if they will re-write the whole thing. My guess is that some media companies have contracts with Apple on how exactly their media has to be handled in iTunes, which is probably one of the reasons iTunes is as it is today.

  2. The problem with iTunes is summed up in a single sentence of yours: iTunes has evolved from a pure music player for our Macs, to the center of our entertainment world, connecting all our iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, iPods) to our Mac, and to iCloud, iTunes Match, etc.

    It has evolved, it hasn’t been designed to serve that purpose. Features have been shoved in as needed, rather than ever approaching it as “we need to provide all these functions – what’s the best way to accomplish that.”

    One simple issue – I keep iTunes running all the time because I have a couple AppleTVs and an iPad, all syncing and streaming from my iMac. But because of iTunes single monolithic design, it means I also always have running the player, media management, and aspects of the store (Genius, recommendations) even though I never click on it.

    Another issue, the one Jason runs into – iOS products are now designed to be peers of the computers, you no longer need to sync with a computer to make them run. But iTunes is still locked into the “me computer you iPod” design – which means (added as an appeasement to the music publishers back for the original iPod to show this wasn’t a piracy device) that a device is linked to one and only one computer’s iTunes and trying to sync with another computer will wipe the contents of the iPod. iTunes needs to treat iOS devices as peers. You can be the computer it syncs with, or (after confirming that the iOS device is authorized for the same AppleID) can just push a couple files to the device on an ad hoc basis.

    Given the way iTunes’ development has been handled, I’m somewhat impressed that I don’t have problems more often on my Mac than I do. But it could be better, and it should be.

    • Jmd says:

      You can sync a iOS device to multiple macs. You can have multiple iOS devices synced to one mac (5 or less per iTunes account). You just need to change the iTunes account to match the iOS device being synced. Before you connect the iOS device just log in to the right account in iTunes. You’ll never get that erase or stop sync dialog box then.

      The biggest advantage of iTunes is that you have a series of _local_ complete backups of your device. Imagine if you lost/broke your iOS device and you had to use four or more apps to restore the new one?

      Keeping it all in the cloud is even worse. Remember what happened to the sidekick users when their online data got corrupted. They lost everything, no local backups to restore. Local backups are going to be far faster to restore at usb2 speeds than even the fastest broadband.

      Breaking iTunes up into multiple apps would only increase the complexity not reduce it.

      As for bloated and slow iTunes idles on my dual core MacBook pro at 1-3%. Music playback it’s around 10%.

      • scottph says:

        Thanks for your comment! I agree: Restore would be a major pain too, and lots of people really like having a “physical” copy of their data on their Mac/PC.

    • foljs says:

      “””One simple issue – I keep iTunes running all the time because I have a couple AppleTVs and an iPad, all syncing and streaming from my iMac. But because of iTunes single monolithic design, it means I also always have running the player, media management, and aspects of the store (Genius, recommendations) even though I never click on it.”””

      No, you don’t. Code in any modern architecture OS (post-1990) is only run when asked to. If you don’t click to play a song, you DONT have the player loaded, DESPITE having iTunes running.

      What non programmers like Snell don’t get, when complaining about “bloat” is that all functions of the app are loaded to memory on demand, and with an even better granularity than “I use iTunes player, now everything player related is loaded”. For example, if you use the player but don’t have the visualization turned on, then the visualization code is NEVER loaded into memory. It’s only loaded when you turn it on to run.

      So, no, having 4-5 different functions in the same app, doesn’t mean the app gets bloated, uses too much memory because of that, or is slow at running.

      It can still mean that the app’s UI is messy though –with all those options–, but I don’t think iTunes is particularly messy.

      • mredofcourse says:

        @foljs,

        YES!!! What’s really funny about the original comment is that he is actually using the bulk of iTunes to begin with, and then complaining about the bloat. Genius can even be turned off.

        I’ve never understood the bloat argument, especially when they aren’t saying features and functionality should go away, but rather when needed, you should be forced to switch and launch another app.

        Even worse, I’ve heard about how the store itself has gotten bloated…that it used to be just music, and now the store is “bloated” with movies, tv, shows, apps, ringtones, etc… and iTunes can’t keep up with all of it.

        That said, it’s important to realize how critical of an app iTunes is, and Apple does need to really keep focus on it.

  3. MisterK says:

    I agree with most of this article. I haven’t had much in the way of problems with iTunes, but then I haven’t got a huge history with music players other than iTunes. Maybe I don’t know what I’m missing. I’ve tried WinAmp and hated it. I love Smart Playlists, Podcasts, and the fact that iTunes doesn’t discriminate between my stuff; it’s where I find my media.

    I have heard a massive amount of complaining about iTunes, so I guess there must be something up with it. One complaint is that people want to be better able to manually do stuff. I like the idea of my iPhone just syncing and me not needing to do anything, but I know some people want to individually drag songs into their devices. I think these are the same people who like making Google+ groups. Apple COULD allow more of that.

    I think the answer may lie in moving all the syncing away from iTunes, but not into separate apps, but into the OS or iCloud (which they may be doing already). If iTunes is getting too big, then don’t “offshore” the cruft into a bunch of apps I have to manage, but somewhere the bloat is invisible. This would help with the diversity of files I want to sync now. Documents, music, pictures… everything should be handled by Finder.

    • scottph says:

      I, for one, wouldn’t want to manage my iOS music by dragging songs onto the device. If I need a song, or an album on my iPhone, I use iCloud to get it.

  4. L'g. says:

    I can understand what Jason has to tell here. It is not a rant, as you propose here. I think you guy should get out of the reality distortion field of appleholism for a couple of minutes to get some unfiltered view on several facts:

    1) iTunes ones was SoundJam MP (capable of quickly playing, arranging and even broadcasting music around the world)

    2) From when SoundJam MP was bought things started to get mor complicated (because Napster + SoundJam were perfect for me)

    3) Then we had DRM on Music with up to 6 devices where you could play your stuff on, and NO MORE compatibility with 3rd-party mp3-players. That was the day the first iPod which was syncing via FireWire pretty fast, was introduced.

    4) Then DRM went away but we crash-landed in syncing-hell over a wire (with LOTS of waiting going on), because SD Cards were a NO GO for Apple (self made problem, sorry guys!)

    5) starting to add videos,podcasts,apps,books,notes,addressbooks,reminders,photos,… we now are in the deep shit of the HUGE DATA SILO to be managed by ONE app. fine.

    6) starting with iCloud we just added to complexity, now not only syncing over wire needs to be handled, but also real time syncing over the air. well I suppose adding complexity just solves the problem right?

    well a lot of the issues mentioned also stroke me. I had the same issues with apps I arranged in iTunes on my springboard for a device ended up in a complete mess with folders just dissolving in front of my eyeballs. this would not be a problem if arranging stuff in springboards would be easy to don on a device, but this is not how things work right now.

    I tell you something: iTunes is completely bloated. you are right it EVOLVED into this fat cat. I would LOVE to have a small music player, quick and fresh like Sound Jam MP was with fine skins and these nice screen effects which DID NOT eat all CPU like the current implementation, and which were a living cosmos of creativity of people adding new effects to it. this stuff is all dead or braindrad by now. hidden in submenues and expert settings.

    have a close look at HOW TO SHARE your music. you need to configure settings, passwords and shit… just to allow someone to hear the music you like. well I don’t care that apple added all the other media stuff to iTunes to complicate rights management & control, so if sharing books is a problem for them… well then do not offer books to buy, right? because if i bought them i want to share them, they are mine.

    iTunes is a control gateway, nothing more. It controls how media is distributed. It is not about happy customers and their fine experiences of media its just the media & rights control stupid.

    Luckily one could now live on an iOS device without ever needing too touch any iTunes installation. living on the cloud completely. that guarantees you the ease of use of iOS because MEDIACONTROL is in the hardware of iDevices.

    Well I don’t get it what makes you cry like a baby to defend Apple. Usually only those people cry which were hit by someone. Seems someone has hit ya on one of your weak spots: Unreflected Appleholism. That’s totally okay for me by the way, but it is not okay to ridicule on people caring about a product at least as much as YOU do. ya know, people are allowed in this world to have different perspectives on stuff.

    just my few words on this issue. I do not think that you are honest in your text by the way, because not mentioning all the hassles and loops you need to jump through using the iTunes we all know… does sound like you are either the ONE MAGIC exception in the universe for whom this stuff just works like a charme for ANY device ever connected (then I would like to know what is your secret approch to just make it work this way), or you are plain type lying in my face.

    BTW: I still adore Apples Engineers for providing a still working iTunes which still supports syncing of my first iPod shuffle ever bought. That’s something I do not take for granted, and that’s why I love the products of Apple. Yeah, iTunes is a mess, but it still works. And managing all this data I can only imagine what kind of data hell the engineers need to go through to make everything work as expected, because to control thins amount of complexity is not an easy one. So my respect to Apple even for this clumsy, and ugly piece of Software. Having a lightweight Music-Player would have been something which would surprise me positively in the next OS X.

  5. Jeff says:

    I guess I’m having a hard time understanding why everyone is fine with iCal, Mail, and Address Book being different programs, but will somehow be upset by multiple media programs.

    Or did I miss something and I’m the only one who’s happy with that setup?

    • scottph says:

      Wouldn’t you agree that they serve different purposes and that’s why they’re different apps?
      iTunes is essentially a hub for entertainment.

      • Jeff says:

        I’d also say that ‘iOS Management’ has nothing to do with watching Star Trek. And that’s really all it needs…just 2 apps: One for watching media (all types) and one for controlling iOS (including both syncing and app buying).

        I think people are really over-thinking this. I’ve seen others argue that no less than SIX apps would be needed! Nah, we just need 2. Think of it like a Y with iPhoto on the upper left, iTunes on the upper right, and ‘iOS Sync’ at the bottom.

        That seems so utterly simple and easy to me.

      • Jeff says:

        And by ‘need 2′ I meant split iTunes into 2 new apps. By including iPhoto you’d have 3.

    • mredofcourse says:

      I can’t stand that iCal, Mail and Address Book are different programs, which is why I’m using Entourage (transitioning to Outlook).

  6. Lennart Edén says:

    Totally agree. I’ve been using iTunes from the beginning, never had any real problems. I really like iTunes. There is one thing I’ve been longing for forever and that is an easy way to switch between libraries without restarting the program.

    • scottph says:

      I only use one library in iTunes, sou I couldn’t comment on the need to restart the app if you want to switch libraries, but yes, it would seem that there should be a way to do that without having to quit and restart.

  7. manskybook says:

    This post talks mostly about syncing, though its title suggests a more general iTunes bloat-crit.

    Having worked for several organizations (freelance and contract), as well as having turned down a job because (about 4 years ago) I didn’t believe ANYONE could solve the sync problems they were asking their contractors to solve, I think iTunes sync is far more elegant and simple than anything preceding it. That said, sync is a pain, and both poor interface design and user error account for huge data losses.

    That said, default backup for iPhones and iPads is iCloud, I think; and, when connecting to a computer for the first time, make sure your backups are intact. It’s easy to roll back the erasures if you have a copy or two somewhere; if you just trust the interface (which has never been a good idea on any computer), you incur Murphy’s Law.

    Sync. Organize. Buy. Verbs are usually good ways to frame apps, or main functions of apps. This seems to be the most succinct, whatever the medium.

  8. Leukotriene says:

    I get the feeling that Apple’s next step in unifying iOS and OS X is to create the OSX equivalents for iBooks (with an embedded iBookstore), stick the iOS app store in with the same app used for the Mac App Store (don’t you find it suspicious that today the app is called “App Store.app” and not “Mac App Store.app”?), etc.

    I’m afraid your argument (while I can see your point) is going to be on the wrong side of history within the next couple versions of OS X. Which is a stronger force: the iOSification of OS X or Apple’s desire to keep iTunes the way it is? I think the former. In other words, I think Apple themselves would disagree with your post and have been actively tackling the iTunes problem.

    • scottph says:

      I’m not saying that Apple is not working on a new iTunes, but I think it won’t be a huge departure from the one we use now.
      Off topic, but I don’t see Apple unifying iOS and OS X anytime soon.

  9. Pat says:

    “I wonder how many would scream if they had to use, say, four apps instead. One for music, one for movies, one for iOS sync…you get the idea.”

    In virtually every case I can recall of a big monolithic app being split into more focused apps, it’s been a big win, and users have loved it.

    Remember Netscape Navigator (or Mozilla), which did everything you might want to do with the network, before we had separate apps for things like web browsing and email? Remember when the only way to manage contacts or calendars was through your email app, before we had a Contacts or Calendar app? Or when we opened a spreadsheet or word processor by launching a giant monolithic “every office app in one” program, before spreadsheets and word processors and drawing programs were (once again) split into their own apps?

    Or look at iOS: iTunes is one app per function, like Music or Video, not one giant app for everything. (There’s one called “iTunes” but it’s only the iTunes store, and nothing like the desktop iTunes.)

    The only counterexample I can think of is iTunes 1.0, which combined CD ripping and playing, but in that case the two are clearly different faces of the same feature: playing your music.

    The pattern I see is that we’re getting away from combining apps based on irrelevant (to users) factors like “everything that uses the network” or “everything you might do in the office”, and towards combining (or splitting apart) apps based on what kind of user-visible objects they deal with — and as users, we like this, because that’s what we see and think about.

    And why are photos still special here? Doesn’t that seem completely screwy? If it’s OK for photos to have their own app, why can’t other objects? I’d rather it be consistent, one way or the other — almost consistent is still inconsistent.

    “iTunes is well structured, and easy to use.”

    Wow. You must be using a different iTunes than me.

    • scottph says:

      All valid points. I still think that Apple will do what I said earlier: Keep iTunes on the Mac what it is today. It makes sense to keep different apps for the Mac iTunes functionality on iOS, because we use it differently than the Mac.
      iPhoto/Aperture is an interesting point: Photos, imo, have a separate app because it’s the only media most people will edit/work with. Photos need very powerful tools to edit them, so they wouldn’t fit in the iTunes app.

      I really think iTunes is structured well and easy to use, but I will say that there’s obviously people who will disagree. I can only speak from my experience.

  10. chromeronin says:

    Splitting video and audio on iOS was just annoying. I had good playlists setup for podcasts, and music videos, I could plug and go, find everything in one place. now I have to switch between video and iPod apps for this. They should plit apps through, manage iOS apps along with OS X Apps.
    What I really wish iTunes had though was a media service that did not have to run under the logged in user so I didn’t have to have my mac logged in as me all the time just to synch wirelessly or get podcasts in the background. And it uses soooo much RAM when just sitting there.
    Imagine if there was just a system wide multimedia service, managing content and playlists like iTunes does, and iTues app just becomes a front end to it. Oh, and get rid of the stupid 5 device limit. That might have been plenty 5 years ago, but now, I have a Mac and a work laptop, my wife has a PC, my kids each have their own laptops, and I have to have at least one other computer on all the time to perform wireless synch or media homesharing (it’s also the PLEX media server and EyeTV recorder)

  11. Tudor says:

    I completely agree with the article. Except for some minor interface quirks, iTunes works fine for me.

    I’ve been a forum admin for a few years managing a couple of Apple-centric online communities. One of the top complains from new iDevice users (especially those coming from Windows) is the fact that they must install and use iTunes in order to manage files on their devices. Most of them don’t want to use ANY app for this purpose and think they should be able to just drag files to the device from Finder or Windows Explorer. I can only imagine how angry those users would be if they had to install and use FOUR different apps. I know I’d hate it.

  12. Without looking at iTunes, tell me if the Author of a book is the Artist or Composer?

    That is the fundamental problem of using the guts of a music track management program to be Master of All Media. Except photos.

    Also, please raise your virtual hand if you still use MSWorks or LotusNotes. Because integrated apps are better.

    • scottph says:

      Hi Paul, not sure how to reply tbh. iTunes on the Mac serves a different purpose, than the apps on iOS.
      I’m on a Mac, so no. ;-)

      • iTunes on the Mac serves a different purpose because it “evolved” with each new medium and device that Apple wanted to support. And it’s showing its age and limitations. My question about ebooks is a trivial example of how iTunes is the overloaded operator of Mac apps. (By the way, iTunes maps Author to Artist, which makes about as much sense as saying that the Artist on the Axl Rose performance of “Live and Let Die” is Paul McCartney.)

        Let’s use another analogy: in the age of steam, a factory may only have room/money for one steam engine. This engine would be bigger than a locomotive, and drive a shaft which would power many devices via physical interfaces such as gears, levers, transmissions, belts, and even more shafts. Each new device in the factory would require a new belt, or its own gearing system, which may or may not be easy to move should the factory layout need updating.

        Engineers in this era imagined a future where electricity replaced steam. But they tended to imagine a giant electric motor in place of the steam engine, driving that same main shaft and all the connected devices. And they applied this to the home. Imagine your bedside clock connected by a series of reduction gears and belts to a car-sized motor in the garage. The actual future turns out to look a lot like iOS.

    • manskybook says:

      Is that really a problem? When you view your list of books, you see the individual titles with the author listed below. Libraries deal with multiple media in a similar way, and either create multiple unused labels, or use general labels, rather than specific ones (author=composer=artist=director=?). When (if) you visit your local library, is it more important that the database labels are correct (which is a trivial change, not reflected in iTunes, but probably easily accomplished), or whether you can find the item in the medium you want?

      Most of the time you create photos. You’re not buying and collecting them. Some videos you create; some you purchase. There are separate photo management tools available from both Apple and Adobe, and multiple and separate editing tools for video and photos. You also have the choice to manage all your media in the Finder, or in the Windows counterpart. MS Office has separate components, but, in both Windows and on the Mac, you can manage those documents centrally, and the distinction among various forms of data and media can often be blurred. And can you name all the programs in any single Adobe suite, and identify which of those are file or project management apps, and which are simply creative/process tools? Is Apple’s Aperture a creative tool, or an organizing tool?

      I don’t think there’s only one way of managing documents in any operating system, only apps and documents that fall in one or another category due to tradition, and organizing them is left to those traditions. I don’t see a parallel program developed by a third party to manage your media as there is with LightRoom (vs. Aperture or iPhoto), and media file management on the Mac (Finder) or Windows is still nowhere as “simple” as it is in iTunes.

      Maybe we all have some discomfort with iTunes, but how would we structure its alternative?

      • scottph says:

        Your last sentence is at the core of this, I think. Nobody gives a satisfying answer to that.

      • “Is that really a problem? When you view your list of books, you see the individual titles with the author listed below. Libraries deal with multiple media in a similar way, and either create multiple unused labels, or use general labels, rather than specific ones (author=composer=artist=director=?). When (if) you visit your local library, is it more important that the database labels are correct (which is a trivial change, not reflected in iTunes, but probably easily accomplished), or whether you can find the item in the medium you want?”

        Real world example 1: I want to find all media in my Library created by Neil Gaiman. I have ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts, movies, and songs. I do not have but can imagine a ringtone made from his voice. My option in iTunes is to create a Smart Playlist. My other option is to use Spotlight. This is neither optimal, nor more crucially, discoverable by most iTunes users.

        Real world example 2: I have audiobooks purchase from CD. When I rip them into iTunes, they are of media type “Music”. I have to manually edit them to make them “Audiobook”, which suddenly gives me access to 30 second rewind, double-speed playback, and half-speed playback. Why are these features only available (on iOS) for audiobooks and podcasts. Some podcasts are primarily music (e.g. Coverville), and playing back at double- or half-speed doesn’t seem to break anything. Why this differentiation on the same medium (audio) that happens to have slightly different classification.

        And by the way, the ripped audiobook of “Anasi Boys”, written by Neil Gaiman and narrated by Lenny Henry, has the logical tagging of Gaiman as “Composer” and Henry as “Artist” while still classified as “Music”. Once it becomes an “Audiobook”, its Author is now Lenny Henry, and is “composed” by Neil Gaiman.

      • manskybook says:

        Paul, the more you explain, the less I think I understand about what you want. Some of how iTunes keeps its database is about MP3 and other media metadata format, and has nothing to do with iTunes or Apple. You can complain all you want about composer versus artist, but the metadata formatting doesn’t go away. It sounds like you want a flat-file (e.g. Excel spreadsheet) of each separate medium with pristine categories, but also want universal search; and then explain that you already can do that search with a Smart Playlist or Spotlight.

        Why I bring up the library is that librarians (many of, or most, whom have advanced degrees) spend many years learning effective ways to categorize and retrieve information. But even they have disagreements as to form, and rely on standards, however awkward, to solve most of their problems. You complain about all the different media you have that might reference “Neil Gaiman”, but you don’t say whether your Smart Playlist actually finds Neil Gaiman in every category.

        iTunes is complex, but I’d add that those things that aren’t (easily) discoverable aren’t really meant for casual users. You also don’t have to manually change the audiobook files imported from CD – there have been, for more than half a decade, AppleScripts available to do that, such as at Doug’s Scripts http://dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/ss.php?sp=makebookmarkable as well as numerous other organizing and naming tasks.

  13. stefaanh says:

    iTunes is just fine. Except for the label that doesn’t cover the load anymore. Four apps means four Windows ports. Synergy between four apps. On Windows? Ouch.

    Think of tuning your media. iMedia and iMedium are surely names already taken by iRegisterEveryFrigginNameICan. So let us stick with iTunes.

    • scottph says:

      I agree. This was the point I was, among others, trying to make and which John Gruber quoted. It would be a nightmare.
      The comments on Macworld are also very interesting. I like many of them, especially the one where a user has a fictional dialogue with Jason about which apps to use for what, if Apple split iTunes into different apps.

  14. James says:

    Crybabies!

    iTunes is good buy not perfect.

    In any case the last thing I want is 10 different apps. Makes sense on an iPhone but makes not sense on a desktop OS.

    I find Mail, Calendar and Address Book irritating enough. I wish they were one app that you could multiple windows from. Same goes for iTunes. Then you get the best of both worlds.

    It’s easy to forget that iTunes is not designed for power users. Apple has to think 13″ screen for the masses, as they should. Uber-Geek-O-Philes make up 5% or less of their customer base.

    You know who you are.

  15. Jim H says:

    I vote for a UI improvement, but not splitting iTunes up into different parts. I know, it’s really, really complicated the way it is, largely because of the layering of one series of capability over the previous, like an an ancient city. Clean it up, don’t split it up.

  16. […] right the syncing ship,  Erica Sadun’s TUAW post, and a counterpoint by Scott P. Hall who thinks ‘iTunes is well structured, and easy to use’. Most of us agree with pointed put-downs such as these (from Jason […]

  17. manskybook said:

    You can complain all you want about composer versus artist, but the metadata formatting doesn’t go away. It sounds like you want a flat-file (e.g. Excel spreadsheet) of each separate medium with pristine categories, but also want universal search; and then explain that you already can do that search with a Smart Playlist or Spotlight.

    I don’t care how the backend system works as long as it is fast and actually useful. I actually don’t want a flat file system because that’s effectively what iTunes uses now, despite using a disk file format that can encode more complex data schemas, The iTunes library XML only holds sparsely populated tabular data that is effective the same across all media types. Ideally, it should be a relational system, where there is a canonical table for artists, one for pieces, one for collections, and one for genres. The composer/arranger/lyricist/writer/performer fields would do a lookup into the Artist table, thus starting to get a grip on all the variations on “Beatles”, “The Beatles”, “The Baetles”, “Beetles”, etc.

    As for my search example, let’s compare iTunes vs Mail. In Mail, the search box in the top left of the main window searches across all mailboxes by default, with toggles for the aggregate Inboxes, Drafts, etc. as filters. If you start the search with a specific mailbox selected, then that mailbox is added to the toggles as an additional filter. iTunes is both backwards and more limiting: the search box only applies to the currently selected media type or playlist, and more annoyingly, that search box is cleared whenever you switch playlists or media types.[1]

    And I really don’t want to create a Smart Playlist when all I want to do is a universal search across all media that iTunes manages. If the argument is that iTunes shouldn’t be broken up into dedicated apps, then it should bloody well work better as the Master of All Media (except Photos).

    [1] This technically only true when switching between items in the iTunes window. You can always double-click on a playlist to open it in a separate window, but now you have to manually move windows around so the relevant metadata can be on screen at the same time, and iTunes has no “Arrange Windows” or “Lock columns” feature.

  18. Re: Nightmare

    It does not bother me that the Mac App Store can’t manage Launchpad or Spaces. Does it bother anyone else? I follow enough of the Mac-centric publishing world to feel confident in saying that this hasn’t been a hot debate topic, so why does it bother someone when I propose separating iTunes functionality into different apps, like Store and Sync? Does it bother anyone that to get to your Audible membership credits or discounts, you have to go to the Audible site via an external browser? The horror!

    So if we can get over the (non-) novelty of buying our media in one app and manage them in another, how much harder is it to contemplate having a dedicated sync management app? iPhoto doesn’t manage which events or albums get onto an iDevice; it treats them as image sources (traditionally called cameras). I can see a version of iTunes that also treats iDevices that way, especially for someone who isn’t using iTunes Match or any iCloud services to do over the air syncing. iTunes can check the iDevice for new purchases and pull them into the master library, thus saving the need for re-downloading.

    So now we have three apps:

    1. iTunes/iMedia: which manages (tags) acquired media and playlists
    2. iTMS/iTunes Store/iMedia Store/iStore: which is the storefront for all Apple based media purchasing/downloading
    3. iSync: which subscribes to Calendars, Mail Accounts, Contacts, iPhoto Albums/Events/Faces/Places, iTunes media types/playlists, etc.

    iMedia and iStore wouldn’t change UI much, but I can imagine them getting redesigns[1] that made them more suitable for their newly focused functions. E.g. I would like to see (smart) playlists support apps, so you can have an automatically updating list of age appropriate apps and media for syncing to a child-specific device, and that device could be configured to *not* automatically download new purchases.

    iSync would look like the Device page, though I would prefer adding functionality that I currently depend on PhoneView for (specifically archiving SMS/Messages threads), as well as adding desktop analogs to iOS-only features like managing phone favorites, custom ringtones, grouping contacts into a “family”, etc.

    Finally, I can’t deny that all of these things *might* be shoehorned into iTunes, the same way that it’s possible to jack up a house and completely replace the foundation. Without dealing with the problem of one bathroom for five people.

    [1] I want, want, want Apple to make the Store accessible to people with very crappy eyes—which was me before LASIK—and anyone suffering from nearsightedness, farsightedness, and/or astigmatism. Why you can’t increase the size of the text in the store beyond Futura Minuscule. For that matter, the preference for larger type in iTunes changes text from 10 pt to 14 pt, which is a trivial size increase for most people with visual impairments.

  19. This article notes: “Besides, wasn’t it possible to just download the movies from iCloud? I’m serious. If you right-click a movie in iTunes it gives you the option to upload it to your iCloud. End of story.”

    Can you please elaborate upon this? I mean, I see the “Add to iCloud” menu option, and selecting seems to initiate something with iTunes Match, but then, I don’t really see what to do next. There’s no “iCloud Status” column for videos. I can’t access this video on my other Mac, iPad or iPhone via iCloud. It appears that choosing “Add to iCloud” for video items doesn’t actually DO anything. So, it’s not really the “end of story,” if anything, it’s a confusing menu item that hints at a sorely lacking feature.

    Scott, have you actually *used* the “Add to iCloud” feature for videos you’ve imported into iTunes?

    • scottph says:

      Hi Josh,
      is your other Mac/iPhone connected to the same iCloud account?
      Anyhow, the reason I included this in my article was that I saw it in iTunes. I think this feature depends on where you’re located. Being a reply to Jason Snell’s article it was geared towards him – living in the US.
      I haven’t tried the “Add to iCloud” feature, but I will this afternoon to see if it works in Germany. I will let you know. Maybe someone from the US can pitch in?
      I seem to remember reading in the last few days about all but one movie studio being onboard with this, at least in the US.

      • Thanks for the reply, Scott. I am in the U.S. and can say with certainty, the “Add to iCloud” contextual menu command doesn’t result in any iCloud accessibility for selected videos. My feeling is, t’s a bug and the command shouldn’t appear there in the first place, and/or perhaps it’s a work-in-progress feature that hasn’t been cleared/completed yet. Either way, selecting a video and then choosing the “Add to iCloud” command doesn’t appear to add it to our iTunes Match library in any way that a user can actually stream/retrieve it, via iTunes or an iOS device later.

      • scottph says:

        Hi Josh, it seems that it doesn’t do much of anything in Germany either…wonder what that is about…

  20. […] I don’t want a dozen Apple mini-apps on the desktop. I want a simplified, streamlined, elegant application. You know, the kind of design […]

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