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Why I Hate iTunes Monday, September 22, 2008

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Posted 22 September 2008 - 09:52 AM

Why I Hate iTunes
My Anti-iTunes Manifesto

It's been a week or two since Apple released iTunes 8.0 and updated the iPhone firmware to 2.1. I reluctantly installed iTunes 8 at first. Since iTunes 6 I have been unable to play videos through iTunes without my computer freezing and needing to be rebooted. I eagerly installed iTunes 7 hoping that this would fix the problem. It didn't. Neither did 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, etc. I tried each one.

I was delighted when I found that iTunes 8.0 seems to have finally resolved this long-lasting problem. I didn't (and still don't) give a rat's ass about the new Genius Playlist and quickly hid the Genius Sidebar. In the event that I later decide I want to use their crappy recommendation engine and send information on my iTunes library to Apple I will enable it. I don't foresee that happening soon. If I do decide to do it I will likely just use the recommendations to purchase music from Amazon's far superior music store.

Wonderful optimism about iTunes 8.0 filled my sould when I discovered that the ancient video bug had been finally addressed. Could this be it? Could iTunes, which I have always hated, finally turn into something that was at least most functional? Unfortunately my first impression of iTunes was quickly marred by a number of new and old frustrations. And here they are, in painful detail.

Warning: If you don't care for rambling manifestos you would be best advised to not continue onward.

Podcast Syncing is Global

The Problem
I currently sync 13 different podcasts with my phone. They range from weekly podcasts of over an hour (TWiT) to daily podcasts averaging 35-40 minutes (Buzz Out Loud) to sporadically updated podcasts only a few minutes long (Grammar Girl, tech5). The problem is that iTunes allows you to set a default number of podcasts to sync (e.g. the latest 1, 3, 5 or 10).

Why This Sucks
There are many problems with this. You can't manually enter a number like 4 or 6, you have to select one of their predefined numbers and that number has to apply to all of your podcasts. That means that means to have 25 mintues worth of 5 minute podcasts I also have to have 10 hours of 2 hour podcasts synced.

How To Fix It
Give me the ability to select how many episodes of each podcast are synced. That way, for long weekly shows I could simply have 1 or 2 episodes synced instead of having the most recent 5 episodes taking up space. Conversely I could have up to 10 of the 5 minute shows synced that take up very little space and come out more regularly.

Marking Podcasts as New (New Feature!)

The Problem
This is new to the 2.1 firmware. Now when you view your podcasts it tells you how much you have listened to. In addition to a solid dot representing an unlistened to podcast they have added a half-moon dot representing a partially listened to podcast. When you completely listen to the podcast the dot goes away. It even tells you how many minutes are left to listen to. However, strangely, when you listen a podcasts completes it goes on and plays the previous podcast in your list.

Why This Sucks
After I'm done listening to a podcast why on Earth would I want to listen to the last episode that I just listened to? If they could change this feature so that it went on to the next new episode that wouldn't be a bad feature. In its current state it is infuriating. Previously it would just stop and you would need to manually select the next new podcast. Now it just moves on to an episode you've already listened to so you have to manually stop playing the old podcast and then select the new one. Even worse, thanks to the poor syncing, sometimes it will mark podcasts as partially listened to even if they were completely listened to. In that case after listening to a podcast it throws you into the middle of an episode you've already listened to.

Furthermore if the podcast you listen to has outro music that you don't care to listen to, and you stop listening, it will forever mark that podcast as being only partially listened to. Now you have to drag the progress bar at the top over to the right to ensure that that it will remain marked as not new.

How To Fix It
This should be an easy fix. It would have been even easier if anyone had spent half a second thinking about how this would function practically. The architecture is there, just make it go to the new episode, schmucks.

Podcasts with Passwords

The Problem
Podcasts with passwords will prompt you for a password that you can save for downloading purposes. Every time you try to update your podcasts it prompts me for four passwords in a row. The passwords are all saved so I only have to click "OK" on each of them.

Why This Sucks
If my password is saved, why do I have to confirm it every single time my podcasts update? Why can't it just send the password in the background without bothering me every single time I load the program?

How To Fix It
Just send the password and only prompt me if it is not working. Kind of like every other program ever made.

Podcasts Can't Organize By Date

The Problem
In the new version of iTunes you are given the ability to look at your music in "as grid" or "cover view" modes which has the advantage of allowing you to view cover art and sort your podcasts by category or by newest. Sort of.

Why This Sucks
The disadvantage of "cover view" mode is that it looks like this:



As you can see it's a disgusting, jumbled mess. Missing album art, songs or podcasts with tiny detail differences creating multiple entries, and little control over organization. Switching back to list view gives you a much easier podcast list to manage:



Now what if you want to see the most recently updated podcasts? If you've ever used a computer before your intuition would lead you to believe that clicking on one of the headers above (e.g. Podcast, Rating, Time, Release Date, Etc.) would sort based on that column. You would be mistaken. Clicking on "Release Date" makes the list look like this:



That's right, exactly the same, and not sorted by date at all.

How To Fix It
Just allow the simple ability to sort your podcasts by the most recent sort date. It's a simple database function that should theoretically be nearly instant to enable. Why doesn't it work in the first place? I can only assume it's a bug that's been present for the past few years. It would be so handy to be able to sort my podcasts by the most recently updated. I guess it's hard to fix old bugs or make old broken features work when you're too busy adding new broken features all the time.

Annoying Podcast Sync Bug

The Problem
Since the 2.0 firmware upgrade iTunes seems to randomly mark old podcasts as new or partially listened to. And it seems to be even worse with 2.1.

Why This Sucks
You have to go through all your podcasts, again, and slide the progress bar across so that you can mark old podcasts as old. This is compounded by the annoying "feature" that skips to the last podcast in the stream after you're done listening to a podcast. So after scrolling across to mark your podcast as listened to you are forced to back out of the last podcast and continue on to each of the newer podcasts individually.

How To Fix It
Stop releasing terrible new features that no one wants and fix your bugs. Although at this point, when the new features are so crappy, it's hard to tell what was intended as a new feature and what is simply a bug. The lines are definitely blurred at this point.

Moving Your Music

The Problem
If you move all of your mp3s from one folder to a new folder, iTunes is unable to just figure it out.

Why This Sucks
Let's say you have your music in a folder and then you want to move it to another folder. Should be easy, right? If I have a thousand mp3s in a folder named 'music' and I want to move it to a folder named 'music 2' what could be the big deal? If I show iTunes where the new folder it is shouldn't it quickly be able to locate where all the songs are? You would think. Instead, if you try to play a song it pops up a window:



Then you have to browse and point iTunes to where the new song is. When the next song in that album comes up it pops up the same window:



Repeat for every mp3 you have. In my case, repeat over 14,000 times.

How To Fix It
All iTunes would have to do is tell that bulky XML file that everything located at 'C:\My Documents\Awesome Music' is now located at ''C:\My Documents\Not As Awesome Music'. Instead what you need to do is delete every single mp3 from your library then re-import every single mp3 into your library. Fantastic.

Music Can't Remember Where It Pauses

The Problem
If you are listening to music and then you happen to pause it and sync your iPhone, it can't remember where it was. It can if it's a podcast or an audio book, just not a regular music file.

Why This Sucks
If you're listening to a 3 minute song it doesn't make much difference. However, if you're listening to a long audio file, and you'd like to pause it and return to it later, you're out of luck. As soon as you start playing something else, or sync your iPod/iPhone, it won't remember where you left off.

How To Fix It
iTunes and the iPod/iPhone have shown that they have the technology to remember where a track leaves off with audio books and podcasts, just enable that functionality in songs as well. Not all things being listened to are three minute songs. Which leads me to my next point . . .

You Can't Make an Audio Book an Audio Book

The Problem
If you purchase an audio book from Audible.com or some other service (presumably iTunes, if you are a fool) it comes in audio book format. This allows you to listen, pause, and pickup where you left off, even after syncing.

Why This Sucks
If you download an audio book (yes there are legal options) iTunes incorrectly identifies this as a song, even if the files are one hour long. You can change the genre to "audiobook" (one word, for some reason) but that does not give it the ability to remember its pause point like in a podcast or officially sanctioned "audiobook" from iTunes or Audible.

How To Fix It
Um. I don't know. I'm not a programmer. I guess just copy the code that makes this possible and paste it into your song code section. That sounds easy.

No Wireless Syncing

The Problem
The iPhone, a device with wireless networking capability, is unable to sync without plugging it into the computer.

Why This Sucks
I'm tired of syncing things. It's 2008. The functionality is clearly there. Just start syncing over the data instantly as soon as I walk within communication range of my home wireless network. Don't require me to hook up to my computer which grinds my computer to a near halt as Windows frantically tries to figure out what's going on and ask me what I want to do with this strange new device (Is it a camera? Is it a storage device? Is it a toaster?) even though I've told it a thousand times to just do nothing.

How To Fix It
It's got to be within the realm of possibility to transfer all this data over the wireless network. I wouldn't even care if it had slower transfer speeds than USB, so long as it could just happen and I wouldn't need to go through all the hookup and ejecting nonsense involved with normal syncing.

Let Me Play Videos!

The Problem
I'm not sure why this problem exists, but I can't play videos unless I sync them to my phone. Meaning, the only way to watch purchased videos on my phone is to sync them based on the number of latest episodes (as with podcasts) or based on their watched/unwatched status.

Why This Sucks
Jen bought me some episodes of Psych to watch now that I'm spending a lot of time on the bus. I couldn't fit all three episodes on my phone with all the music, podcasts and pictures currently on it. So, unable to sync properly I decided to just drag the episodes into my playlist. No problem, right? When I clicked and dragged it into my playlist I was presented with this warning:



Well, iTunes, I'm just a rebel that way. I live life on the edge, mixing video and audio together willy nilly. So, after work I scrolled through my crazy, renegade playlist to find the video only to discover that iTunes, perhaps looking out for my better interest, did not actually sync the video. It was nowhere on the phone. Evidently, like with everything Apple has been doing lately, they know what is best for the consumer, regardless of what the consumer has to say about it. Upon returning home and investigating my phone I discovered that 400+ megabytes were being taken up by video. So the video was on the phone, just unable to be retrieved.

How To Fix It
After locking myself in my study and smoking endless tobacco for three straight days, much in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, I was able to figure out a clever hack to get around this. Since I can only fit one episode at a time on my phone I would set the TV Shows to sync "all unwatched" episodes. Then I'd have to manually change the properties of all the episodes so that it marked only the episode of the show that I currently wanted as unwatched. That way I could rotate the episodes and get one at a time on my phone

So, in saying that, I think that perhaps the click-and-drag method would be a preferable fix.

It's Slow as Molasses

The Problem
iTunes is as slow as molasses.

Why This Sucks
Because it's slow as molasses. Every time I click on something it takes so long to respond that I can't tell if it's because the program is too slow or if I didn't actually click on it. So, inevitably, I click again and then either iTunes registers it as a double-click, opening a new window, or the text has annoyingly been highlighted so that I can now rename whatever it is I've clicked on.

How To Fix It
Just make it faster. It shouldn't be too hard to do. You could just strip all the Microsoft-like crap that tries to second guess everything before you do it and that would be a pretty good start. You could lose the visualizations (does anyone actually use visualizations?). Get rid of the Quick Time and Safari bombardments every time you try to install any updates. In fact, get Quick Time out all together. Lose the Genius playlist which advertises itself as a great tool to recommend music when it's just a way for iTunes to sell you more crap and to collect information on your reading habits. And maybe even do something to make the iTunes store an enjoyable experience. Not that I'd ever spend a penny there, but browsing for podcasts is always a crummy chore.
Other than that I love iTunes.

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Posted 22 September 2008 - 01:19 PM

No arguments here, I was relived when apple release a version of quicktime that didn't include iTunes. Not that I like quicktime, but quite a few websites use quicktime, with no alternative. iTunes is a hard program to defend, almost every alternative is better/more reliable, and there are better places to get MP3s. Amazon doesn't do MP3 downloads in the UK, but we do have Play which is pretty damn cheap.
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Posted 22 September 2008 - 08:35 PM

A bit podcast-centric (I'm still not into the whole podcast thing) but outside of that I agree with all of these issues. I've had enough problems with iTunes (which I should add, does not even run smoothly on my remarkably speedy notebook, nevermind my clunky old desktop) that I will never use it on a non-Apple machine. That's the biggest problem I have with it. On a Mac it's actually pretty great. It's slick, fast, and well integrated into the operating system. On Windows, it's as if they just said "Whatever. It basically works. More or less" and released unfinished software.
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Posted 23 September 2008 - 08:38 AM

I just got my iPhone a few weeks ago, and have yet to really hit podcasts. As in I don't take public transportation so I don't usually listen to anything on the iphone.. although if I figure out how to hook it up to my radio in my car I might. The radio transmitter connections don't usually fair well around here, too much other radio.

Anyhoo.... I've pretty much just used iTunes to look for free apps for the phone, and I used to use it to sync my music to my old iPod, but I haven't gotten the network set up here so I can get to the RAID to get to my music to set it up on the new itunes. (I installed it all on a fresh installed machine, so I didn't upgrade.)

A lot of the problems you stated seemed kind of obvious and I'm surprised they didn't think of that, since they do a lot of other nice things.. like when I get a call from a number I have listed in two contacts with the same name (my parents home number for instance) the phone states the call is from Mom or Dad Moore (their names left off to protect the innocent.)

I'll have to play around with it more now though... after I find some podcasts I might want to listen to.
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Posted 23 September 2008 - 03:35 PM

I live on a diet of Media Player, Winamp, Youtube, and nothing made by Apple. Coupled with the only podcasts I listen to being ones with a Yahtzee in them means I'm thankful iTunes 8 sucks, because I don't need to go near the bloody thing.

Although last.fm keeps nagging me to update its iTunes software, annoyingly enough.
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Posted 24 September 2008 - 05:15 AM

QUOTE (Chefelf @ Sep 22 2008, 04:52 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Moving Your Music

The Problem
If you move all of your mp3s from one folder to a new folder, iTunes is unable to just figure it out.

Why This Sucks
Let's say you have your music in a folder and then you want to move it to another folder. Should be easy, right? If I have a thousand mp3s in a folder named 'music' and I want to move it to a folder named 'music 2' what could be the big deal? If I show iTunes where the new folder it is shouldn't it quickly be able to locate where all the songs are? You would think. Instead, if you try to play a song it pops up a window:



Then you have to browse and point iTunes to where the new song is. When the next song in that album comes up it pops up the same window:



Repeat for every mp3 you have. In my case, repeat over 14,000 times.

How To Fix It
All iTunes would have to do is tell that bulky XML file that everything located at 'C:\My Documents\Awesome Music' is now located at ''C:\My Documents\Not As Awesome Music'. Instead what you need to do is delete every single mp3 from your library then re-import every single mp3 into your library. Fantastic.


This is a bit more tricky actually, since iTunes can't expect everyone to store their files in exactly the same base folder.

Also, its file-manipulating capabilites are limited to either let it automatically manage your music files, or not at all - also for compatibility's sake.

So everything you do by hand, you will have to do with the underlying operating system. Having iTunes monitor and track all those changes would be very impractical in most cases, and even in the perfect case it would still slow the system down dramatically.

I think this is a very understandable behaviour, and if I really move folders like that, I just reset my library and point iTunes to the new folder to re-initialize it. Even with my 11000~ files it doesn't take more than a few minutes at most, plus some bandwidth for re-downloading album artwork.

This post has been edited by Gobbler: 24 September 2008 - 05:16 AM

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Posted 30 September 2008 - 07:11 AM

No, no, no. I'm not saying iTunes should track and move every file movement. What I'm saying is that if I have an album with 10-14 songs on it, I shouldn't have to select a new path for each song in the album. It should be easy enough to change the path data across multiple tracks (the same way you can change the one element of an ID3 tag) so that you don't have to delete and reimport.

Plus then you lose all the other data iTunes stores like number of listens, etc.
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Posted 30 September 2008 - 07:58 AM

The idea of doing it like with ID3 tags for multiple files is pretty good, but would go against Apple's design policy. It would bloat up the dialog box, add a feature that the common user likely wouldn't understand intuitively and also create a conflict with the library's self-organization option, if enabled.

Though they could try to detect that a whole album is missing under the given circumstances, and ask you the right questions accordingly, yes. Hmm... well, guess I won't get any money for that idea as long as I'm not employed by them, so I guess I'll have to wait till I bring it up.

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 07:19 AM

QUOTE (Chefelf @ Sep 30 2008, 08:11 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
No, no, no. I'm not saying iTunes should track and move every file movement. What I'm saying is that if I have an album with 10-14 songs on it, I shouldn't have to select a new path for each song in the album. It should be easy enough to change the path data across multiple tracks (the same way you can change the one element of an ID3 tag) so that you don't have to delete and reimport.

Plus then you lose all the other data iTunes stores like number of listens, etc.

What you're suggesting is more than feasible. I use Sony's Acid Pro for editing mixes and such, and if I move files around and the program needs to relocate them, I only have to direct it to one file. It normally finds the rest on its own once it has that one file. Even if they're in separate folders. Once you point it to one hard drive, it scans the whole disk looking for the filenames it lost.
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Posted 01 October 2008 - 08:19 AM

QUOTE (Gobbler @ Sep 30 2008, 08:58 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The idea of doing it like with ID3 tags for multiple files is pretty good, but would go against Apple's design policy. It would bloat up the dialog box, add a feature that the common user likely wouldn't understand intuitively and also create a conflict with the library's self-organization option, if enabled.

Though they could try to detect that a whole album is missing under the given circumstances, and ask you the right questions accordingly, yes. Hmm... well, guess I won't get any money for that idea as long as I'm not employed by them, so I guess I'll have to wait till I bring it up.


I disagree, I think it would be extraordinarily easy. They already do this via ID3 tags. It wouldn't bloat up anything (and even if it did, would you be able to notice MORE bloat on iTunes at this point?). In fact it would only be necessary when the ! appears next to a track because it can't be found. It should be as simple as editing that XML file which I suppose you could even do manually with a Find/Replace.

QUOTE (Heccubus @ Oct 1 2008, 08:19 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
What you're suggesting is more than feasible. I use Sony's Acid Pro for editing mixes and such, and if I move files around and the program needs to relocate them, I only have to direct it to one file. It normally finds the rest on its own once it has that one file. Even if they're in separate folders. Once you point it to one hard drive, it scans the whole disk looking for the filenames it lost.


That's funny because I used Vegas for a long time and I was thinking of that exact same system that Sonic Foundry programs used. It seemed to have no problem pointing to another directory then being smart enough to realize that all the other files associated should use the same file name convention.

There is no excuse for iTunes not to be able to do this. For the time being the Find/Replace XML 'hack' is the easiest way to do this.

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