iTunes annoyances

I’m eagerly waiting for Windows Phone 7 to finally come to Israel. The primary reason is that I’m very excited about the interesting stuff they did with it and really want to try it, but there’s another, secondary reason that isn’t as important but will make me so much happier: I want to get rid of iTunes already.

iTunes may have started as a simple and elegant player, but by now it’s pretty broken, in many ways and in all the most annoying places, and what’s really aggravating about it is that Apple just doesn’t seem to care. So many of the problems I’m going to rant about are easily fixable, and in many cases shouldn’t have been problems to begin with, and every time another update arrives I think to myself “well, maybe this time they’ll finally fix everything”, but no. The result is a program that could’ve been great, but instead is the most complained about program in Apple’s iSoftware collective, and quite frankly is the most un-Apple-ish program of a company that prides itself on simplicity and attention to detail.

In no particular order, this is why I hate iTunes:

It’s slow

iTunes is ridiculously slow for a media player. Long start up is one problem, but it’s the bad responsiveness that really gets to me. Every time I plug my iPhone into the computer I know I’m going to have to wait a few seconds before iTunes registers anything that I’m doing, even if I just want to open my music collection. It gets better once it’s done backing up the phone, but still feels somewhat sluggish and there are still unexplained hangups.

As a software engineering student I can understand that getting tech right can be tricky, and I can be very forgiving when I see that the deficiencies are the result of the difficulty of the problem. But in this case it’s not a matter of the difficulty of the problem, it’s a matter of Apple being incompetent. How do I know that? Because the Zune software is much more graphically intensive and yet outperforms iTunes all the time on my computer, and if Apple still can’t do updates the smart way (their idea of a software update is an automated redownload and reinstallation of the whole program) then it doesn’t surprise me they can’t figure out what efficiency means. I guess developing only for high end laptops can spoil you.

The way it handles metadata is terrible

iTunes has so many metadata fuck ups that this is the thing that gets on my nerves the most. Take the following picture for example (you can enlarge it):

itunes1

You will notice that the tracks for Belus and Burzum are misarranged. Why is that? It knows they belong to the same albums, they are all numbered, and yet it doesn’t sort them correctly. Want to guess why? In Burzum it’s because track 6 doesn’t have “Disc number 1 out of 1” filled in. What kind of weird ass sorting algorithm could they possibly be using there that takes a collection of numbered tracks that it knows belong to the same “entity” (Album name) and fails to sort them in the correct order unless you explicitly tell it that there’s only 1 CD (like it matters)?!
(Don’t answer this. I know why it does it and it’s stupid).

You know where this gets really annoying? When you sync these tracks to your iPhone and suddenly realize they are playing in the wrong order. And of course I can’t fix this via my iPhone because that would require another UI element that will confuse my poor technically challenged grandma, so I have to live without it too, changing the songs manually as I go instead of letting the player do this for me. (yes I can also create a playlist. Do you think I want to have to do that?)

Its lack of support for multiple artists/composers is also a source of great annoyance to me. All of Microsoft’s media players know that “Composers: John 5; Twiggy Ramirez” means that there’s a distinct composer called John 5, and a distinct composer called Twiggy Ramirez, and that they collaborated together. So if I ever wanted to get a list of all songs where John 5 was a composer (for example- for making a John 5 playlist), all I need to do is go to the single John 5 entry and all those songs, with or without collaborators, will be there.

itunes2

iTunes is not that smart apparently. If you give it “John 5; Twiggy Ramirez” as composers it’ll go ahead and create a new artist called “John 5/Twiggy Ramirez” on top of the existing John 5 and Twiggy Ramirez artists, and will associate the track to that new “artist”. The result? FRAGMENTATION (enlarge to see the problem at its full glory).

itunes3

…and if you think the single “John 5” entry on iTunes consolidates all the tracks- it doesn’t. It only shows tracks where John 5 was the sole composer. So now to make a John 5 playlist I need to go to each one of those entries, in a constant back and forth between the search results, and and hunt down the tracks I need, all for no good reason.

The iPhone also inherits this problem. Since you can’t sort your iPhone’s music by “album artist”, only by “artist”, then for example if you have a duet between the artist Burzum and Euronymous on Burzum’s self titled album (so this track’s artist will be Burzum/Euronymous), that track will not be in album Burzum when sorting by the artist Burzum, and instead will end up in an entry for the the new “artist” Burzum/Euronymous.

itunes4
So if you want to listen to the album from start to finish you have to either access it via artist Burzum and manually switch to that track when the time comes, or you will have to hunt down the album when sorting your collection by albums, which is less convenient than sorting by artists. Thanks Apple.

Oh and speaking of sorting by artist, how do you like this little gem?:

IMG_0807[1]

Thank God I have my iPhone to notify me of trailing whitespace in my metadata. After all, we don’t want the two different bands “Dark Funeral” and “Dark Funeral ” to be mixed up. They play totally different genres. One is Black Metal and the other plays children’s songs.

Too lazy to fix this for me, iTunes?

The brain-dead way it handles unknown tracks

Suppose you have a folder with files, and you decide to import it to iTunes. God help you if one of those albums lacks metadata. You will end up with an “Unknown Artist” entry for every damn track.

itunes 6

WHY?! Who the hell thought this was a good idea?! Media Player at least aggregates all these unknown tracks to the same “unknown artist” entry, and then you can use the “File path” column to quickly make sense of the mess. In iTunes I have to enter each “Unknown Artist” entry and change the data track-by-track. And you’d think iTunes could at least be smart enough to know that if you rip a CD and it doesn’t recognize the artist, all songs are probably from the same artist (simple statistics of number of LPs vs various artists collections). But no, you still get one entry of “Unknown Artist” per song. Really, Apple? You call that user friendly?

Its weird and unnatural selection mechanism

Remember the time when holding down shift, pressing down to select some tracks, and then pressing up did not deselect the last selected track but instead selected additional tracks above the current selection?

So they fixed it in song selection, but apparently it hadn’t occurred to them to do the same in the artist view. So suppose you just imported a folder with no metadata in the files and got 500 “Unknown Artist” entries in your library, and decided to delete them, use mp3tag and then reimport them. You better be really careful if you plan to select these folders using the keyboard, because this non-standard selection scheme makes it impossible to fix your selection if you selected too much. In fact, it’s way worse than that. The selection scheme makes no (good) sense. Go ahead and experiment with it. It sort of feels like playing Snake, except that you quickly realize that it only acts like that some of the time, and that the left key is really bound to the “up” side of the snake, and the right key to the “down” side. It’s overall confusing.

itunes5
Snake: the iTunes version. FYI, original selection started at Venom. Yes, this is done with a keyboard.

While most file/music/whatever managers remember your position in the collection of items after you do deletion (so when you press to the right for example it would select the item to the right of the selection you just deleted), iTunes doesn’t remember anything, and pressing right will make you jump to the top of the artist tiles, forcing you to rescroll down to select what you wanted to select.

It doesn’t watch the file system for changes

Every media library organizer that respects itself can do this, why can’t iTunes do this too?! This was the feature that made me figuratively fall in love with the latest Media Player. You drop some files into your music folder, and it automatically finds them and adds them to the library. You change some metadata in one of those files- Media Player updates itself automagically. It’s one of those features that once you have them you don’t ever want a media library organizer without it. …and iTunes doesn’t have it.

This to me says that Apple doesn’t care that some people don’t get all their music from iTunes. If you buy music from the iTunes store it’ll update its library for you automatically, but if you’re not an iTunes customer- screw you, you’re on your own. So now for every new album that I get I have to manually import it to iTunes, and if I move something, I have to update iTunes manually again. If you change some metadata outside of iTunes, it at least will recognize this when you use it to access said file, but it doesn’t have a very good track record where album covers are involved. Usually, album covers inserted in Media Player (fully committed to the hard drive) fail to be detected by iTunes, and I have to reinsert the album cover via iTunes itself. Again.

All of this is stupid and unnecessary hassle. In that respect iTunes is behind even some of the crappiest Gnome media players that litter the Ubuntu software center, and there is some serious crap in there.

UI lameness

Why the hell is burning a CD achieved via a playlist? How is that natural? Not every CD that I want to burn is a song collection that I want to listen to in the future. Why do I have to go through the hassle of creating, and then deleting, a playlist? And you know what else sucks? I can’t create a playlist without it taking me to the screen that explains what a playlist is, so now I have been thrown out of what I was looking at and have to go back.

What about all those checkboxes next to every song? What are they supposed to be about? Am I supposed to guess? Will I win a white iPhone if I do? (And don’t write to tell me what they are- I know what they are. But they have no explanation in the UI. You have to dig in the help file or experiment to figure out their function).

By the way, the iTunes UI really hasn’t aged well. Have you seen the Zune software? It’s beautiful. Blows out of the water everything Apple ever did. iTunes looks like something from the 90’s. Still. And in all the years of accumulating features it has been extended in the most naïve, ungraceful way. Got a new feature? Throw in another section to the side bar! I agree that there’s an ease of access element here, and that this scheme is not bad per se, but there’s an invisible line where it stops looking good, and iTunes has crossed it. It just doesn’t feel elegant anymore (and don’t get me started on the iTunes store).

Crippled if the iTunes store is not available

So I get it, the anal record industry wants you to get a license for every note of every song you make available in the iTunes store. But why can’t I access the related data? In Media Player I can right click an album and ask it to fetch the album information from the web. I get metadata, covers- the works. iTunes doesn’t offer that to me. Sure, it has the option to fetch album artwork, but I can count on 0 hands the amount of times it found anything for my library. I think it just doesn’t work because I’m not in an iTunes store enabled country, and that’s dumb.

What about Ping? Why can’t I use Ping to network and follow artists? Because “the experience will be crippled seeing as I don’t have access to the tightly integrated iTunes store”? My experience is already crippled.
In contrast to this, Microsoft’s Zune social network is available to everybody.

But maybe I should leave this alone, since I’m not sure why I would like to get in to begin with.

I think this about sums up what I hate about iTunes.

Do you hate iTunes too? Feel free to tell me about it.

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7 Responses to iTunes annoyances

  1. ahl says:

    Most of your points indicate you’re just “using it wrong” 🙂

    Here, I’ll provide an example:

    “Why the hell is burning a CD achieved via a playlist? How is that natural? Not every CD that I want to burn is a song collection that I want to listen to in the future. Why do I have to go through the hassle of creating, and then deleting, a playlist? And you know what else sucks? I can’t create a playlist without it taking me to the screen that explains what a playlist is, so now I have been thrown out of what I was looking at and have to go back.”

    I have one playlist named Burn into which I’ll just drag&drop the album or songs from my library that I want to burn. Doh! After burning is done I just empty the playlist. It took me all of 10 seconds to think of this method and then do it.

    Also, I don’t see a playlist readup such as you mention, when creating a playlist.

    I don’t feel like responding to your other points (a few of which are valid, as I said) but feel free to msg me here and mention your biggest itunes annoyance and we may start from there. 🙂

    • That’s an interesting idea, but do notice that you’re still managing a playlist. It’s shorter than the way I do it, but still longer than it should be in my opinion. Media Player for example has a Burn panel. You throw songs in there and when it’s done the burn list just disappears when you close Media Player (or use the “clear list” button). You don’t have to ask yourself “did I remember to clear the burn list?” nor do you have clear it yourself.

      Anyway, my biggest annoyances are definitely the ones about metadata, unknown tracks, and no watching of the file system thing. If you’re up for it I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on them.

  2. It’s actually baffled me how Apple can make such great UI for the iPhone, but their interface product for it, iTunes, is such a piece for all the reasons you mentioned. It just doesn’t manage music. At all.

  3. Disgruntled iTunes user says:

    That critical piece you wrote is spot on, epsilon! I absolutely HATE the way iTunes manages music. Mediamonkey and Winamp are two fantastic alternatives that can manage your portable devices (including some Apple gadgets; there are restrictions) and more for free! Granted, the UI can be a little intimidating at first, but once you master it, the features are incalculably better than anything iTunes has or probably ever will have.

  4. Rob Marqusee says:

    I am having a similar issue with iTunes. I was missing the first two songs on a Jefferson Airplane album. I bought the first two songs – but it is placed in a different folder both in iTunes itself and in the actual file folder in music. I tried to combine the first two songs just purchased into the other folder. Won’t recognize it. So, if I want to play the whole album in order – I have to play the first two songs – then switch to the other folder to hear the remainder of the tracks. I have tried everything – but I can’t get the two first songs to play with the rest of the album.

    • Ever since iOS 5.0(.1?) iPhone defaults to sorting music by Album Artist (I guess hell froze over or something), so if you can update do it (just make sure the Album Artist field is set to Jefferson Airplane). If you can’t upgrade, there’s a workaround where you mark the wayward songs as “part of compilation”. This causes iTunes to: a) group them with the rest of the album, and b) omits them from artist listings. I personally refuse to use this because it’s a hack and is not what this field was intended for, but it can help you get what you need.

  5. Simon says:

    Soothing to read that I’m not the only one going nuts. I’ve only resorted again to iTunes as the wife bought my little bro an iPod for Xmas and wanted to stack it with music. Shameful how flawed every iteration of this miserable program is.

    Metadata handling is beyond abysmal. Spot on chap.

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