Yeah, there’s lots to love about ITunes. The overall architecture is excellent and if this is what Spotlight will become in the next OSX (as rumoured), that’s all good. However, there are also some things that are really bad in ITunes. It’s interesting that Apple still seems to be the best player out there despite these problems. It doesn’t say much for the competition. (The same can be said about a number of glaring problems with the IPod, especially its poor podcasting support, which the other players blissfully ignore while continuing to hope people will suddenly switch if they introduce better bubblegum colours, advertise, and slash prices. A separate post, maybe.)
Deleting. I like playlists, especially smart ones. So I spend precious little time looking at my entire Library. But if I hit clear in a playlist, it will only remove the songs from the playlist, whereas it would delete them in the Library. There is apparently no way to delete songs when you’re viewing them in a playlist. Weird. Violates the all-important HCI principle of consistency in favour of some minor robustness. (I could always undelete if there was a problem.) I have a nice Smart Playlist for all podcasts over one month old, but to delete them I can’t just delete all in the playlist. Instead, I’m forced to use an ugly workaround: Rate them all as 1-star, view in the library, sort by rating, and manually select and destroy all 1-star items.
Duplicate Songs. I wrote about this a year ago, and the problem remains; I still pity the fool who accidentally imports the same song more than once (which is pretty easy to do). Sure, there’s a Duplicate song finder, but it’s just about useless because you still have to manually go through and delete every single duplicate, even though it should be obvious to ITunes they are identical! Even if they both point to the same file, ITunes still won’t help you out!!! (It’s sort of beyond me why ITunes even lets you have two records pointing to the same file in the first place.)
The Music Store. It might pull in ninety-nine gazillion dollars a year, but I’d rather use Amazon any day. Logging in to the music store takes about 5-10 seconds, then every time I want to change my location within the store, another 5-10 seconds. It seems a lot longer than loading a web page, and I think that’s because it seems to load all images at the same time as the content. Overall, an Amazon page will probably load slower, but the content will load first, so I can easily go back if it’s not what I want or navigate somewhere. Furthermore, caching seems very limited, so if I go forward and back again, I have to wait once more. Furthermore, the ancient practice of Pre-Fetching seems to be non-existent.
Video. Handling of videos is just a little bit wrong. It sort of works okay if you’re happy to have Amanda’s talking head sitting in the tiny box in the corner, but switching in and out of full-screen, at least on the powerbook, causes all sorts of groaning that don’t actually occur with other apps. I also don’t get why, or under what circumstances, embedded links work, because AFAICT, they don’t.
Podcasting. Fair dinkum props to Apple for getting into podcasting fairly early on (certainly more than other companies who continue to miss the boat). But you know what? The actual implementation isn’t great, and I’m surprised so many of my podcast listeners come through ITunes when they could be getting so much more out of life by using PodNova or Odeo with any of the quality dedicated clients (like the open-source Juice). It’s poor because adding feeds relies on the same tedious Music Store interface, loading at the usual snail’s pace as you decide which podcasts to subscribe to. You can speed things up by using the Browse interface if you’re lucky enough to know about it, but even then, you’d probably want to look up the podcast’s previous shows, how recent they were, etc, before committing to it. Furthermore, there’s no concept of sharing, tagging, etc, which makes the online services so much more useful. The actual integration of subscribed podcasts seems quite nice, so I wish they got this aspect right as I’d like to use it. But, for now managing the list of feeds is too painful. If you subscribe to 3 or 4 feeds, ITunes is fine, but I subscribe to 100 feeds, which makes ITunes impossible. BTW, If 100 feeds sounds like a lot, keep in mind that some are mostly one-off like conference series, some publish infrequently, such as cough some of the Ajax feeds around the place, some are optional fillers like music or BBC newscasts, and some I’ll listen to if the topic is particularly interesting, otherwise throw away (even though some advertiser probably just paid for my “earballs” :-). All up, it amounts to about 30 hours a week, not too ridiculous.
Radio. I’m glad this feature is here, but it’s never been updated and quite frankly is wrong on so many levels. Streaming frequently fails due to bandwidth problems. Is that the fault of ITunes? Yes it is. If it observes that a station is frequently failing, it should wipe it off the list or warn me, not just clutter the interface with it. There are hundreds of stations, and I’m not going to remember how well each works. I could rate them myself in theory, but in practice I can’t because there’s no rating field! Really, I can’t do anything much about the directory at all – can’t set genres, can’t re-organise, etc. It’s true I can add my own feed, but trying to find radio station feeds on the net is not as easy as you’d think. In the case of some stations in the directory, they’ve been off for months, but they remain in the ITunes directory. The directory itself has a slightly odd organisation (a good case for tags instead of a hierarchy). It combines no less than 79 streams in one category, “International”, a flat structure containing J-POP, Salsa, and “Hawaiian Rainbow”, among many other cool things that would ideally be placed in their own little category. The use of “International” here implies it’s synonomous non-American, fair enough, but then what is “Reggae/Island” doing in a separate category. A better approach to radio stations would be something more like the music store (but well implemented).
Streaming. Okay, radio doesn’t really work too well, but I could easily take an RSS-powered feed from WebJay right? Nup. According to WebJay (now part of Yahoo!), “If you open a playlist in iTunes it will only play the first song and this will drive you crazy.” WebJay is only able to offer three very unappealing workarounds: Don’t use ITunes, Use a third-party utility, or download to your desktop and open manually. I’ve been using a third-party utility, but unfortunately ITunes adds a permanent entry to the URL for each song being played. Spend a few hours playing tracks and you have to go through and manually delete a hundred or so items!