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Summary:

iTunes continues to frustrate in seemingly innocent ways. This time, it’s the difference between my nicely folder-organized playlists and the ability to pick those playlists when copying them to my iPod.

Reading some of the reader comments to my iTunes piece earlier in the week it’s fairly obvious that I’m not the only one who is experiencing the problem. That’s comforting on two counts – first, obviously I’m not going mad. Second, there is obviously a problem with the software that is not related to the software/hardware combination that I use iTunes on. Others had noticed the delay during playback, but not associated the delay with the need to write out the database.

However you look at it, it seems like an odd performance sink when the problems could be fixed in a number of ways; only updating after 5 or 10 songs for example, or when iTunes isn’t actually playing anything. Or just using a better storage mechanism in the first place.

However, that’s not what I’m here about today. No, today’s ‘iTunes annoyance’ is the slight disconnect between the iTunes main interface and the way we manager iPod syncing.

When iTunes 6.0 was released I was overjoyed at the new playlist layout system. I’ve often request a folder-based management system to make creating and managing playlists easier. And we got it.

You can see a sample of it below.

iTunes Playlist Folders

Marvellous. We get a complete folder structure gor organizing lists. I can create a folder, like Audible, when a sub-folder, Languages – there’s a playlist in there for each of the different languages (Spanish, Chinese, Japanese etc.). You can see a few other choice folders and their layout in that screenshot too.

These all replaced my previously layout which was based around organization using hyphens to separate elements. So, my Japanese playlist would actually be Adbl-Lang-Japanese. Now it is the Japanese playlist in the Languages folder in the Audible folder.

I also have ‘all’ lists, which include all of the music in a specific folder – for example, Comedy->Spoken Word->All includes all spoken word audio. I have similar ‘All’ for other folders (and ergo music types, compilations and genres) too. There are also ‘Unplayed’, ‘Recently’, and ‘Unplayed Recently’ types to select suitable tracks I have played, played recently or recent additions I haven’t played. Each is in an appropriate folder.

On the whole, the system works brilliantly and the implementation is essentially what many of us have been asking about for years.

However, there’s a slight problem. Now I’ve changed the playlist named Comedy-Spoken Word->All to simply All (and others accordingly) within a folder structure, the playlist no longer describes the content unless its part of the folder structure.

That’s fine while we’re in iTunes.

Now let’s switch to the view for updating my iPod with content – I have to select specific playlists because Apple don’t yet make an iPod large enough. I also have a number of iPods which I use in different places (Shuffle in the car, one by the bed and one I take walking) so it makes sense to select the playlists for the appropriate iPod.

Here’s the list of playlists in the iPod preferences:

iPod Playlists

Notice anything?

Yep – no folder structure. I have a folder structure in the main iTunes window; no folder structure when I come to choose playlists for my iPod. I’m not bothered about duplicating the folder structure on my iPod, but it would be nice to use the folder structure when selecting playlists to copy over to my iPod.

Even worse, without the folder structure I have three ‘All’ playlists, and there’s no way of determining which playlist is which.

Now before half the TAB readers write and say ‘Dork, change the name of your playlists!’ (and they would be right, btw) – it’s not the playlist naming which is the issue here. It’s that iTunes displays my list of playlists in a foldered structure in one place, but without the foldered structure in another. That means the playlists lose context, not to mention the really bad example of UI design to present information not differently, but to actually display informaiton with the additional structural detail missing.

Imagine, just for a second, that when viewing your disk contents in the Finder you got the nice folder view, but when viewing the list of files on a disk in an Open or Save dialog you just got a list of all the files, fflattened out with no folders and no structure to differentiate the contents. How frustrated would you be?

Apple used to be the company that made software with consistent UI elements; such disconnects between two different views of the same information wouldn’t happen because the Apple UI guidelines wouldn’t let it happen.

Today, in iTunes, one Apple’s leading applications, we have a massive UI faux pas that very almost makes that specific area of functionality in iTunes unusable without the user modifying the data to suit Apple’s bad programming.

  1. Consistency is in the eye of the beholder.

    Should the sync window look like your itunes folder or should it look like your ipod? Showing the folder structure would make things a bit easier in one area but it would give an impression that the iPod is not yet ready for.

    I understand your frustration but there are design trade offs in everything. Until the iPod can handle deeper folder structures in it’s playlists, I’m not sure what’s more correct.

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  2. I have to say I agree with Doug, but I’m holding off on my urge to say “sheesh man, calm down” and instead will satisfy myself with recommending not to get your hopes too high for this to be changed in the very near future…

    So I do agree with you, but I’m betting it’s not very high on anyone’s priorities. And the remark about consistency being subjective is not well made – the main point of this article was that the interface constitutes a design *flaw*, or at least shortcoming – personally I think the matter of consistency per se is unimportant.

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  3. I’d love to see someone write about the 1500 podcast limit in the podcast categories of the iTunes music store. http://www.planetmike.com/blog/technology/1500podcasts.shtml . You’re making good points with inconsistencies in iTunes.

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  4. Yes I agree. All that writing for Windows is rubbing off on the iTunes Crew. The UI in 6.0 is a complete mess!

    Bring back the clean, clear and simple UI of the original iTunes. Bring it back to the Mac!

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  5. You know, nothing is perfect. And if iTunes is so annoying to you that you have to maintain a running commentary about it on a blog, maybe you should consider using something else. I mean, if it’s that bad, why torture yourself with it?

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  6. Ken: Because on the whole it’s an excellent application. What I’m noting is annoyances. I didn’t say I hated the application. I didn’t say it was so annoying I didn’t want to use it. But I do thing these problems are frustrating and annoying enough to me and others that they warrant being aired and discussed.

    The only way we’l get them fixed is to make sure their significance to us as problems is highlighted.

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  7. I was so used of not being able to use folders that I didn’t even notice this new feature :-) Thanks for pointing it out. Wouldn’t it be great if it you could point to different folders on the Mac and/or that you could assign different icons for each of the folders?

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  8. I am completely with Martin Brown. I bought my iPod 60G last Friday. I have about 6G worth of MP3s well organized in my windows PC harddrive with a multi-layer folder structure. I was hoping that I could just copy and paste the root folder to iPod, and everything would show up in iPod as it is. It took me four days to discover that iPod/iTune are not designed to do that. I even tried three third-party freeware applications, and still couldn’t get it work. I am a product manager, so I understand there might be some marketing reasons why Apple decided to not support that. But this iPod is certainly not for me. I’ll probably return it this week.

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  9. Having just bought my first iPod (30GB), I was staggered beyond comprehension that you cannot have folders structures on the iPod. Without this facility to organise songs, there is no point whatsoever in having the capacity for 1000′s of them. Finding them is so difficult. You would have thought that a structure that facilitated easy song location would be number one on the designers checklist when you’re designing a product that can store 15000 songs. It’s even worse for me – I use mine as a source on my Pioneer car stereo which can only scroll 6 tracks at a time and takes about 2 seconds to do each scroll. It makes locating songs impossible. IT designers can do the technology but they just can’t do user interfaces. PS As a software developer myself, I can tell you that implementing a folder structure on the iPod would be simplicity itself – I could probably write the code over a lunchtime. So either Apple left it out for some mis-guided marketing reason, or they’re just stupid.

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  10. I am new to the Ipod and find the lack of an operating manual a real problem.
    My self and my wife own new ipods but I dont know how to set up individual files and how to install the music into the individual files.
    Can any one help.Is there a manual I can get hold of??

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