Blog Post

iTunes Gripes

Some of you may be getting the opinion that I’m a bit of a moaner. I have gripes about things only when I know the company could do better, and I think, in many cases these companies know they could do better. Unfortunately a combination of the complexities of the software, backwards compatibility, future-proofing and market forces all mean that just occasionally these companies don’t reach the dizzy heights that we would like to see them all reach.

iTunes is a good case in point from Apple. We’re currently on version 4.7.1, and while many new features have been added, such as the ability to interface to the iPods in different ways, the ‘Party Shuffle’ and the iTunes Music Store, the basic functionality has changed little since it’s very first version.

Unfortunately, I think that the power of iTunes as a music management platform has been diluted somewhat. Let’s take a typical example, that of play lists.

I use these a lot, not only to help me quickly access the tunes I want, but also to help make sure I listen to the vast range of music that I have (currently running at over 30,000 tracks, including over 400 books from Audible). With so much music, it’s often easy to forget what I’ve just bought and haven’t listened to, and what of my favourite stuff I haven’t listened to yet. Play lists are also incredibly useful when transferring music over to my iPods. My music collection simply doesn’t fit onto an iPod, so the play lists become a useful way to copy it over.

I use, almost exclusively, automatic playlists. But there are limitations to the automatic play list design that make it less useful than it could be. For example, I have playlists that list only those tracks that, according to iTunes, I’ve never listened to. Unfortunately, you can really only have one other criteria with that because we can only choose whether to include all the criteria, or any of them. There isn’t the option to use any of these, and that one. For example, I can’t create a list that includes the genres Hip-Hop or R&B and that I haven’t listened to.

The organization of play lists is also severely limited because play lists can only be given a name, they can’t be stored in a convenient file/folder structure. That means I have lists like ‘Adbl-Languages’ and ‘Adbl-Books-SciFi’ along with ‘Comp-Beat Faves’. What would be nice is to have an ‘Audible’ folder, then a ‘Books’ folder and then ‘Sci-Fi’, rather than than having to use such a cryptic long name. It can’t be a limitation of the iPod interface; afterall, the iPod already uses the folder-like hierarchy for you to move through the available music. Actually, with such a small screen, the folder structure would make it easier, not harder, to select the play list you want.

The management of the iTunes library is also somewhat limited, and this can have an affect on your auto play lists. We can change all sorts of attributes (or tags, in MP3-speak) for the songs in your library, except your play count. We can reset it to zero, but what about setting it to one? I have countless CDs I’ve been listening to for years, but I can’t simply highlight them and say ‘I’ve listened to these’. I have to use one of the many scripts that goes through the slow process of moving the song to the end just so iTunes can increment the count by hand.

As always, none of these annoyances are really a problem, but they do place an annoying little chink into the armour of what is an otherwise excellent piece of software.

Of course, these are just my bugbears. I’m sure you’ve got your own ;)

20 Responses to “iTunes Gripes”

  1. For iTunes to be such a widely spread program with a huge userbase I can’t believe it’s not much better than it actually is. It’s on par with WMP but misses out so much on Winamp.

    The simple fact it can’t dynamically update from a folders content is an unbelievable flaw that I just can’t comprehend hasn’t been identified and resolved during the release and development lifespan!

    For me the only saving grace it has is having the ability to play from a DAAP stream, When the plugin for DAAP arrives in Winamp as a beta you can be sure iTunes used for anything but transfering to an iPod is history for me.

  2. Ipod dominates the MP3 market, and rightly so. However, as far as ipod’s prowess is defined in the digital music industry, itunes is as far removed. One simple feature that keeps me away from using such a feature is Itune’s inability to monitor a folder to automatically add new music to the library. Groan! And darnit, ipods aren’t compatible with a very capable WMP. Groan!

  3. I totally agree. The refresh itunes libary would be very handy. I often find that i change my folders only to find that i now have deadlinks and have to hand tend the fix. This would also solve the problem with those of us who have multiple users accounts in xp. I might add new songs to my libary, but then have to go to my wife’s libary to find the fold and import the songs.. What a pain… Hopefully apple will think of this and fix soon.

    – Tim

  4. Mitchell

    Yes indeed – first time ipod user of today – spent a good half hour searching for amethod to refresh the playlist but there isn’t one. Its just plain stupid!

  5. Peachboy

    I totally agree, Judaschrist. For how mainstream and almost cult-like Ipod and Itunes has become, I rarely hear people mention the GLARING, incredibly obvious fact that Itunes library manipulation options not only suck, but are pretty much nonexistent. For those of us who would rather manage our music folders ourselves than let Itunes organize them for us (which I assume most users would like to do), there is no way to rescan music folders, import new songs and clean up dead links short of reimporting one’s music library. And for someone who is constantly rearranging his music library like myself, it just doesn’t cut it. The ability to refresh one’s library is so basic and integral to most other media players. Winamp’s library scanning function is great. Even WMP has a far superior library manipulation layout. Why is Apple so dense about this? Honestly, to me it always seems that Apple assumes their users are complete morons. Sorry Apple, I don’t want you to decide how my music folders should be arranged… Does that mean I shouldn’t be using Itunes?
    What a pain in the ass.

  6. Judaschrist

    version 6, now… still no “refresh library” feature… why do I have to reimport all folders whenever I change a filename or move an album to another folders?!?!?!? and then, not only do i have to wait for it to recheck the entire folders, importing the new/chenges files, but I also have to remove the now non-existent files that were left on the library…

    hell, this should be an automatic feature by now…

  7. Willem Lang

    I agree fully with Mr. Brown that a solution should be given for handling many playlists. In my opinion, a hierarchy of one level should suffice and will not be a great penalty in userfriendliness. Another thing I do not understand is why Apple does not make the browsercolumns userconfigurable like they did with the displayed columns. Then I could browse on Composer (for my classical music) and Artist>Year>Album for example… Great tip by the way concerning the Playlist option in smart playlists. I overlooked it and it is very usefull for when producing for a radio program!

  8. alex cumbers

    Echoing comments above, what people need to realise is Apple is catering to what the majority of users require. I’m a power user coming from a Unix background – sure, I’d like more power features, but they have to be implemented in a user friendly way & only if the majority of people are requesting it. Re. play counts, I doubt that huge number of users are complaining about it & you’ve got a work around for now. If features are added all over the place you end up with MS Win Media player – hard to use! check out the best iPod/iTunes book out there at

    Obviously all of the above should be submitted to Apple for feedback. I myself have dozens of requests that I’ve sent to Apple.

    A most important feature required is as you’ve said: nested playlists. Also, has anyone noticed a bad UI feature when you burn a disk – you don’t know what type will be burnt (MP3, Audio etc) I’m sure a few coasters were made that way :-(

    I’m afraid Twist does not get iTunes at all. re. version numbering, he should look at the history of iTunes.

  9. Jim Bailey

    You are so far out of the mainstream that it isn’t funny. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But Apple makes iTunes much more for the average user. I think I have a pretty significant library compared to the average iTunes user and it is 1/10th the size of yours.

    If any company can make software that will satisfy users with less than 1,000 tracks and those with more than 30,000 it is Apple but it is going to be a difficult task. I hope you send your complaints to Apple using their feedback links? Over time the software will probably get more sophisticated but if you want something changed be sure to tell Apple.

  10. Dan Diakiw

    You can collate the playlists into folders by exporting the lists to a folder that you can name and save anywhere you like. Then use the finder to search for the list you want and import it back into iTunes. Works great for me.

  11. You know, I did actually mention in the post about using scripts to change play counts. But why should I have to resort to AppleScript (which becomes particularly clumsy on multiple songs), when I can edit just about everything else about the tunes within iTunes? I’ve got nothing against AppleScript, but it’s not the neatest solution compared to what could be achieved with a couple of clicks in the same way I can edit album titles, or genres.

    As to using the ‘in/not in playlist’ functionality, it’s even clumsier. For some lists I’d have to create four or five other lists just to create the one I actually want. There’s no way of hiding those other lists (i.e. the ones I don’t need), which is hardly an elegant solution.

    The point is that I can do all sorts of things by fudging it, but this is functionality that could, and should, be embedded into the application.

  12. I do think some people want too much in software or too much complicate things

    itunes is straightforward, easy to use and do the jobs. no need to be a scientist computer to use it.

    finder-like interface forces users to learn “folders and files” concepts.

  13. You can use AppleScript to set the play count to any value you like. The syntax is:

    set the played count of desiredTrack to desiredValue

    If you don’t want to fool around with AppleScript yourself, there’s a script already written that lets you select any number of tracks and set all their play counts to zero, one, or any other value. It’s here. Just download the script and put it in your Home/Library/iTunes/Scripts folder.


  14. Regarding nested playlists: As already mentioned, your desire is easily attainable now that the smart playlists support the “Playlist is” condition.

    Regarding play count: Of course there’s no way in the iTunes UI to set this, other than to actually play the song.

    But, since iTunes is fully scriptable, there are a myriad of easy ways to achieve this – including this script from Doug’s AppleScripts site

    A suggestion: Before complaining that something is “impossible”, take a look at a few of the (MANY) iPod and iTunes user sites for workarounds. You might be surprised at just how easy a solution might be.

  15. iTunes doesn’t work very well for the way I use my digital audio files. It works fine for my old headless iMac which acts as a jukebox/networked file server/web server/Hotline server. I rarely change the contents of my library on that machine and when I do it is just to add new stuff. On my iBook iTunes tends to get annoying because my collection of digital audio changes often. I add new stuff from the iMac that I want to carry with me, I download stuff, and I delete stuff I am sick of. My favorite audio player, Audion, had this great feature called Linked Playlists. You linked a playlist to a folder and you could hit a refresh button (or even set it to auto-refresh) anytime you had made changes. Deleted files were removed and new files were added all while playing music. Problem is Audion is very crash happy on 10.2+ since it has barely even been updated for Mac OS X. It is basically a dead application now, though it is still available (for free now).

    Also I have always hated iTunes browsing, a method that mimics the Finder is much more to my liking since my Finder organization is much better than my ID3 tags.

    I don’t think that iTunes deserves the 4.7.1 version number either. Maybe 2.2 or 2.7 at most and that is just because of the iTMS being added in.

  16. You could create a playlist for Rap and R&B then create a playlist for song you have not heard selected from the Rap and R&B playlist. A workaround, but I agree, there should be an advanced mode where you can all the power you have as on google at controling the logic.

  17. Just a note – it’s far from ideal, but you can make multiple automatic playlists with your different criteria and have one criteria being if it’s in another automatic playlist. So if you had 3 criteria and you wanted A AND (B OR C), then make a playlist (B OR C) and a playlist (Playlist 1 AND A).