More iTunes Gripes

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.

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