Have you looked at iTunes?

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Sitting in every Mac user’s Dock is iTunes, the application that took Apple to another level, supported the iPod, the first iApp to be ported to Windows. iTunes, while less popular than the Music Store it gives access to or the iPod it connects to, remains the central piece of Apple’s music and video puzzle. Without iTunes, no matter how great the Music Store is, today’s iPod success would be very different and Apple would probably be struggling to keep third-party application writers interested in the iPod.

The “iPod + iTMS” solution is constantly praised for its ease of use and its elegance. Truth to be told, it is difficult to beat the combination Apple has got going on here: the Music Store’s interface is clear, responsive, complete, relatively intuitive and certainly beats most browser-based solutions. iPod synchronization is down to an art, to a science and I have rarely seen that part of the process go wrong for good — even if iPods have, like any other device, their share of problems.

iTunes however is slowly turning into a mess. That application, after all, was written in the Mac OS 9 days to rip CDs, not manage DRM and purchase videos online. Don’t get me wrong, I admire and appreciate the work Apple engineers have done on iTunes but I believe now is the time to start fresh and tap into what Mac OS X has to offer.

For starters, iTunes has reached the limits of its planned usefulness. To me, purchasing and reading videos in iTunes makes as little sense as using an iMovie icon in Front row for the playing of videos: it kind of works but it does not make sense — that icon should be QuickTime, the player, not iMovie, the editor. This far-fetchedness shows in every detail of the application:

  • The entire interface revolves around music and the Videos pane has little to do with the rest. Big thumbnails with reflection effects? Maybe but not in the middle of an application that uses lists for everything else.
  • The CD artwork viewer is definitely not a video player and one has stopped counting the times big bars are to be seen around a purchased video when kept there.
  • Full screen video playback, that is handled so smoothly by QuickTime Player, has iTunes stop, jitter, pixellate… It does not feature any controls in full screen mode whatsoever, it does not hide the cursor and, best of all, the screen saver has been known to go ahead and cover it.
  • Thumbnail calculation for videos often ends up in iTunes displaying screens of the exact same poster frame — an especially irritating bug for series downloaded off the iTunes Music Store.
  • Viewing the source file for a video means triggering the “Show song file” menu item.

I love iTunes and I use it daily. I am however very concerned to see all these issues and discrepancies pile up without raising any concern among reviewers while the darker interface has the web raving and ranting. Slowly but surely, iTunes is becoming a mess.

Yikes…


13 Comments

Macam
2006-01-18 01:52:17
Videos in list form
Just as a quick note, it's possible to have the Videos appear in list form and Apple has accounted for this option, even though it's not the default setting. Just click Videos in the Source pane and look on the far right side of the Search Bar at the top of the main window and you'll see two icons: the one one the left consisting of four horizontal lines (List view) and one on the right consisting of four tiled squares (Window view for lack of a better name). List view is definitely better for functionality as it scrolls far more easily and keeps scrolling to a minimum.


That said, a lot of your complaints tend to involve the videos in one form or another, and it's one I agree with. Video playback in iTunes is inferior to that in Quicktime, and the decision to have iMovie be representative for videos in Front Row is a bit baffling; they could've just as well picked iDVD. That said, I suspect Apple will smooth these out in the fairly near future as the video scene continues to evolve. After all, it's only been 6 months or so since their introduction, if that. In the meantime, I'll gladly chime in with the "Provide iTunes feedback' in the hopes that improvement comes sooner rather than later.

F.J.
2006-01-18 01:57:39
Videos in list form
Hi!


First of all, thanks for taking the time to post!


You are indeed right in pointing out it is possible to view videos as a list thanks to the toggle switch at the top right of the Video tab. My comparison was more about the defaults but I should have mentioned this option.


FJ

jmproffitt
2006-01-18 02:12:57
You're right, but don't worry
Apple has GOT to know that the iTunes name and layout model is getting long in the tooth. Video was clearly not built-in from day one. And given the change in the "music store" to include TV shows and other content, even the name is now ill-conceived.


Still for most users it's the leading product in its category with its consistent and clean interface. For power users, it's losing its edge, but they (we) are a minority.


In any case, Apple's got smart people that understand the issues and I'm sure they're working on the replacement. Perhaps they will fracture the application into two pieces. Or something else -- who knows? But I look forward to the changes that are certain to come.

carlj7
2006-01-18 02:15:05
true.
I agree. iTunes is losing its simplicity. It needs to be spun into two dedicated applications.


The guy at quarterlife crisis also blogs a lot about iTunes sucking, though I think he goes too far in his criticisms.

andrewburton
2006-01-18 02:15:46
Great post!
I use iTunes on my older P2-400, which has become my defacto music repository. Every new iTunes update these days makes me cringe, because each update makes iTunes run a bit slower.


Your post is an excellent wakeup call, and at the very, very least it's a comfort to know someone besides me feels this way.

blackrim
2006-01-18 07:27:46
maybe this will be better
http://www.songbirdnest.com/
scotty321
2006-01-18 09:30:15
Right on!
Right! And not to mention the fact that iTunes is the program used to manage your photo, calendar, contact, and video uploads to the iPod? That just seems strange.
EnricoPulatzo
2006-01-18 09:37:22
Right on!
You can thank Windows for that one. The iPod used to be handled by iSync, until Apple started becoming platform agnostic when it came to iPod/iTunes development.


I totally agree that iTunes is quickly becoming a horrible place to play. I'm a little surprised that Apple hasn't just start a new app to handle the new needs of iTunes. And what's with the version upgrade that was just a new skin?

carlosparada
2006-01-18 12:29:11
It is fine
I had the same feeling. But when I thought about it, and the target audience, I think Apple has done the right things. Do you think it would be easier for most users to deal with 4 or 5 different applications to use their iPod?


Then there is the Windows issue. If they move functionality to iPhoto, for example, then they need to port iPhoto too.


Then there are music videos. Are these to be managed by a specialized Video app? I would still like those to be part of my music collection :)


Anyway, it maybe possible to split the functionality into different components and tightly integrate them. However, it maybe be just too much of a hassle, and much easier to just fix the mentioned quirks in iTunes. After all, this is the first version of iTunes that handles video. The next version should fix most issues.


I personally enjoy iTunes a lot, and while the author's thoughts also wander through my mind, I like the fact I can managed everything related to my iPod in a single app. It is far from becoming "a mess" in my opinion.

macslut
2006-01-18 18:27:10
iTunes popularity
"iTunes, while less popular than the Music Store it gives access to or the iPod it connects to"


Uh...how do you define "popular"? iTunes inherently must be more popular than iTMS in terms of numbers of people who have ever used or number of times people have used either.


Likewise, since very few people don't use iTunes to load their iPods up with music, it's unlikely iPods are more popular than iTunes.


Anyway...my take on this is that iTunes is pretty damn incredible. I have a 400GB music collection, but it's not quite there yet for organizing my video collection.


I'd love to see Apple roll up iTunes into mixed media app.

macslut
2006-01-18 18:27:32
iTunes popularity
"iTunes, while less popular than the Music Store it gives access to or the iPod it connects to"


Uh...how do you define "popular"? iTunes inherently must be more popular than iTMS in terms of numbers of people who have ever used or number of times people have used either.


Likewise, since very few people don't use iTunes to load their iPods up with music, it's unlikely iPods are more popular than iTunes.


Anyway...my take on this is that iTunes is pretty damn incredible. I have a 400GB music collection, but it's not quite there yet for organizing my video collection.


I'd love to see Apple roll up iTunes into mixed media app.

F.J.
2006-01-18 21:15:22
iTunes popularity
Hi!


First of all, thanks for taking the time to post, I really do appreciate it! :^)


By "less popular", I mean "less talked about". Indeed, while we often hear the words "iTunes", they are more frequently used in the context of the "iTunes Music Store", and not to describe the application itself. In the same light, one hears a lot about the "iPod phenomenon" and many reviews or articles are written on the topic while pieces dedicated to the software core of the process are few in comparison.


I hope this clarifies my original entry,
FJ

jlillig
2006-01-19 10:15:45
first iApp for windows
I agree that it is odd that Itunes is becoming the media player and an iSore. The integration is great but it all seems like somewhat of a Kluge (sorry apple)



Somewhat off subject but do you think they will ever release iLife for windows?