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iTunes Criticisms

Alan Kay once famously called the Mac "the first PC good enough to criticiize." That's how I feel about iTunes and the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) -- the first music manager and service good enough to criticize. So, with a library of 1,590 songs, 105 of them purchased from iTMS, I have a few critcisms:

  • For music purchased via iTMS, a proprietary Apple database provides information such as album art, music style, issue dates, and the like. For music ripped from CDs, Apple uses IMDB CDDB. Apple's data is much better -- the typical IMDB CDDB entry has misspellings, incorrect dates, and always lacks album art. Why not use the iTMS database when it includes a ripped CD and use IMDB CDDB as a backup for CDs not available on iTMS? At a minimum, Apple could provide a "Lookup" button in the "Get Info" dialog that would attempt to look up information on iTMS for a song or a CD.
  • Apple divorces the concept of the currently selected song from the currently playing song. This is a good user interface decision, but it leads to one unfortunate problem: since the "Show Song Artwork" panel displays only the currently selected song, but the selection doesn't change when advancing between songs, there's no way to always see the album art for the currently playing song.
  • Apple doesn't offer the ability to re-download purchased music -- one download is all one gets. I'd guess their argument for this policy goes something like this:
    1. You don't get new CDs free if you lose them.
    2. This would be expensive to offer.
    3. If we enabled this, it would encourage piracy.
    In order:
    1. No, you don't, but digital objects are far more easily lost than their physical counterparts -- all it takes is a hard disk crash, or forgetting to copy them during a reformat, or the like. Most vendors of digital data recognize this by either a) offering purchasers the ability to re-download data or b) allowing the data to be downloaded freely and allowing users to unlock it (and resending them the unlock key upon request).
    2. How expensive could it be? The average size of songs I've purchased via iTMS is 4 MB each -- probably less than 1 cent of bandwidth.
    3. Re-downloads would be governed by Apple's FairPlay DRM system just like original downloads, and would be governed by the same rules (play on up to five computers, burn the same playlist up to seven times).
  • The Mini Player needs beefing up. First, a button to invoke should be available in the main window. Second, an option should be provided to enable it to stay on top of all other windows. Third, if the user wants to make it larger, why not provide more information? Mini-visualizations, song artwork, and other data could be displayed if the user wants to grow the window large enough to do so.
Incidentally, of the 105 songs I've purchased, I'd estimate that I paid for about 98 of them or so (afte subtracting songs offered at no charge and promotions like those from Pepsi and Ben & Jerry's). That's an average of 22 songs per month. I wonder how that statistic compares to the average iTMS user?


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Click on the title bar above the artwork well to Toggle it into showing the "Now Playing" song.

Good points. Most of the issues are fairly small. I think Apple may address these in the next version. I doubt they'll be able to replenish lost songs though. That seems like a logistical nightmare.

Thanks for the tip on the artwork. I'm a much happier person now.

With regard to replenishing lost songs, I don't see how it would be a logistical nightmare. As far as I know, Apple already tracks every song that you've ever purchased. Given that, it should be straightforward for them to enable re-download. Lots of sites selling downloadable software do this already.

While we're busy critiquing, I have to note that IMDB (Internet *Movie* DataBase) has nothing really to do with iTunes. CDDB is the music database, which admittedly has lots of errors, that Gracenote *ahem* "acquired" from a group of volunteers.

I agree that the Apple data should be preferred, but if you don't like the CDDB data, don't use it... enter it your own darn self. :)

The problem with letting people re-download purchased music is that, while it may not be a big deal for one or two songs, it becomes outrageous for several million customers. Multiply your 4 MB file by 1 million customers, for instance, and we're talking about a nontrivial bandwidth cost.

Or how about folks who will abuse the system? "I don't need to backup my 105 purchased tracks, if my hard drive dies, I can just re-download it all from Apple." Then multiply *that* by 1 million folks... Oy!

Good list.

My biggest desire: File names longer than 31 characters. Jobs decided to pitch floppies, but not the 31 character file name limit to be backward compatible wiht a system that he has declared "dead"?

Note: I currently use a PC, listen to many radio broadcasts with titles such as "136 wwww.unwelcomeguests.org High Crimes- The Case for Impeachment of Bush, Cheny, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft pt1.mp3" It's a pain when I consolidate my libary and have the file renamed to "136 wwww.unwelcomeguests.org H"

I would also like to see a different handling of certain characters (" is replaced with _). I don't own an OSX machine (my last Mac ran system 9), so I'm not sure, but doesn't the filing system handle unicode? Enough to not choke on simple characters, I might think.

It would also been nice to have the prefs handle what version of ID3 tags to use by default (I'm don't know whether it uses 2.2 or 2.4 by default).

An also wish: The ability to consolidate the library by Genre (or other criteria) instead of merely "Artist:Album:Track" it would be nice to have "Audio Books:Artist:Album:Track", "Rock:Artist:Album:Track" I understand the implicit problems though (what if an album contains different genres).

Apple has made owning a large library a real pleasure by placing the focus on lists that are easy to navigate and edit, these simple little changes would make my life easier.

Dino, thanks for catching my silly mistake of writing "IMDB" when I meant "CDDB". I've corrected the entry appropriately.

Robert, the easy way to address your concern is to make customers pay for redownloading -- thus making it a profit opportunity for Apple. They could set the price at a point that would be reasonable, but would discourage customers from using Apple as a backup service.

If I'm right and it's a penny's worth of bandwidth to download a song, then Apple could offer redownloading of one's entire library for, say, $4.99 for up 100 songs, $9.99 for up to 500 songs, $16.99 for up to 1,000 songs, and so on. Whatever the precise numbers, the idea would be to strike the right balance.

I have 105 songs purchased (or downloaded for free) from iTMS. That's 105 * $0.99 = $103.95 to replace them all. If I lost them, I'd be happy to pay $9.99 to redownload them. But I'd also be motivated to avoid paying that $9.99 unless I really had to.

Correction on your second bulleted complaint. Click on the words "selected song" on above the album art window and it will change to "now playing"

CDDB has a number of entries for any one album; for example, you could choose to name a foreign language CD in native script or alphabetized characters. Many of the submissions are uploaded by individuals; some contain errors but others might contain naming conventions that suit different people. What I'd like to see is a choice given WITH THE NAMES so I can select which submission to download, and not just a number of titles which don't offer a clue as to how they differ.

To keep iTunes mini-player on top, use this plug-in: http://www.xurble.org/itunes/iTunesOnTop.php

It works with 4.5.

iTunes is the first music player that resulted in me listening to copy more CDs and listening to more music. it rules.

iTunes names files for me with more than 31 characters.

basename /Volumes/Music/Compilations/Adrenalin\ \(Disc\ 1\)/1-03\ Saltwater\ \(Tomski\ vs\ Disco\ Citizens\ Remix\).mp3 | wc -c

To invoke the mini-player click the green "zoom" button. You can then drag the right corner to expand the window

I've stored music files with Unicode characters in iTunes without any problems. But then, I'm using MacOS X, where Unicode support is awesome.

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