Dave Winer nails it (yet again) with “iTunes is an outliner.” He also provides an excellent analysis of how iTunes got to be so bad.
I’m absolutely dumbfounded with all of the tech press fawning over iTunes 11—except for Farhad Manjoo writing for Slate, who says it’s time to take it out back and shoot it.
I have an incredibly large iTunes library on our internal server. It’s mostly music—of which I have subsets on my MacBook Pro and iPhone and of which my wife/business partner has subsets on her MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad. But also a lot of movies and TV shows for Apple TV. And books. And audio books. The entire library lives on the server because that’s where the disk space is.
When I first installed iTunes 11 I mistakenly clicked the Podcasts icon button and stumbled into the podcasts section—of which I only have a few but they’re important. I was ecstatic when I clicked the List scope button and saw a most reasonable outline:
Imagine my disappointment when I eagerly clicked the Music icon button and wait, what? No List scope button. How can Apple’s user experience people possibly get the simplicity of using an outline in the podcasts section but not in the music section. Did the natural hierarchy just evade everyone?
Really? And the Songs scope button is just a simple, non-hierarchical list, serving mainly to demonstrate how putting hierarchical content in a non-hierarchical container is um, problematic.
So, again, you’re right Dave. iTunes is an outline. Apple just doesn’t know it or desperately wants to suppress it. How else to explain that the company could/should have put an outliner in the Mac Toolbox in the late 1980s (he writes, double-checking to make sure that it’s really been that long; it has).
Update: Sunday, 2 December 2012 11:33AM CST: I’ve realized another brain-dead usability issue with iTunes 11. Music is a central part of my workflow, and while I’m sure it’s a generational thing, I listen to albums—not songs. Actually, I carefully curate my music collection and tend to listen to an artist’s entire catalog. Well, usually not an entire catalog because most artists release some real honkers—either to fulfill a contract obligation or an expriment gone bad or because it seemed like a good idea at the time but didn’t withstand the test of time.
I never, ever use shuffle because the artist and producer set the tunes in a specific order usually for very good reasons.
Back to my workflow. When I get into my office each morning, the first thing I do is decide which artist I want to listen to first. I then find the first album under the artist—which always defaults to alphabetical; a pity, but I don’t have date information for a lot of my music and the collection is so large it would be a monumental task to re-tag it. Most often, the artist’s catalog plays through and I’m jolted by the transition to the next artist in iTunes’ alphabetical order. Today’s Tab Benoit > Taj Mahal is tolerable; enjoyable even. Tomorrow’s Gillian Welch > Gov’t Mule is enough for conniptions.
The key to my workflow is that I almost always have music playing while I’m working and I don’t like being interrupted to have to tend to the music. Set it and forget it and I’m happy. This morning I discovered that iTunes no longer automatically plays the next album. Suddenly the music stops and I have to tend to it, manually adding the next album. Yes, I know I could add the next album(s) to the Up Next queue, but it’s still forcing me to do something manually that should be automatic.
Am I missing something, or is iTunes really that pathetic?
Update: Monday, 10 December 2012 11:33AM CST: It seems that every single day I’m confronted with another inexcusable major flaw with iTunes 11. The latest one: In order for the music tracks of an album to play in the correct order, they must be tagged in the correct order; having track numbers—like most reasonable people—just isn’t enough. This is almost certainly a play for Apple to increase its iTunes Store music sales. Ain’t going to happen here—Apple’s .m4a (MPEG-4 Part 14) file container format is lossy (when it could easily be lossless).
But that would require Apple actually caring about music—something it clearly doesn’t. If it did iTunes Match—another Apple abomination—wouldn’t try to overwrite my lossless music with its crappy 256KB lossy .m4a files.