Three Things Apple Didn’t Get Right in iTunes 11

While I haven't run into bugs or visual glitches on my Retina MacBook Pro, I have stumbled on a few quirks as well as at least one conspicuous hangover that altogether render iTunes 11 a less-than-premium experience.

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Matt Peckham

iTunes 11 may be the boldest reboot of Apple‘s multi-platform media player and aggregation tool since the company launched the software over a decade ago. I’ve been playing with it since it arrived, and generally speaking, I like it for the same reasons my colleague (and TIME Tech editor) Doug Aamoth does.

I love the elegant, streamlined new front-end, for instance, as well as the hidden sidebars (the whole “edge-to-edge” thing is nifty), the much more functional mini-player and the helpful “Up Next” programming feature (a refined version of iTunes DJ, though some claim it subtracts functionality — I never used iTunes DJ, so can’t say).

But it’s not flawless. While I’m still running bug-free, I have stumbled on a few quirks as well as one conspicuous hangover that altogether renders iTunes 11 a slightly less than premium experience.

iCloud synchronization is enabled by default. I’m talking about the “Show iTunes in the Cloud Purchases” option under “Store Preferences.” Before iTunes 11, I just saw my local music. After iTunes 11, all the music I’d bought — a dozen albums over the past decade — suddenly appeared in my library like ghosts. This is kind of a big deal for me, because I’m a lossless-only listener, so I’d long since discarded these purchases and have no use for them now.

I had no idea iTunes 11 was going to surface this stuff, and if I hadn’t by chance noticed one of the albums by its artwork while scanning through the new views, they’d still be sitting there, taking up space and screwing up my album and song total.

Poking around in iTunes preferences, Apple lets you disable iCloud synchronization, and I have nothing against iCloud sync in principle — I just wish the company had set the default option to off, or at the very least asked my permission in a quickie setup wizard.

Searching is sluggish if you have a big library. I’ve been reading about how much faster iTunes 11 is, and it’s generally true, especially when changing tags for clusters of songs, say removing the “of #” track number option, if, like me, you prefer just to see the track number in that column. Before, that took several seconds per album. Now, it’s almost instantaneous.

But for all the deserved performance plaudits, iTunes 11 takes a step back when it comes to search performance. I’m talking specifically about the “Search Library” field in the application’s upper-right-hand corner. And — let me be very clear here — I’m talking about those with substantial music collections, say 25,000 songs and up.

In prior versions of iTunes, you’d place your cursor in the ‘Search Music’ field and type a few characters. Nothing would happen until you hit return. This allowed you to type something and ensure that what you’d typed was correct before summoning the search engine genie to collate results.

Now, Apple tries to predict what you’re looking for by popping in instant results below the “Search Library” field. Trouble is, while it’s thinking, all of iTunes pauses, and it happens from the very first key-press — before you’ve even seen the first letter appear — which means that typos are more likely, since it takes a second or two for the field to show what you typed.

That’s how it worked when I first loaded iTunes 11, anyway. I may have discovered a partial workaround.

Since iCloud sync is on by default, all those iTunes library purchases you made and probably forgot about — if you’re like me, and gave up on lossy audio years ago — are suddenly back. When you auto-search for something in your library, Apple appears to be checking against the cloud as well as your library. All I know is, after I removed the handful of iTunes purchases and unchecked “Show iTunes in the Cloud Purchases,” search responsiveness improved enough to make iTunes 11 usable again.

I’m also aware that I’m probably a minority of iTunes users who have 25,000-plus song libraries — those with smaller libraries report search performance is just fine, so bear that in mind.

Apple hasn’t fixed iTunes’ embed art “problem.” Here’s another complaint aimed more at power users, but one that warrants mention. My brother tipped me off to this, since he’s also a musicophile: Bring up the informational view for a song or group of songs, drag and drop artwork (in most cases, this would be cover art) into the “Artwork” box in the lower-right-hand corner, and voila, Apple embeds said artwork in each track.

What’s the problem? Say your art was a 1,000 by 1,000 pixel JPEG image, like my cover art for Glenn Gould: The Secret Live Tapes. It’s 242 KB on disk, according to OS X, and I’ve embedded it in each track via XLD, a free lossless decoder I use to rip audio CDs.

If I drag the original JPEG out to the desktop, wipe the artwork from my tracks, then drag the JPEG onto the informational “Artwork” box, as described above, Apple re-embeds it. But here’s the kicker: Apple then converts it to a PNG file. According to OS X, that PNG file is now 1.4 MB, an increase of over 1 MB. And that’s per track. The Gould album’s eight tracks with the JPEG embedded were 359 MB, but after Apple’s PNG conversion, they’re over 369 MB, an increase of about 10 MB or roughly 3%. In a smaller library, say a couple thousand songs, that doesn’t amount to much. But in a large library, say over 40,000 songs and 3,000 albums, it’s an enormous difference.

I’m not sure when Apple started converting artwork to PNG files, or more importantly, why. According to this Apple forum discussion thread, it happened when Apple updated iTunes back in May 2011.

It gets weirder. It turns out you can still add artwork to an iTunes track through iTunes without it being converted to a PNG file, but only if you do so on a track by track basis (I tested this and it works). But now we’re talking about an incredibly tedious process — having to open each track individually and drop in artwork instead of selecting the entire album and doing so.

Why does iTunes perform this blanket image conversion? I have no idea (I’m all ears, if you have a theory). All I know is, up-converting a compressed picture makes no sense. It’s like converting a lossy file to lossless — still lossy, only with meaningless padding. PNG, or Portable Network Graphics files, are basically lossless bitmaps, which is great if your source material is uncompressed, but a waste of space if the material’s already been compacted. (The irony’s rich, of course: a company that’s made its bones trading on the convenience of lossy audio files, forcing you to use a “lossless” image format for multi-track artwork embedding.)

In summary… That’s my gripe list. I’m sure you have yours. Am I being too nitpicky? What else comes up short in iTunes 11?

30 comments
JoshMarihugh
JoshMarihugh

iTunes 11 broke the search feature. Before, if you were looking at a connected device such as an iPod, and you went into Search, it would search THAT DEVICE. Perfect for seeing if you have a particular album or artist on your iPod. NOW, it defaults to the library. I KNOW the album's in my library; I just want to make sure it's on my iPod!

AnnaJohnson
AnnaJohnson

I actually have a hard time, on all the recent itunes, of just going to an album. When I search and click on the result, it starts playing it, but I usually don't want to play it, I just want to see it. Does anyone else have this problem?

LisaP0w
LisaP0w

The buttons are too close when playing music.  If I want to forward to the next song, instead the volume goes up or it goes into CREATE.  All of these screen buttons in Music are too close.  Then my screen goes into some wallpaper mode and won't get out.  The music listings are too bulky now because of the pictures and how each album is separated in the Artist category.  The way they scroll makes it difficult to find anything because I don't want to look at the screen with all the inconsistent movements.  It's no longer fun to play my music from my iphone and that's mainly why I got it.  To me, my music is more important than phone calls.  So I'm back to using my old ipod with none of my new music because I don't want to keep pressing stuff to get back to normal.  There are so many differences in this new version and they are not user friendly.  I just want to control and play my music like I did before iOS7.  

DFTBA171
DFTBA171

I miss the old art work+ list view.

skyking812
skyking812

iTunes 11 has so far been stubbornly resistant to allowing me to make compilations.  Anyone else noticed this?

ArtfulDodger
ArtfulDodger

Here are some suggestions for making iTunes more user-friendly on an iPad (or anything else):

1. Add a toggled display option so that the name of the song, artist, playing time, etc. can be LARGE. When playing a song on the iPad, the words are in 2-pt type scrolling across the top of the screen. Useless. And unnecessary -- I have an entire iPad screen doing nothing while those little tiny words tip toe across the top.

2. Add a feature so that you can easily go from a song to the album or the artist. That way if you like what you're hearing you can get more of the same. Genius is nice, but it's not everything.

3. Have these features accessible through Siri.

Apple can use these ideas and not even pay me for them.

wcndave
wcndave

Thanks for this.  When I upgraded, I was amazed to see cloud icons next to half my music.

I generally get lossless for music I really like, and the rest is lossy, so could be off itunes, and also i convert all of it to MP3 for use on various MP3 players... so imagine my incredibility when I saw I had every track listed twice, and that when playing it was always taking the one from the cloud, which a) was lower quality and b), with 400kbps speed, meant buffering problems, interrupted music, and the inability to do anything else on the internet whilst listening to music!!

If Apple really wanted to use the cloud as a great sync-all mechanism for average users, then fine, however I find it pretty despicable that there was not a big alert saying "We're going to deliver any content you bought from itunes over streaming instead of using your local content, do you want this?".

With regards to DJ, I use my ipod a lot, and it seems you can really only artist, album, random.

I use Logitech Squeeze in the house, and what I love is putting on random, then on hearing a ELO song, thinking "I have not listened to ELO for ages", and then being able to hold down the "now playing", and then either select "play all ELO next", or "at end", or to select an album track and do the same.

It makes my listening experience far more fluid.  With iPod, I have to search for what I want, click play now, and then after it's done find some way back to where I was, cannot queue things up...

So whatever DJ was, if this feature comes to all IOS devices then that will be at least one thing that's improved.  Still angry enough about youtube app removal, maps debacle, and forcing streaming though that my next tablets / MP3 players / computers will not be Apple.

Good job.


scmogan
scmogan

Thanks for this post. I was totally frustrated by the new iCloud syncing of my music. For one thing, it wanted to stream the music from iCoud, and here at the end of the road (Costa Rica), there is nothing "streaming" except vines from trees and ocean currents. When will Apple remember not everyone lives in Cupertino. Not everyone has access to high-speed Internet. I have disabled the "Show iTunes in Cloud purchases" and am a happier listener. I am still having a hard time getting to know this newest version, but this, at least, puts me in a better mood about the whole thing. 

JoséRamónAbeijónInsua
JoséRamónAbeijónInsua

you can edit several tunes at one time, this would save time editing the cover without the png conversion I assume


TobyStoner
TobyStoner

Who is Matt Peckham?  If you didn't use iTunes DJ, you shouldn't be writing this review.  iTunes 11 is a pathetic flop without it.
For users who are not computer professionals, what matters User-Friendliness, which has long been the club Apple has used to concuss competitors like Microsoft and Research in Motion. "Up Next" cannot do or cannot easily do most of what iTunes DJ made easy.  iTunes DJ was to the jukebox what word processors were to typewriters.  "Up Next" is User-Unfriendly by comparison.

GeorgeWorley
GeorgeWorley

Major features are gone -- iTunes DJ and opening up playlist in another
window are both gone and both I depend on.  I thought major version
upgrades were suppose to add features not take them way.   Apple has
lost its way since Steve Jobs died. :-(  Because of these two alone I
went back to version 10.7   There are few more things --- search
function is gone or barely usable ... the GUI itself looks like it is
gear towards a child not an adult...  if I wanted a tablet I would
purchase one..... I don't want my computer looking like a tablet.

googternet
googternet

Still no resume playback a long list of songs after rebooting!!!

dehe
dehe

@Matt:

The artwork embedding issue is even worse: Pasting a 500x500-jpg-image into the field in the information pane results in a lousy 128x128-png-image!!

Has someone else experienced that as well?

TylerAllen86
TylerAllen86

I think you titled your article wrong! Its more like three things apple got right  with itunes 11... even then you might have a hard time finding 3! Maybe its a mistake....I think this was supposed to go on the iPad!

I've already UPGRADED to itunes 10.7 from 11, & its like going from a tablet back to a computer again!

jayhash
jayhash

I can't abide the loss of Album Art List View. The inability to simply see each album in its entirety by just scrolling through the library is appalling. I shouldn't have to click on each individual album to see its tracklist. Why can't was have easy access to album art and demarcation of albums in the song view (what I'm surmising used to be list view)? And why eliminate the nice album art in the sidebar in favor of a Comment Forum Sized ICON of it in the Title area up top? Just ridiculous. Album art hounds don't necessarily need a remove duplicates feature, but we'd at least like to SEE the album art we collected and/or scanned alongside the songs we recognize.

bigdog
bigdog

Seems everyone is just looking at the music stuff.  How about the fact you must use iTunes to sync your devices for contacts, pictures etc.  That part has been ignored by Apple and is getting worse.  Constant errors telling you that a session cannot be estabished to the device when in fact it has.  The backups are always failing just to name a few items either not working or very poorly designed.  Apple either needs to create a seperate app for syncing devices or fix this one.

Sharper1942
Sharper1942

Loaded 11 and saw the music from iCloud, but the titles and the music were incorrect. I'd click on something by Mendelssohn and get something by Bach. Totally screwed up. 

AndrewOldham
AndrewOldham

My worst gripe is very, very nit picky. In the prior release the itunes store button was grouped with the playlists in the lefthand scroll column. In the new version the itunes store button is now on the righthand side. So if I am in the store and want to change a song then I have to click on the library button, then go across the screen to select a playlist, then go back across the screen to go back to the store. While very minor, it is a bit annoying.

AlejandroIrizarry
AlejandroIrizarry

My main concern is around the SEARCH function. Previously, you could search within the playlist or music library of your iPod separately from your iTunes music library. Now, as you try and search something it won't include items in your iPod?? I have not been able to find my way around this and it really annoys me!! Any tips??

JeffLaing
JeffLaing

Connect an iPad/iPod/iPhone with a large number of applications that do Document Sharing.

Navigate to the "Apps" tab in iTunes for that device.

Scroll down to the list of apps that do sharing.  Keep scrolling.  Look, Apple decided that the 'apps-with-documents' list didn't need to use scroll bars, it should be fully expanded.  If you have 50 apps, you get a list that shows all 50.  Now scroll to the bottom and select one.  You have to then scroll the window back up to actually *see* the documents being shared.  Insane.

This is on my machine with a mouse *and* a trackpad connected - that may be a combination they don't bother testing - on the other hand, I suspect that they never test large numbers of anything in iTunes.

rsantiagojr
rsantiagojr

I hate when they remove features on a supposed upgrade. On iTunes 10 and previous versions you could use the display duplicates feature, especially useful since I have 22K songs in my library. There is also no way to open playlists or the iTunes Store on a separate window. I don't understand why they got rid of these. They did the same kind of downgrade upgrade when iOS 6 got rid of Maps and YouTube. I know that was done to divorce Google but it was a clear downgrade for consumers. Can't help but think that Steve Jobs' leadership really was all it was cracked up to be.

PhDiva
PhDiva

The biggest problem with the youth-oriented upgrade is that one cannot search by composer, and artist, and song etc in the store. For classical music lovers this makes it impossible to find what one needs.  So, in effect Apple and itunes have knocked classical music customers out of its market.  As a classical singer, I not only have to be sure I have the right composer, but want to be able to find the same piece by multiple artists and sometimes even to find a piece across musical categories... and now you also cannot search across categories.  And the browse page is incomprehensible...So, I guess Apple has more than enough customers and does not need a few million classical music customers.  I will go to Amazon, and to a host of other smaller classical sites to buy.  And eventually I will grow to love Windows media and non-ipod mp3s.  Forget about my interest in any other apple products too. 

CanBekar
CanBekar

Since you asked, yes I think you are being too nitpicky. I also think you somehow mislead iTunes' power users; I have 16K+ tracks and prior to this version the iTunes launch and multi editing tracks were a pain in the arse. Now it launches and edits in just a couple of seconds at worst.

Using a dynamic -yet a worse runtime performance- search engine "might" be an engineering solution to speed up iTunes altogether, since before this update handling of the needed metadata of each track for a better search "might" be the underlying reason that gigantic libraries were so sluggish. Now they "might" have chosen a less memory but more runtime costly approach for searching the library. (Whereas I would not auto-search for the first 2-3 chars, or put the search result when the user doesn't input any key for half a sec.)

Your iCloud problem is very niche, but sure, iTunes could've warned for the default opt-in a priori if the user had purchased tracks in his/her account. I don't have any guesses for the artwork though, but %5 memory cost shouldn't be a very big issue for lossless audio fans like yourself, since they require at least twice the memory than the mp3. 

DaveClassicfanatic
DaveClassicfanatic

@PhDiva Seems to me to be the worst error ever made by Apple - have a large library of classical music in iTunes. Searching for a particular composer's work only shows up tracks that have the composer's name in the title field - any tracks where the composer is correctly named in the composer field only is missed. 

Strange that spotlight on my Mac still finds the missing tracks - I only hope some idiot doesn't rewrite the search criteria for that.

mattpeckham
mattpeckham moderator

@CanBekar Oh, I'm not complaining about multi-editing. In fact if you read carefully, you'll see I praise iTunes 11 for exactly that (see my point about multi-editing track numbering).

CanBekar
CanBekar

@mattpeckham My bad on multi editing; but still, imho it would be much more convenient to also point  the new iTunes' launching time, rather than complaining the %3 hard disk bump which is clearly like a tiny little bug fix in the source code. It might be related to the album view's colourful new looks, and the colour fetching algorithm underneath. 

I'm stressing this starting/launching time since even I (me has 16K mp3 << you has 40K lossless) couldn't use iTunes as a launch on start app because of that problem, you should also had worse of a problem (I'm predicting like at least 5 min launch time for an avg mac, am I close?) 

So in the big picture, yeah it is perfectly fine to say that iTunes responsiveness got much better and searching got sluggish for 200+ GB libraries. And one reason should be parallel with the one that I explained in the previous comment. A workaround for you would be pre-filtering the search, using the search for only artists or song titles perhaps. Response time got better for me: pseudo-instance search response time for the letter 'a' was around 500 msec; now it is halved.

On the other hand, the responsiveness of the iPhone synching seems much worsened, repeatedly got some minutes with the beach ball. But it might be a transient thing for me since I unsafely ejected the phone before that and have tried it out for just one or two of times with the 11. 

It would not be misleading to say that the new iTunes is much faster for any user, not just for an average user; in fact it got even faster for super users (here I promote you to mega user status sir). And another careless reader like me can be mislead with what you've pointed out here in this piece: "yeah, it is faster at editing but searching is much slower now, cruel world" that's what I call misleading. You wrote that since search became so sluggish so that the user start to mistype the query, but come on? When I've mistyped a query in previous versions I understood it from the empty search result not from the search and it was not super fast neither. So that's a bit nitpicking :) 

Missing deduper or the long scrolls for apps, these are all secondary to launch and edit times, and also the up next feature is awesome, it also let's you see what was played before. iTunes dj was not so useful, i tried to use it but it wasn't convenient like this one over here. For starters, DJ feature jumped to the first song that I said to play next on DJ, but I always wanted to meant "start after this song finishes" :)

For a major update, I think that it istheperfect major update. 

ps. You should see the iPhoto though, it corrupted my library, and has been giving me grey screens, and I paid for it...