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.

  • Share
  • Read Later
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?