Friday September 23, 2005

Longstanding iTunes Deficiencies.

While it’s still cool to poke at Apple a little bit, let me address two issues that I believe have been serious oversights on the part of Apple’s iTunes. Oh, I know there are a lot of complaints (gapless playback, anyone?) but these two items are at the core of music navigation, and it seems that after 5 versions of iTunes these issues could have been resolved.

Artist Order: What, You’re Too Good for Surnames?

I am notoriously anal in the organization of my physical CDs. I organized my collection the way a music store does it: by the artist’s last name or the first letter of the band’s name after “The.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to look for, oh, Ryan Adams on my iPod or in iTunes only to realize after a few seconds that I’m looking in the “A’s” when iTunes is placing him in the “R’s.” Sure, it makes sense to some people, but not to me. Surnames have long been the de facto method of organization for books and music. Could you imagine walking into a music store and not finding Britney Spears in the “S” section? Sweet baby Moses, chaos would surely ensue. So why does my music management software insist on going against the grain?

Album Order: Stuck on Alphabetical.

After artist’s last name or dismissal of prefixed “The’s”, my next tier of organization is—you guessed it—not alphabetical. Granted, this level of organization varies among music stores and personal preference, so I can understand why alphabetical organization is the default. Some stores alphabetize albums by name and some organize albums by order of release. I prefer the latter. Sadly, there is no way to sort albums by order of release. In iTunes, I can sort all of an artist’s songs by year, but the Album pane still remains in alphabetical order. If you’ve only got a couple of albums by one artist, it’s not such a big deal, but if I’ve got 14 albums by Juliana Hatfield it becomes much more appealing to have the option of viewing the albums in the order they were recorded. After all, it’s the order I purchased them in.

Too Simple to Fix?

I know people have been flapping their gums about this stuff. I’ve read the Apple support threads. It really doesn’t seem like this stuff would be that difficult to fix, especially the album sorting. A simple “Sort by date”/”Sort alphabetically” selection would do the trick. As for alphabetizing artists by surname, I can see where that could be a little dicey. Still, there could at least be some sort of override option in the Artist Information where you could specify a value by which to sort the artist (e.g., tell iTunes to use “Juarez” as the sorting value in case it mistakenly uses “Blankenship” from the artist name “Paddy Juarez-Blankenship”).

This is not about nitpicking. It’s about user experience and conforming to user expectations. It could very well be the case that only a very small group of people have voiced these concerns and that Apple is embracing a 37signals-ish feature management system.

At the end of the day, these shortcomings are only occasional thorns in my side. It probably doesn’t matter to the majority of iTunes users. Or does it?


Ryan » 5840 days ago #

Organizing by first name is definitey annoying. I’m surprised that actually got through and into the software. It seems against the norm.

I’m not so sure I can roll with being able to sort by album date. It gets into murky waters. What about a re-released version? Remastered? etc. I think that could get way too complicated and clunky very quickly.

However, the one feature that I want in iTunes more than anything else is tagging. Sure, tagging is hip now. But it’s essential to the way I listen to music – by mood. I should be able to type ‘rainy’ into the search field and get all of the songs I tagged for a rainy day.

Now, there is a little hack called TuneTags, but it’s just that. A hack. It uses the comments field and fills it up with tagged tags. I would use it except that I don’t want to destroy the comment field of every mp3 I own.

Jared Christensen » 5840 days ago #

I should have used the word “chronologically” instead of “by date.” To me, a re-released album would chronologically appear where the original album did. But I see what you mean; it can get a bit murky.

Michael Heilemann » 5840 days ago #

Hear hear!... Sorry, I have nothing else to add, just wanted to voice my support.

quis » 5840 days ago #

To fix the chronology thing I use the browse function and then have the songs sorted by date. This way when I am looking at the music of one artist it groups songs first by date, then by album, then by track, which works fairly adequately. As far as tagging goes I think the ideal way would be to have multiple (comma separated) genres, but then this would (most likely) require making changes to the ID3 spec, which is understandably a Big Deal.

Robert Wetzlmayr » 5840 days ago #

If iTunes only had legible error messages, it would be fine with me. For a start, at least.

Jared Christensen » 5840 days ago #

quis – That works okay for all songs by an artist in iTunes (though the albums’ order in the Album pane doesn’t sort by date), but is lost on iPod.

Michael – thanks. ;)

Josh Jarmin » 5840 days ago #

I am still waiting for a way to view by album cover, similiar to this: I as a designer, I am a visual person, so I visualize in terms of album covers. An album cover view would be a cool way to scroll through your songs on your ipod as well.

Mauricio Carneiro » 5797 days ago #

For the tagged mp3 thing, why don’t you use playlists? Create a playlist for rainy days, ... one for each “mood” you might have. Why doesn’t it work?

My MAJOR complaint is about sorting albums by year. I don’t see it getting messy, because if an album has been re-released, I can edit the id3 tag if I want to keep it in chronological order or not… I really want to see ‘sorting albums by year’ as an option soon.

Hartl » 5786 days ago #

I agree with Your suggestions.

I’m anxious for an improvement or update by apple.

» 5780 days ago #

Organizing is indeed agonizing. In my case, some of the songs I have are untitled. In this case, I make an order in to which, the one installed first is played first.

Brian Coogan » 5753 days ago #

I whole-heartedly agree, Jared!! I’m new to iTunes and was searching the internet for a fix to these things and am certainly disappointed that there is none. I hope Apple is listening… (hey why do only you get the cool pink color?)

Brian Coogan » 5753 days ago #

To add to what I said a second ago, I think it would be quite easy for Apple to add a line under the artist’s name, that has a checkmark box with the option to alphabetize a different way than the actual name looks. So that for instance, one could alphabetize “Keith Jarrett” as “Jarrett, Keith” but it would still look like “Keith Jarrett” in the iTunes window (just like it does on your CD—even though you put it in the J’s). This would take care of the mis-alphabetization of, say, Screaming Trees, which a new iTunes might want to organize as “Trees, Screaming” (as it doesn’t know that Keith is an actual name and “Screaming” is not (Though perhaps Zappa might have named his fifth child “Screaming.” If the baby was a girl, of course. Screaming Zappa; I like that.)). Of course, the first person to add a CD to the CDDB database would take care of that from the very beginning, theoratically. Make sense?

Bob McCord » 5711 days ago #

The most irritating part of the iTune organizing concept is to have all your tunes in the (not to be touched) music source well organized and then have iTunes re-organize a tune or two out of the album because that primary artist has someone else on the session. I dont need a new lsting because of one song in the group.

Has anyone found a way around this. I want all artists listed alphabetically (last name first, like we did in radio libraries for 30 years, but good luck) then album name, and a special listing for compilations called VARIOUS ARTISTS.

If it wasn’t broke don’t fix it.


« Older writing is available in the Archives.