Saturday, 24 September 2016

Oops - I(Tunes) Did It Again...

Another new operating system for the Mac and another half baked version of iTunes...

The Apple Harvest has never shied away from commenting on the mess that iTunes has become. It's hardly a lone voice either. But it would appear that none of the professional or personal voices are being heard by Apple. Or if they are, they are not being listened to.

In my day job I'm a business improvement consultant. I help companies understand their problems and give them ideas on how to solve them. I help them look for opportunities where they may be blinkered. I also help them manage change, and one of my golden rules is "Continuous Tinkering is not Continuous Improvement". I even wrote a post about it on one of my other blogs.

Apple have well and truly got into the rut of continuous tinkering when it comes to iTunes. Each step forward (and I genuinely do like some of the things they do each time a new release comes out) results in a number of steps backwards.

It really is time for one giant step change for the product team who need to throw away the legacy  and start again from scratch.

So what exactly has upset me with this latest version of iTunes?

  • Technology now allows us to see over a billion colours on a screen but Apple insist on using white backgrounds for everything. Now I know that not everyone liked the colour option of iTunes 11, but it was a preference and they could turn it off. Now we have no choice - we have to have our eyes blown out by blindingly white backgrounds (same goes for the Notification Centre - brilliant white only)
  • For You used to be really quite an attractive option - the only thing I like about this new incarnation is the inclusion of new music
  • It used to be really easy to flick between an artist's music in your library and that on Apple Music that isn't in your library - now it's virtually impossible without having to make notes. OK, not a problem with a small library, but I have over 4000 albums, and I don't have an eidetic knowledge of which albums by which artists I have in my library
  • When I click on the first track of an album I expect to be able to play the album and then finish. I don't want the next 'n' tracks in my library to appear in the current play list
  • It would be quite useful to have better visibility of the current playlist in general - for example I would love to be able to delete a selection of songs without having to delete each one individually (and have it replaced by the next song in the library)
  • Play Later seems to only be available under certain conditions - I'm not yet entirely sure what they are
  • Who on earth decided that the Shuffle option should be turned on by default? 
  • Pre-ordered albums with a few songs available seem to exist in an alternative universe to all other albums - pulling in tracks from other albums/singles and EPs 
  • The Recently Added library list shares none of the characteristics of other items like Albums or Artists
Then, of  course, there are the bugs that still cause problems especially the iCloud Music Library option unchecking itself at random.

I could probably, just about, live with any one of these, and try and establish workarounds for them, but as a whole, they make using iTunes a proverbial pain in the butt! The Music app in iOS 10 has another set of quirks, but at least the overall experience is more consistent than iTunes.

Apple seems to have forgotten that not all users listen to music the same way - those of us with large downloaded libraries, particularly those of us who are album oriented, listen to our music in a different way to those who stream singles and odd songs. In different circumstances, our listening methods change, but Apple is seemingly forcing us into a specific way of listening to our music and is removing the flexibility for us to take back any control. 

But above all - it would be great not to have to constantly have to relearn how to use an application that is so fundamental to so many users every time a new release comes out. We actually want consistency and continuity - we don't want constantly changing ways of doing the basic things we've been doing for years. Some things don't need innovation - they just need to do what they're supposed to do. And with a minimum of fuss and effort on our part!

So, please Apple, either redesign iTunes from scratch, or give us the flexibility to tweak it to suit ourselves. But please, above all....stop tinkering and pretending that its an improvement! 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Fruity Picks #9 - Smatree Travel Case for Apple Watch

While the official Apple Watch Dock, reviewed in Fruity Picks #8  is a bit of a one-trick pony (which it does very well), the same cannot be said for the Smatree SmaShell A100 which combines a travel case, dock and power bank for the Apple Watch.

To be honest, I'm not convinced as to why I would want to put my Apple Watch in a case for travelling purposes as it's far more useful on my wrist...but that aside, this is a really useful little gadget. Although it doesn't come supplied with the a watch charger, I happened to have a spare short charger (0.3m) lying around which is ideal for the SmaShell. It's easy to install the charger and once it's in place, an Apple Watch can be charged in the night-stand mode as shown in the picture above. Although, you have to remember to push the charge button to actually turn on the juice from the in-built battery.

There's enough juice in the internal battery to charge an original Apple Watch up to six times (I have to admit I've not needed this - I've only needed three but that was no problem), and because it has a USB port you can also charge an additional device from it, but again, not a function I've used in anger. Clearly this wold reduce the number of Watch charges you could get from the battery.

There's room in the carrier for a couple of spare Watch bands which can be useful if you need to glam up for an evening do after a hard day in the office.

Best price in the UK is around £30 on the UK Amazon store. Recommended for weekend travellers.