Sunday, 17 April 2016

iTunes - Time for A Major Makeover

Just over four years ago I posted an article about iTunes and how I'd spent a week trying to recover from a series of iTunes induced cock-ups. Following the latest update to 12.3.3 I've spent another week trying to recover from another set of iTunes induced cock-ups.

If iTunes was an old pet we would probably have taken it to the vet by now and put it out of its misery. Sadly Apple doesn't perceive iTunes as old pet but some kind of sacred cow which must be kept alive in its current state regardless of its pain. In fact, iTunes is turning into a kind of dangerous dog, like a Pit Bull Terrier, which should be put to sleep before it inflicts both physical and mental damage to its owner.

Years ago, when I was cutting code we had a similar problem with our commercial set of programmes. They had  originally been written for the MS-DOS platform, then hurriedly converted to Windows 3 and were constantly being expanded and modified. After about five years we took the decision to call it a day and re-architect and re-engineer the entire portfolio before it imploded and became impossible to salvage. There was a business requirement as well as a technical requirement, in that a new bunch of players had come into the market and were starting from scratch, making our offerings looking tired, slow and very sad.

It really is time that Apple took a similar approach with iTunes. The whole platform needs re-architecting and re-engineering in order to make it a better solution for it customers. Many iTunes users, like myself, don't really have the luxury of moving to a different solution. My music library, which relies heavily on playlists, iMatch (and more recently Apple Music) now stands at about 45,000 songs. The video library of films and TV shows is just over a terabyte. The whole library consumes about 1.7Tb. And just like our old portfolio, iTunes has grown out of control and has been showing signs of imploding for at least four years. The rate of decline is now growing even faster, and it's time to take urgent action.

So, what is behind this latest call for an iTunes re-design?

After the 12.3.3 update I had a few teething problems with my music library. (As an aside, and to be fair, the video and TV libraries don't appear to have been affected, but then again, I tend not to pay so much attention to them). These teething problems then turned into a big, big, problem. A 54Gb problems to be precise. For some reason, during the update, the options to use Apple Music and iCloud Music Library were deselected. Every time I tried to re-enable them iTunes would crash. Eventually I signed out of iTunes and signed in again. I could now enable the two options, but to my horror about half my Apple Music downloads were now showing as not downloaded. They hadn't been deleted from the hard drive, but they were definitely missing in iTunes.

The only obvious way to fix this was to delete the problem albums and redownload but this meant going through every folder in my Apple Music library to find out the offending items, and then spending hours doing the downloads. There had to be a better way - I just had no idea what it was. So I got in touch with Apple iTunes Support via Twitter. We spent the next three days going nowhere as they asked me question after question about my setup - which I'd already explained right at the start. I felt completely patronised, and in the end they couldn't help anyway. I not even sure they understood the problem.

I now realise that I'm not the only one with problems - and to be honest I actually feel quite lucky. At least I have a workaround to fix my problem. It would appear that there a many folk out there who don't, short of starting from scratch (or abandoning iTunes altogether).

iTunes does not play well when it's trying to do too many things. The program should be streamlined into its components at least - Apple Music, Apple Video and the Apple Store. iTunes doesn't play well with large music libraries and the system should be more rigorously tested against very large libraries, which I think will become increasingly common with Apple Music. Apple Tunes Match is still suffering from bugs reported over four years ago - once or twice a week I have to clean up my music library to eliminate the issue of songs with a valid last played days but a zero play count. Even as I write this, over 14500 songs are showing this erroneous attribute. Additionally, most people need external storage for their media libraries because of their sheer size, and I'm sure that this is one of the major contributing factors in iTunes failures - the programme simply wasn't optimised to work with external volumes. This is a critical aspect that needs addressing.

Given that iTunes is probably one of the three most used of the stock OS X applications, along with Safari and Mail, it's about time that it worked without so many problems.

I've now fixed the issue with my library but it has been time consuming and painful. I have a relatively slow internet connection in Prague, but at least it is unlimited. If I been on a capped service, I might still be trying to resolve the problem into next year! But how I miss my 200Mbps connection at Apple Harvest HQ!

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