Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ranting (again) - This time on User Interfaces

The background to this story is that madame is a swimmer. She saw a friend with a really cool enclosure that allows her to put an ipod shuffle into a waterproof headband. Then when she is mindlessly pounding out the lengths,  she can listen to her favourite tunes, learn French or whatever. Since we don't have ipod anythings, it was time to get some. That also means installing the itunes environment onto our various computers. And that's really where this rant starts.

What a horrible piece of software itunes (at least on the PC, I don't have a mac) is. I expected a whole lot better from the company devoted to high style and useability. Sure it works, but it breaks a fundamental rule. The rule is that when you have need to manipulate something, you do it directly and not by proxy.

The naive user (me) might expect that to manage the playlist on the ipod shuffle, you would simply add things to that playlist and delete them from it. What could be simpler, you might ask?

That, of course, is not how it works. For some (doubtless good, but arcane) reason, you create the playlist in itunes itself - on the PC, and then copy that playlist in its entirety to the shuffle. Ok, you think, that deals with some synchronization issues. But it is a royal pain in the patoot as we say here in Texas.

I don't listen to much music, but I do like to listen to tech and marketing talk topics. But I don't usually want to hear them more than once on the shuffle. I listen to the new topics each day in the car too and from work. That means that, because of the lack of controls on the shuffle, I need to delete the listened items each day from the shuffle's playlists. However I want to keep them in other playlists on the PC itself, so I can organize them. It would be great simply to pull up the playlist on the shuffle, mark the items I have heard and press a "disappear" button. But oh no. It doesn't work that way.

So why might it be like that? Perhaps the designers of itunes were only thinking "tunes". In other words, the use case is that people like to listen to the same stuff over and over again. Perhaps there are problems with conflicting playlist names, and this means that I can't have the same named playlist on 2 devices with 2 different sets of recordings. Perhaps the project team were rushed and produced something "just good enough" - they didn't have anyone delivering other srtories for their iterations in development. Well, that doesn't cut it for me. - and worse, I don't know how I could have discovered this prior to purchase. I thought that the apple brand stood for clean design, useability, etc. In some areas it does. itunes isn't one of those areas.


  1. Mr. Bird,

    Unfortunately you choose the wrong device. The Shuffle is for folks who don't really care what they listen to on their shuffle as there is an option in iTunes to randomly synch content to the Shuffle from the library or a specific playlist. If you got a playlist that you want to keep using and mark things off as you've listened to them, simply uncheck the checkbox next to that content and ensure that your options are set to only synch checked items. That still might not meet your requirements but it gets a little closer. On other iPods you can manage playlists on the device to a certain extent via an On The Go playlist. Part of the issue with iTunes is not an Apple issue. For example, why can only synch an iPod to a single iTunes library? I.e., if you try to synch it to a different library on another computer your current iPod content is completely erased. That's the music industry controlling unauthorized sharing of music! Yes, iTunes does has a few issues on Windows and likely works better on a Mac, much like MS Office on a Mac is better than MS Office on a Windows machine! How's that for irony!


  2. iTunes is one of the most horrific audio management apps ever. Virtually every other music app will automatically scan a directory for new folders (e.g. new music) and automatically add the folder. With iTunes, it will watch only one specific folder for changes (and that is a feature that was just added in one of the latest updates).

    The biggest problem I have with iTunes is that it's a memory hog. Really? You really need to use 100+Mb of RAM & 40% of my processor?

    The frustrating thing is that the iPod itself (and the iPhone in particular) is one of the coolest gadgets invented. The iPhone is not so hot in the PHONE part of it, but everything else blows the competition away.

    In my family of four, we have six iPods.

    I have an 80Gb Classic (which has all my music, audiobooks, backup copies of my photos) and a 16Gb iPhone (which I use for audiobooks & podcasts). My wife has an 8Gb iPhone. My son has an 8Gb iPod touch and a 4Gb Nano (his old iPod) and my daughter has my wife's old 8Gb Nano.