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iTunes 6.0.2

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iTunes icon After the ‘rapid’ development of iTunes we saw in autumn, things have slowed down a little now. Instead of giving us version 4*1042 which might have been appropriate had Apple managed to stick to their exponential growth of version numbers, we just got version 6.0.2. So what’s in there? Well, as far as I can tell, we have

More commerce
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Apple love their online music store. It gives them mindshare and money. So they force it down our throats wherever they can. With the newest twist being that iTunes will send what you’re playing somewhere at the so-called ‘mini-store’ can offer you other tunes you might like. In principle that could be quite cool and help you expand your musical horizon. If it weren’t for two things:
  1. The thing that the service will probably work in the same statistical ways that people like amazon use. Meaning that chances for you to get to know music that’s both new and interesting for you are pretty slim. Most likely – and first trials confirm that – you’ll just see other CDs and bands which you know and like or dislike there. Boring.

    The most amusement you’ll probably get out of the service is by playing albums that aren’t in iTMS, so you get to see random recommendations by Genre (or not so random… mostly Richard Ashcroft around here) and that wears off about 20 seconds in the game. The other thing about this feature is, that it makes it blatantly obvious (even to the people not following my rants religiously) that iTMS is managed by a bunch of lazy monkeys and that half of the ‘choice’ they claim to offer are nothing but duplicates. Finding the same album offered several times just with cover art that’s poorly scanned to different degrees and release dates that differ by a year or an eon, doesn’t leave a good impression. Particularly as they claimed that iTMS offers a superior experience than the classic P2P services because you get all the stuff in original form straight from the source.

    Reality looks more like you get it straight from the source through the hands of an analphabet record-company intern whose job description doesn’t include checking whether the music she’s entering has been uploaded before. Like this, say:

    Stupid iTunes recommendations

    Wonderful… the screenshot may also illustrate Apple’s new inclination to make web pages which are both too wide and incapable of fitting themselves into a decent sized window on the smaller screens of their current hardware lineup.

  2. The thing that half the internet is bitching about, of course: that the music recommendation feature actually sends information on the tracks you’re playing somewhere. I mean it’s pretty obvious that this is happening as you wouldn’t expect iTMS to give reasonable recommendations just by the vibes in the air. But, from a privacy point of view, I am not too concerned about that, as you can (and will, because of its uselessness) turn the feature off which also stops the data transfers.

    In addition I assume that the people who bitch most about this ‘spyware’ aspect are the very same people who’d have laughed at another warning dialog for the stupid people.

    But while I’m not concerned too much about the privacy in this case, I am concerned about Apple’s manners. Microsoft may be the company who have no taste but I’d equally consider them a company with bad manners. They just like to kick their customers around a little and like to annoy them. And Apple seems to start liking that as well. It may not strictly be necessary to warn users about the new recommendation feature but it’d be good manners to tell the user what is happening while music is played and also provide information about how the accumulated data are used. That’s the kind of thing that’d make Apple appear trustworthy.

    iTunes also seems to store a number of cookies in its preferences which are included in various of its requests. I fail to see how these cookies can have any use (for me, that is), so It might be a good idea to occasionally delete them while we’re in paranoia mode. Using the command defaults delete com.apple.iTunes cookies, say.

More Clutter
The good thing is that it’s easy to turn the recommendation feature off and on. There’s a new button for it. Just that the button itself isn’t new. It looks exactly like the one for showing and hiding cover art. It also makes the bottom of iTunes’ window look even more cluttered. Even without Airport Express speakers we’re now seeing ten buttons down there. Hardly the slick and simple iTunes we got to love:

Button-mania at the bottom of iTunes' window

To appreciate the finish that has gone into this iTunes release, I’d also like to recommend turning off the Music Store in iTunes’ parental controls:

half-deleted Mini-Store button

More Performance

For one thing, iTunes now is a universal binary, so it’ll run natively on the new Intel-based Macs as well as on the PowerPC-based ones. But that was to be expected. We also see better performance with

Video

Furthermore I have the impression that iTunes’ video feature are now less embarrassing than they used to be. While the performance still can’t match QuickTime player, videos don’t seem to be as prone to stopping anymore just because you moved the mouse or even opened a menu. On the other hand, I’ve seen the video window vanish a number of times when I dared to click some other playlist or do anything else but watch that video. The music kept playing during the time… looks rather buggy to me.

While on the topic of videos… let me also mention that I played around a little with them, now that doing so is bearable. And I saw that there’s a contextual menu in the separate video player window, letting you set its size and the preview frame of the film. Nice features, but as everybody who read the HIG knows, those commands should also be present in the menu bar. In addition, setting the preview frame doesn’t seem to work for all videos. And talking about annoyances of the feature, let me add that iTunes still hates, or at least ignores, AVI files and obviously also ignores MPEG2 files because QuickTime is too lame to play them.

Contextual menu in iTunes' video window

Hmm, let me also add that I find the bottom bar in the player window quite superflouous and ugly.

While the window title gives it away, I have to say that Postal Service video is quite cool and I was reminded of it when seeing Apple’s Intel Mac ad. Update: Apparently I’m not the only one to think this. There’s even a detailed comparison. It also looks like they mirrored the machine in that scene of the Postal Service video.

Other

Apparently iTunes 6.0.2 can now send audio to multiple Airport Express stations at the same time. While few people will use it, that’s quite cool. I hope it will come out of the different rooms synchronously, though.

I’ve also read that the ability to turn off CDDB lookups seems to be gone. I won’t cry about that as I love the feature and never turned it off anyway.

Bugs

And now we arrive at the sad topic of bugs or missing features: ‘The’ bands still aren’t sorted properly in iTunes 6.0.2 (Hello iTunes people, you had that working back in the late iTunes 4 days!) when you’re not using English as your system language. My fix for the problem still works, though. As does the fix to give you dimmed iTMS arrows.

Other bugs of iTunes, such as the complete lack of batch edit support for its more recent features (like the ‘don’t shuffle’ property for songs or any of the video things), or the lack of explicit video support for Apple Script remain as well.

Another thing that I find increasingly disappointing is iTunes’ visualiser. We’ve had it for years. Before there was cover art, before there were videos and before there were newer graphics cards and Quartz Composer. Hm, perhaps someone could write a visualiser plugin that’s just a host for a Quartz Composer file and passes all the relevant parameters?

In total I – once more – fail to be impressed by this update. It probably all makes business sense which I couldn’t care less about. Most people may be happy with a cluttered interface and shiny new things everywhere. Personally I’d prefer a clean interface and an iTunes that’s as fast with several thousand songs today as it was with several hundred songs in its early days.

January 12, 2006, 22:01

Tagged as iTunes.

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