The mess that is iTunes

Many users are unhappy with iTunes, albeit for the wrong reasons. I personally don’t think that it’s slow or a bad media player in general. (Granted, the iPhone synchronization used to be a lot more sluggish.)

Also, that it’s “intertwined” with the iTunes Store is only inconvenient if you don’t want to be pulled into the Apple ecosystem. (Then again, it’s freeware, so if ignoring one or two buttons is too much of a hassle for you, I’m seriously wondering how you can navigate the Internet without getting full-fledged panic attacks from all the ads.)

However, while iTunes has become better in some regards, some features have been broken along the way. In other regards, it just isn’t all that we’ve come to expect from OS X apps.

Feature Bloat

Internet radio streams? Understandable. iTunes Store? Obviously. Audiobooks? Sure.
Movies? Uhh… iPhone apps? Wait a minute…

Different areas got mangled in one application, which results in users complaining that iTunes is bloated*, slow and that it can’t be used as a stand-alone music player (alternatively, that the iPhone/iPad/iPod can’t be synced with other music libraries).

Looking at the feature sets, the media types and the corresponding iPhone/iPad apps, I’ve come to the conclusion that iTunes should be split into the following apps. (In earlier versions of iTunes, even books were trapped inside of it. At least, iBooks for OS X has been released in the meantime.)

  • Music
  • Videos (includes TV Shows)
  • Podcasts
  • An app that syncs your iPhone/iPad/iPod with the apps & libraries of choice on your Mac/PC and allows access to the “mobile” App Store. (Hopefully not called Device Manager, since that sounds Microsoft-ish.)

Notice how very similar this separation is to the standard apps installed on every iPhone & iPad?

* Look, even Wikipedia says so.

Unnecessary Bugs

  • The album artwork thumbnails for certain genres & albums are just never shown, even after deleting the artwork cache in the Library folder. (I’m talking about the thumbnails in the list of, e.g., the Artists and Genres views of playlists.) I had to permanently rename a genre in order to see the assigned artwork instead of the default image of albums without artwork. Annoying. (And yes, all my songs have album artwork, but whether or not it’s displayed seems to depend on the cache, over which I don’t have any control.)
  • Sometimes – without cause – the view of the Music playlist switches from Genres (which I prefer) to Songs (which is boring). Forgetting the user’s settings just makes an app seem defiant.
  • Song title editing / text selectionQuickly editing the title of a song is frustrating because without a selection, the text is white on a white background. After seeing that for the first time I must’ve shaken my head for so long I’ve gotten whiplash from it. Even with selection the text lacks contrast – far from accessible.

Unclear Navigation

My Music & Music playlist

Why is there a My Music tab and a global Music playlist? Why does iTunes force me to switch to My Music when I want to delete a song from my library?

Is it inherently clear that the navigation has (up to) four levels? I don’t think so.

The GUI Doesn’t Fit Into OS X

I suspect there are still some Carbon remnants left in iTunes, considering the look & feel just seems to be at odds with OS X as well as other apps by Apple.

iTunes: Sidebar item selected iTunes: Active sidebar item Things: Sidebar item selected

The design of the blue tabs/buttons on the top is used nowhere else in the entire OS. Selected sidebar items look incoherent and it’s difficult to make out the active item when the focus is outside of the sidebar. iTunes also ignores the OS-wide appearance preference (which I have set to Graphite), which is apparent in all parts of the application, actually. The headlines (Library, Playlists) have too little contrast, depending on what is behind the window.
The rightmost screenshot shows how a sidebar is supposed to look like in OS X Yosemite.

iTunes Preferences window Finder Preferences window

The tabs in the Preferences window should be left-aligned, not centered. The icon of the General tab is darker for some reason. The Help button should be on the right, as it is in the Safari Preferences window. The title bar buttons (close) are missing. OK and Cancel buttons should be removed in their stead. The window title always says “Preferences,” which is redundant.

iTunes: contextual menu iTunes: Account menu Dock: contextual menu

This menu style is incompatible with every menu used in every other OS X application. The contextual menu in the dock is similar due to the speech bubble design but there are still notable differences.

Update (5/19/2015)

While adding a new album to my library, I found more peculiar issues. First, take a look at the autocompletion list of the Grouping field.

iTunes: Grouping autocompletion

The shadow is too prominent; it’s just a bit smaller than the text field it belongs to; the border is too dark for my taste; and lastly, there’s the blue color again in combination with the graphite focus ring. (As mentioned, the appearance preference should be respected.)

iTunes: Song selection

Basically you can select multiple songs in an album with the mouse – which makes sense – but it only works (approx.) within the confines of the blurry rectangle that I added to the screenshot. In practical terms, the selection is very hard to do if the number of items is equal in both columns or if there’s only one column, since you have to find some empty space to start the selection but still stay within the “selectable” area. Also, the selection rectangle looks different from, say, the selection rectangle used by the Finder.

It’s as if iTunes had been outsourced to another company…