Friday, June 08, 2007

More iTunes suckage

Pt. 1

Some folk have been asking me why pick on iTunes when there are so many worse efforts out there. So far iTunes has only crashed on me a couple of times which is much better than the first Internet jukebox software I used. And iTunes at least looks like a music jukebox, not a flying saucer or the like.

The reason is that I am trying to work out what makes a good user interface and what makes a bad one. And it is much better to start from something that is already good and see what could be improved there rather than something that is so bad that anything would be an improvement.

The weaknesses of iTunes become more apparent as more discs are added to the library. In particular management of playlists. An album or track is added to a playlist through a drag and drop interface. Removal uses a different, inconsistent metaphor.

Again the problem is visibility. A logical way to manage playlists would be to allow the user to open the master catalogue and the playlist side by side and drag and drop from one to the other.

Another recurring problem is abstraction. iTunes always wants to work at the level of the track. It does not really have an 'album' structure. Tracks that have identical album names are considered to be part of the same album. Actually this is not quite true, iTunes has an irritating habit of breaking apart albums where individual tracks have different artists specified. This is a failure of the conceptual modelling. Clearly it makes sense to treat tracks as 'atoms' but albums and playlists are both really the same thing - an ordered assembly of tracks.

I should be able to create a playlist and give it an identifying image in exactly the same way as an album. I should also be able to use Google like tools to sort and search my tracks in sensible ways. Smart playlists may be the way to go, but the interface does not have an entry for keywords and adding them track by track is clunky in the extreeme.

Another irritation is the way the interface skips around without input from the user. If I have just found my place in the catalog I do not want it to suddenly jump away to a completely different place because the next track is playing. Did nobody do any usability testing here? Isn't it obvious that this is a problem?

I suspect the reason for this is that Apple only tested the 'playback' functions of iTunes, not the ripping process.


mettle said...

To group together a bunch of tracks as an album, independent of distinct artists, simply select them all and set "compilation" to "yes". As long as they have the same album name, they'll be treated as a single group.
Easy as pie.

I do agree - iTunes has a lot of flaws. My list is just different than yours.

Dave said...

I've used MusicMatch to rip, it organizes things in Album/track format, using Supertagging to recognize tracks. It also manages duplicate deletion, which can be critical as libraries get large. However, it does not interface well to an iPod, alas.

MoonshineMike said...

I agree with you. Many times I rip an album and I have to go searching to look for all the bits. Or, they catalog the whole thing as 'various artists' out of laziness.

iTunes does have this Album Artist category they added, but no one is really using it. Is that part of the ID3 tags or just an apple 'extra'?

Phill H-B said...

I have work arounds, when I am mass ripping I frequently use the 'recently added' favorites list to see what I have done.

What I am trying to do here though is compile base material to work out what identifies a good UI and what identifies a bad one.

So far the state of the art is lots of testing, which is both expensive and error prone.

I would like some rules such as 'An interaction dialog respects and preserves input from the user'.

I did a presentation a while back at NIST called the laws of luxury, where I went through some of these ideas.