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.
Friday, June 08, 2007