iTunes 7: second impressions

December 16, 2007
  • On my MacBook Pro, a little over a third of my 120GB hard drive is taken up MP3s. All encoded at 192kbps (MP3 not AAC for better compatibility). It’s a relatively limited selection of my collection of music, but enough to be going on with.
  • I’d be interested to know how people with larger music libraries use iTunes (er, that’s an invite dear reader to post in the comments…) I don’t like to scroll – something that Jakob Nielsen points out is common to the vast majority of web users. I dimly recall that in early useage of iTunes I had a long list of albums in the Source pane (this very second I’ve just noticed that the sidebar is no longer called Source, in fact it’s not called anything at all) and I found myself more frequently playing music from the visible section than the stuff hidden further down. So my iTunes setup is very much oriented towards ease of use. I don’t want to click folders open and closed in the sidebar and then have to click through to the album – I want to be able to see my top level choices as fully as possible

itunes 7

  • right away in front of me, but I also want to see album art properly. I know, I want my cake and eat it. (This is the reason I don’t use the Quicksilver iTunes interface – too much scrolling – all well and good if you know exactly what you want to play, but who does very often – my experience is that more than half the time I just fancy listening to some music, but don’t know what.) Here’s what I’d like to see:
    • Either an interface that reflected the current Finder column view so that you made your choice of Genre (or chosen alternative) then followed through to Artist > Album. I’ve sketched this out before, but with iTunes 7, my updated, preferred option would be:
    • The aforementioned column view or retain the current multi-column browser interface, but when the album (or playlist or whatever) has been chosen and is being played, coverflow appears to display all the cover against the lovely, rather dramatic – and slightly chilly – black background, plus to the side the details of the album including performers, production, etc. gleaned from the tab of the MP3 file or preferably from a separate, but linked file.
    • Then again, I’ve just spotted that this is possible, which is quite nice (thought note still the acres of wasted space):
  • Another iTunes view
    • Unfortunately, as soon I steer away from it or quit and restart iTunes the folder size reverts to the original, tiny version. Relevant tags: ‘irritating’, ‘frustrating’.
  • Whatever, coverflow really doesn’t currently meet my requirements, at least as far as I can see – when choosing coverflow, I’m forced into a consecutive list view in the lower pane, there’s no chance to access the genre/artist/album view simultaneously. Shame.
    • What’s also weird is that if I choose to play one album in the new ‘grouped with artwork’ view, it continues to play the next album in the list after the chosen one has finished. Not nice at all. It should stop at the end of the chosen album. This seems not properly thought out, but on the evidence of previous iTunes development, it may be a long time before it’s addressed.
  • Interestly Daring Fireball has just written this in a post about the shuffle: “My cheap little Shuffle is far and away my favorite iPod. It ends up that the shuffle mode’s randomizer does a better job picking music I want to hear than I do. When I pick music manually, I tend to keep picking the same music I just listened to yesterday, and I bore myself.” I don’t have this exact problem, but I’d like a more intelligent way of suggesting albums than the random shuffle approach.
  • The iTunes Store – like the screenshots of the movie store (apparently US-only until ’07) is a lively, colourful place – shame something similar can’t be done for iTunes – why can’t we have something like Last.FM’s Dashboard for iTunes with thumbnails of recently played album, long unplayed, random (or weighted) suggestion based upon what you’ve been listening to recently), etc – all from the tracking info iTunes already logs and customisable for the user.
  • Another improvement still lacking is that if you navigate away from the playing track to check something about another album, then switch to a different app and pause the music, you lose the current track entirely. This is another one of those basic things that seems daft to see in an app at version 7.
  • Still no interface for viewing lyrics (or whatever other data you’ve added) of the currently playing song without going into Get Information for the particular track and choosing the appropriate tab. Strange that this was added (in version 5?), but not fully exploited – could be a great feature, but currently seems like a forgotten impulse. Same goes for the ability to add multiple Artwork to each track.
  • iTunes does still seem to be more of a resource hog, still getting spinning beachballs from time to time and coverflow artwork sometimes takes a moment to load.
  • I’ve had to restart the app a few times to rid the interface of ugly blurring on the column titles, as illustrated below:

Blurred titles in iTunes 7

  • And finally, now that iTunes is a storefront for movies, TV, audiobooks etc, why’s it still being called iTunes? It’s similarly position to the UK’s now weirdly named ‘Carphone Warehouse‘.
  • All in all, I’m still underwhelmed. The problem with iTunes is that, yes, it’s fairly configurable, but I still have infinitely less choice in terms of interface than I do if I were buying audio playback hardware where a wide range of manufacturers and designers – from Bang and Olufsen to Amstrad (…) to NAD, etc – are all working towards the best marriage of sound quality and ergonomic design. Also the best (well you know what I mean) efforts of the creative visual teams behind the music are not being interfered with by the playback device – with a CD, I can still see all the details as intended (by the record company at least…) I wish I had the brains to be a programmer.

See also: Dan Hill’s post on iTunes 7 (favourite quote: “chances are that your album’s artwork won’t be in iTunes. (You can add it yourself, which is good, but not even I bother to do that.)” Er, no, neither do I, of course I don’t, who’d be that sad? Not me, no, no, no…

[Originally published on A Personal Miscellany]


Me and my iPod

December 15, 2007

iPod with Griffin AirClick hat

Following on from my iTunes post, I thought I’d note for posterity my iPod useage, in other words how I’ve adapted the out of the box setup. As you can see, mine’s a fourth gen. Photo iPod, white, 60GB:

Engraved on the back is ‘This iPod belongs to ….’ – makes it near impossible to resell, but makes it mine and if it’s ever stolen, I’ll gain a little comfort from the difficulty this causes. If it’s ever lost, my name’s relatively unusual and I can be traced.

    iPod screen with notes menuI’ve reduced the number of menu options to three – Genre / Notes / Settings. As with my iTunes setup, I use genres as a first step in deciding what to listen to – to me this makes much more sense that endlessly scrolling through album, artist or song titles. I’m not a fan at all of random selection. Notes – I’m a Quicksilver user and I’m always appending stuff to .txt files (to do list, what to listen to ideas, miscellaneous, ideas, shopping, books to read, stuff to buy, etc, etc). I upload these to my iPod on a regular basis. I no longer use my Sony Clie (can’t even find the damn thing!), though I still wistfully wait for a phone decent enough to take its place.

      Picture of remote

      Griffin AirClick. How does anybody ever put up with only using the controls on the front of the iPod? I didn’t get an Apple wired remote with my iPod, but my friend Dan was kind enough to donote his to me. I used that until recently when the connection became faulty. I considered buying a new Apple remote, but I never used the radio and baulked at paying £35. I started to look around at other options and stumbled upon a mention of the Griffin and snagged a new one via Amazon resellers for about £12. It consists of a unit that plugs into the top of the iPod (bottom for 5th gen), into which the headphones then plug. The remote is wireless so no more fumbling with wires, I just put the iPod in a pocket and don’t have to bother with it again until the CD ends. The remote has play/pause, back/forward and volume up/down. I’m also turning the music up or down because of the (welcome) changes in volume. And the unit makes a lovely little hat for the iPod. Which is nice. Suggested improvement to the remote would consist of a different transport for the buttons which are too wobbly, so that it’s necessary to remember to press firmly to ensure the button operates. I don’t always remember this and am sometimes annoyed at having to press more than once. A real ‘click’ would be nice.

        Shure headphone

        Shure EC3 headphones. Bought from someone Stateside for much cheaper than the English price, thankfully wasn’t nabbed for excise. Never even removed the iPod ones from their packet. Spent months trying to sort out the best way of wearing the Shures (the instructions said behind your neck and down your back – this didn’t work, was always pulling out). Then with a month to go before the two year warranty expired, one side stopped playing. The instructions on the new ones suggested another way of wearing them with the cord over the ear as before, but then snaking under the chin. Hey presto – perfect comfort. Which clearly shows how daft I am, that I didn’t think of this before. Sound is very good – much better than my previous Sony Fontopias. Could do with a bit more bass, but the sound is generally very well defined and the insulation from the outside world is more than adequate.

        [Originally posted on A Personal Miscellany]

Retroplayer: not just another MP3 player…

December 8, 2007

Retroplayer – via Boing Boing – another excellent player interface. The app’s preferences allow the user to adjust distortion, skip and noise between 0 and 100%, it’s possible to lift the tone arm to move around the mp3 and the control on the top left corner speeds up or slows down the playback. The track title is displayed as the window title. My only wish is that it could be used full-screen as currently the player isn’t much larger than the above image. Essential stuff.

[Originally published on A Personal Miscellany]

iTunes Catalog

January 30, 2007

iTunes Catalog logo

This looks like a potentially intriguing programme. From their website:

iTunes Catalog creates dynamic web catalogs of your iTunes music library. It’s also a versatile artwork manager, and can get artwork from the internet and add it to your music. iTunes Catalog can create web catalogs that look just like iTunes. You can browse by playlist, genre, artist and album, right in your web browser.

iTunes Catalog can also create web catalogs that look just like an iPod, right in your browser! You can choose from a variety of models and colors. Browse by playlist, artist or album—even play music using QuickTime.

Unfortunately I didn’t have much success using this application. Although it installed smoothly, when it came to created the catalogue I was presented with two options, to publish to a PHP-enabled webhost via FTP or to a local directory. I tried the latter first, but although I turned on sharing as requested by the program, I experienced repeated notifications that the browser couldn’t find my page. When I tried to upload to my hosted website iTunes Catalog successfully created all the files, but they failed to open/work in my Firefox browser. More worryingly, when I tried to open the index.php page I experienced a steadily multiplying number of Firefox windows which I couldn’t stop. The only way I was able to stem the tide was to force quit Firefox itself. This worked, but I was worried that I’d lose the 30+ web pages I had open, fortunately I didn’t.

I use the latest version of OS X, perhaps it works better for PC users and/or someone more technically literate than myself – a shame as I’d like to have tested this programme out properly. If anybody has better mileage with it, please let me know.

Link: product page
Via: Playlist

Tangerine – BPM analyser creates iTunes playlists

December 17, 2006


Tangerine lets you easily create playlists with upbeat music, or playlists for relaxing. It does that by analyzing the BPM and beat intensity of the songs in your iTunes library.”

iTunes 7: first impressions

December 13, 2006

screenshot of iTunes 7

another screenshot of iTunes 7

  • I wondered why development of Coverflow had ceased as it was such a promising app, now I know.
    • As can be seen above, the single album view is rather tasty – now if only you could flick to see the back + view the lyrics (potentially) embedded in each mp3 file + view player/production/liner notes – maybe in another five years…
    • Browsing albums in coverflow mode is giving me mucho spinning beachballs (on MacBook Pro) and I’ve not immediately got the hang of it – most albums seem not to have graphics, much of my music’s a bit obscure so the auto iTunes loading of graphics is useless for me. The browser view, which I’ve come to rely upon doesn’t appear to interact usefully with the graphic mode (shown in the lower of the two screenshots above), but maybe this is something I’ll understand with a bit more use.
    • Given the attractiveness of the coverflow option, it’s weird that the ‘show artwork’ window is still available.
  • The movie and tv stuff passes me by entirely (and will continue to do so until I can get high-def downloads of Alain Resnais and Wim Wenders films not on DVD), so I won’t be so bold as to comment.
  • GUI – yikes, gone are the aqua scrollbars, in their place dull grey affairs with vague gradients. Sign of things to come I guess, but for me they’ve gone too far in the direction of making the interface plain – pendulum swing away from the original aqua garishness. Transport buttons, likewise, are rather uninteresting now.
  • All in all, mixed feelings, will post more when I’ve had a bit more time with it.

[Originally published on A Personal Miscellany]