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5.04.10 | iTunes is not my friend
Filed under: Computer, Music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Dr. Ivan @ 09:48 — Comments (1)

Well, I am sort of frustrated today. And what better way to sound off than to write a nice long angry blog post? I guess it’s anger management at its finest (or worst, whichever you prefer).

Yup, I installed iTunes today and actually tried to do something with it. I do believe that the latter was a huge mistake. Now, iTunes has the reputation for being a slow and clumsy, but man did I not envision this level of utter uselessness and counter-productivity.

Background

But, hold on, you say – why on earth would you even want to consider installing iTunes? Moreover under Windows? The story dates back several days when I finally decided to get myself an iPod Touch. I have been, so to speak, out of touch (sorry, horrible pun) with Apple’s latest hard- and software for the past few years, all since I bought a 5th generation iPod with 80GB storage. I was, and still am, very happy with it. Rockbox was the perfect firmware, played my flac-s right off the bat and gave me the ability to play Doom 1 and 2 on my iPod – not so much for fun, but mostly to impress some of my nerdier friends. However, lets face it: scrolling through music with the patented scroll wheel was fun the first ten times only, and for some (like me) it wasn’t even much fun then. Thus, the ability to shuffle and choose music was very limited. You were basically confound to using playlists – which on Rockbox can be a pain in the ass. So, I decided to burn a hole in my pocket and get the 3rd generation iPod Touch 64GB.

This of course was not an easy decision. However, Rockbox does not work on iPod classic which allows for up to 160GB storage (which actually would have been really nice) – so Touch was by and large the only option. On the plus side it gave me access to Apple Store and possibility of having countless useful apps in the palm of my hand, including some very nice medical utilities and books. All my suspicions faded however when I first turned the device on: Apple Corp. are known for their uncanny ability to produce some of the best interfaces and touchscreens known to mankind. And that was indeed true. The unit demonstrated abysmally low latency (perhaps not surprising since it runs on the iPhone 3GS hardware and practically all parallel execution is disabled). Even if two applications are not able to run at the same time, a notion which was a major show-stopper for me (or I thought at least it would be), didn’t bother me at all: Applications were fast start up and close, and most of them let you continue where you left off. Browsing the web was fantastic. The battery time was however not as impressive as I thought it would be (nothing an external battery bought from eBay wasn’t able to fix), and being asked for my Apple Account password every time I wanted to buy an App was downright annoying. Otherwise no complaints.

Tag encoding mess, plus missing songs and tags

So, the iTunes. Well, yes, unfortunately you do have to install this load of useless code to transfer pretty much anything to the iPod Touch, unless of course you are courageous enough to opt for a Spotify-only install (which I wasn’t). So, first obstacle: My collection is entirely in FLAC – a format iTunes has a grave anaphylactic reaction to. I was very much prepared for this – a quick bash script did the job for me. Things got worse from here onwards. After importing my entire library into iTunes I discovered that reading non-UTF8-encoded tags was out of the question. Back on the net I found a utility, Unicode Rewriter, written in java which was able to do the job just fine for me. With that out of the way, I re-imported my collection. Lo and behold, 15 songs were missing and half of the genre tags were gone. I went back, checked and yup, that was the case even if the tags weren’t unicode. The problem is that EVERY other program I tried (be it on Windows or Linux) could read the tags just fine – be they in UTF8 or not.

Playlist import failure

I was getting rather annoyed, so I thought that I could perhaps fix this later, and went on to importing my playlists. I was careful enough to export them from Amarok beforehand, then edited them manually to reflect the new path, and change “/” to “\” to accommodate them to Windows use. A few minutes later (since iTunes runs like a turtle even on my quad core) I was presented to a cheerful sight. Apparently, folks at Apple are very serious about their playlists. Not did iTunes import the songs, it duplicated them – although they all already were in my collection. In simple terms, when importing an m3u playlist, iTunes doesn’t even bother to cross-check absolute paths of files it imports to the ones already stored in its database. Well, how very nice of you. At what time was this possibly considered as a good idea??? No other music playback and organizing program does this by default.

Then, I thought, perhaps if I couldn’t import my playlists afterwards, I could import them first. Basically my most important playlist contains the tracks I appreciate the most. Therefore you could say that my collection can be divided into two: the best and the rest. I thus made two playlists and imported them into iTunes. This was even a bigger failure since now I was missing 500 tracks. The problem was again with the portion of Apple’s brilliant coding of their playlist importer which apparently refuses to read some special characters from m3u-files. I did never get to the core of the problem since my patience was at this point about to end abruptly.

The final solution

iTunes had so far outsmarted me, but the clock was well after midnight and I was not about to give up. I had one more trick up my sleeve. I thought that if I write a script which adds a special comment to all of the mp3-s belonging to my “Best of” list, I would be able to search for them in iTunes and thus reconstruct the playlist internally. I was once again frustrated by failure since iTunes refused blatantly to read the comment tag. Oh, yes, you could SET the tag from within the program, but reading it was out of the question. My last attempt was to use a tag iTunes did in fact read, but which I never used in my files. Fortunately, ID3v2 specification has plenty of those, and I went for “Composer”. I tagged my best songs with “BEST123321″ (just to make it unique – would be easier to search for afterwards) and re-imported my entire collection. To stupidity-proof iTunes importing procedure I now placed all my 3500 tracks in one folder. The latter worked wonders, and now only one track (and not 15) was missing. I couldn’t be bothered to find out which track that was, or what went wrong (all I know is that it wasn’t on my “Best of” playlist). More importantly, the “Composer” tag was read correctly and I was able to sort out my favourite songs and make a playlist of them in iTunes internally. This was after probably 7 to 8 hours of hard work. Thank you, Apple, for putting the customer always first.

However, adding insult to the already done injury some of the genre tags were not only missing, but some had turn into numbers for whatever reason. Took me good 30 minutes to re-enter all of those, too.

Cover art please?

Finding cover art was also a joke. Since the iTunes Store is huge and contains a great amount of titles, I assumed it would be much better at finding covers than any script pulling artwork from Last.fm or Amazon could. I was wrong, dead wrong. It turns out that my old faithful Amarok was far better at finding and fetching covers than iTunes is. How come is AC/DC’s Back in Black missing?

Conclusion

The conclusion to this mess is simple: NEVER use iTunes for anything. How they were able to come to version number 9 and not have any of the problems mentioned herein fixed, I don’t know. And a large portion of users do have these problems – so what’s the rationale behind not fixing it? Goddammit, Apple’s products aren’t exactly cheap – so where the heck is my money going?

PS: After being through all of this, I still enjoy my new iPod. It has already become my primary mp3 player and will probably also replace my N810 as a browsing tablet. Scrobbling is working (at least for now) and movie playback is gorgeous. If it wasn’t for iTunes, everything would have been excellent.

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1 Comment »

  1. avatar

    [...] ALL my settings were restored to how I had configured them, also the app-specific ones. So, despite my utter despise of iTunes, Apple actually did something [...]

    Pingback by My thoughts on iOS4 « Dr. Ivan's Blog — 19/07/2010 @ 16:48

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