The recent Apple event to launch the new iPods, and new iTunes & store, was up to Apple's normal high standard. It all looked great and Steve even managed to get not just one but two "oh and one more thing …" bits in (obviously making up for not including one at the WWDC this year). Also, for the first time in my life I'm actaully tempted by an iPod Shuffle! The preview of iTV also looked very interesting, though in this neck of the woods ITV means something else!

Upon installing iTunes7 my first impressions were also very good. Sure, I think the new blue logo is a step backwards, and the new colour scheme has gone a bit too goth for my tastes, but no one can deny that the new interface is very slick. The promise of reverse-syncing also appealed to me. But then it all just went a bit pear-shaped!

[tags]iTunes, iTunes 7, Apple[/tags]

The Good

When I got over the new Logo and the goth colours, the first thing that really impressed me were the two new views. Digital music had always felt a bit less real to me because you were separated from your albums by the interface but with the new album view and cover browser you really get a feel for your albums again. Steve said you'd re-discover your music collection and he was right, I found I have whole albums I'd totally forgotten about till I saw their covers as I graphically 'flicked' through my collection! The ability to download missing album art is also very nice. It's not perfect because you can only get covers for albums that exist in the iTunes Store but it's still a nice free service. 

The new interface for managing your iPod is also brilliant. The ability to edit settings on a per-podcast basis is great and I also noticed that you can mark podcast episodes you want to keep so that they will not get auto-deleted even if you turn on auto-deletion. I've been managing my podcasts manually because there are one or two where I want to keep some old episodes. Now I think I'll let iTunes manage them for me. It also makes sense to take these settings out of their old hiding place in the preferences dialogue and actually present them as a regular part of the interface when an iPod is connected.

The Bad

Initially, I was planning on writing a post about how Apple had finally seen sense and made it easy to sync music both ways from an iPod but no, in this case reverse-sync does not do exactly what it says on the tin! It ONLY allows you to reverse-sync your purchased media to one of your 5 enabled computers. If you are going to limit this feature to your 5 nominated computers why one earth not allow a full reverse-sync! There would be no way to use such a feature to share music with strangers so it could only have been used to make the lives of regular Apple users easier and not for any form of mass copyright infringement that the labels would get grumpy with Apple about. What makes this even more ridiculous is that Apple give you instructions on how you can use your iPod to move ALL your music from one machine to another by setting your iPod to Disk Mode! Since you can do it anyhow (with a rather drawn out process) why not make it easy for users to manage THEIR music!

Aside: Des Traynor has had a good post on how to do this on his blog for ages and it is apparently one of his most popular posts ever. Considering the quality, and at times controversial nature, of his posts that means there are a hell of a lot of people who are annoyed with Apple about this stupid restriction. Initially I'd argued with Des that this was not a problem but I'm holding my hands up and saying I was wrong. It is a problem and Apple need to do something about it!

The next problem should also have been in 'The Good' but again, Apple have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! The idea of splitting Music, Podcasts, Audiobooks etc into separate libraries instead of bunching the lot into the one big library is great. It's a logical part of iTunes' evolution from a Music player to a media player. However, I have Audiobooks that I bought on CD and when I rip them, even though I set their genre to Audiobook, they go into my Music library. I tried dragging and dropping them from Music to Audiobooks but iTunes will have none of it. I tried all sorts of things that I found on the web and even downloaded a program called iTunify that claimed it could turn regular AAC files into Audiobooks but it couldn't. There are threads about this on the Apple Support Forums, but so far they are just full of people agreeing that this is really stupid, no one seems to have found a solution yet. In a desperate last-ditch attempt I even went so far as to open up the HUGE XML file that iTunes uses to store it's library data, figure out it's structure and manually move the relevant files from the Music playlist to the Audiobooks one. But when I opened iTunes it detected that someone had been messing with it's library and restored it to the way it was before I messed with it! I REALLY hate software that tries to out-smart me and won't let me correct it when it's wrong. This is the kind of behaviour that I regularly slate Windows and other MS products for, and here it is making my life hard in an Apple product I use day in, day out. Most frustrating!

The next issue I ran into was a bug with Albums. No matter what I did, an album I had that spread over multiple disks kept being split into multiple albums. I tried all the obvious things. I selected the lot and edited all the fields together so that everything bar the CD and track numbers would be identical on all the tracks but still no joy. When I had ripped the album the first time I had gone ahead and set the album art for the first disk while the second was ripping. This would appear to have been my mistake because when I deleted the lot and started over, but this time setting the art-work at the very end when I was 100% sure all the other info was correct, it worked merged the disks into just one album. In the past this wouldn't have been a problem but with the new views being so album-oriented it was really bugging me.

My next problem was an odd one and it seems to have solved itself with a reboot. Yesterday iTunes kept re-opening itself about two or three minutes after I would close it. I thought I was going mad for a while. I'd close it to free up resources while doing something CPU heavy on my poor old G4 and then a few minutes later there it would be open again! I guess I'll just have to keep an eye on it and see if this was just a fluke occurrence.

My final problem so far is the most serious IMO. I'm a regular user of the iTunes music store and I buy both Music and Audiobooks regularly. I have never had any problems with the store what-so-ever, but when I made my first purchase with iTunes 7 today, that all changed. I bought a 10-part Audiobook (Harry Potter 4) for about €70. The 10 items showed up in the new downloads section in iTunes but when they started to download all 10 failed with the wonderfully descriptive "Unknown Error -50". I rang the store and was rather annoyed when the nice lady told me that they don't deal with iTunes over the phone and that I'd have to lodge a ticket on their website. I've done that so now lets see what becomes of it!

Conclusions (no ugly, it is Apple afterall and they don't do ugly Wink

iTunes 7 could have been great, in fact it SHOULD have been great. The GUI design is very good and in general the product has become more usable and more feature-rich, but Apple messed up on a few key points. iTunes does NOT always know best so for the love of all things holly please let us over-ride iTunes when it messes up! Harry Potter Book 1 is NOT music! Secondly, if you're going to do something DO IT RIGHT, none if this half-baked rubbish of only reverse-syncing some items. It's MY music and I want to sync it to MY computers, get out of my bloody way! Finally, a quick peek at the support forums for iTunes on the Apple website and it soon becomes clear that this software is suffering from a lot of bugs. This seems to have been a very Microsoft-esque release, "ship now, patch later". That's not normally the Apple way, lets hope this is an aberration and not a sign of things to come from our friends in Cupertino!

Screen Shots (added 16 September) 

Album View Cover Flow View

Update – 16 September 2006 15:20

I have found solutions to some of these problem: iTunes 7 – Solutions to Audio Book and Download Problems