Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

iTunes 7: I take it back

Posted on 29 September 2006 1 lonely comment

A week ago, I wrote a post heaping praise onto iTunes 7. One tough week later, I completely disagree with myself.

I’m not going back on my point that Coverflow and Gapless Playback are two of the most important iTunes updates so far, but my gripes have developed from a week of frustration (the album artwork is so woefully wrong on the majority of my library), confusion (did Apple really design such an ugly logo and inconsistent interface?) and the grinding-to-a-halt of my poor ol’ Powerbook (run iTunes 7 and another program at the same time? Computer says no).

Memory usage
While I freely admit that my G4 Powerbook is relatively old, low of spec, and desperately in need of replacing, my forthcoming trip to the Apple store was – until iTunes 7 came along – a desire rather than a necessity. Now, if I want to play music whilst working, it’s just not worth it. The strain on the memory means that even doing simple things like read items in Mail or browse the web in Safari have become painful experiences; let alone my usual need to have at least Photoshop, Flash, Textmate, and Cyberduck all open at the same time. (Check your memory, CPU, and other usage using the wonderful iStat Pro widget.) It literally means that I have to quit iTunes, and that means it’s back to playing CDs instead – not exactly the ‘death-of-the-CD’ scenario I anticipated in my original post.

Aesthetics
While the program’s memory usage is by far the largest problem, there are others that have become apparent. When I first installed iTunes 7 last week, the first thing I noticed was the rather ugly new logo, although somehow the excitement over all the new features made me forget. Well, it’s back, and it’s looking at me, peering up from my dock and sneering in the way a self-righteous but clueless adolescent might when showing off a new Burberry cap. But it’s not the blue – I actually like the blue, and remember when it turned from purple to green? – it’s that horrible Windows Vista trying-but-failing to be Mac OSX ‘gleam’, displaying none of the subtle bevelling usually associated with Apple. And the CD, too, has become a little more obvious – and anyway, isn’t it time the CD was dropped from the logo? It’s somewhat contradictory to the downloads-are-the-future stance pioneered by the software and the company.

Ok, that’s all before we even open the program. What really bothers me about the interface (besides the dull / muted look many have criticised) is the inconsistency. The main scrollbars have adopted some kind of new look independent from every other program, so that they now completely ignore the Apple interface consistency guidelines. (By the way, I’ve heard there’s an app out there that allows you to get the look back – anyone know the link?) Then we have the horizontal scrollbars. Now, they’re nice, and at least in some way keeping with the semi-transparent black / white / grey aesthetic that Apple have been experimenting with (like the fullscreen controls on Quicktime and Preview Slideshows or the adjustment palettes on Aperture and iPhoto), but they’re still different from the rest of the OS. Perhaps Apple are planning on including one of these scrollbar versions these as the default in Leopard, but there was nothing to suggest that in the Developer Preview. And what about those buttons at the bottom? Yuck! As Adam Spooner wisely pointed out on Shaun Inman’s post, the interface looks like it was designed by 3 different teams not communicating.

Coverflow
In principle, it’s great. The whole idea, the animation, all that – it should be the most fantastic of new gizmos. But the sad fact is that this marvellous feature is let down by something extremely simple: a very poor image database. I hasten to add that this is not Apple’s fault – working for a record label, I’ve seen that the people responsible for inputting track metadata often have a very lacklustre attitude with regards to being thorough – but it’s a massive failing that results in a library full of incorrect cover art or nothing at all. This is particular the case – as you will have noticed – with compilations, whereby one of the artists on the album usually gets one of their own album covers adorning the whole compilation. And oh, as there are usually various artists on there, this means that said album cover is now appearing ALL. OVER. YOUR. LIBRARY. Once again, this is most definitely not the ‘death-of-the-CD’ scenario I anticipated in my original post.

The answer?
For the excessive memory usage? Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll need to buy a new Mac. This isn’t really a bad thing as it was on the books anyway, but I would’ve expected this purchase to be forced by my recent upgrades to Photoshop CS2 or Flash 8 (both quite hefty)… not a lowly jukebox app. For the dubious aesthetcis? Nothing. At least not until the next version, or until we get used to it (and don’t even get me started on those ugly new Nanos). But for coverflow? Well now, maybe there is an answer. Actually, there are lots, and artwork-grabbing apps / scripts have been around for a long time (feel free to share in the comments), but my favourite so far is the beautifully concise Amazon Album Art widget (Mac only, I’m afraid) by Simon Whitaker.

Well look at that: two widget plugs in one post. See, it’s not all moaning, is it? ;-)

1 lonely comment

  1. John Arnor G. Lom

    John Arnor G. Lom

    16 April 2007 @ 06:31PM #

    Interface has grown on me, but icon…? Blah…

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