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How I Would Fix iTunes, Part 6: Fix Syncing

(This is one of a series of articles looking at elements of iTunes that I think need fixing. I’ll choose one element for each article, and offer a solution. See all articles in this series.)

iTunes syncing is a disaster. I’ve written about it several times on this website, and in my articles for Macworld. Following this article – which is the most popular article on my site, every day – dozens of iTunes users have commented about their experiences. And a Macworld article I wrote about this problem has nearly 100 comments.

The frustration level of users unable to sync their iOS devices with iTunes is quite high, in part because they find little or no help from Apple support or Genius Bar. I’m repeatedly told that users who contact Apple hear that the support teams aren’t aware that this is a problem, and users can spend hours doing what Apple recommends – essentially, restoring their device and re-syncing everything – only to find that the problem re-occurs almost immediately.

To be fair, millions of iOS users have no problem syncing. In fact, I’d wager that most iOS users never sync their devices. They download apps, perhaps some music, but keep it all on their devices (which also means they have no backups). But the sync problems seem to arise once users have a substantial media library. iTunes can certainly handle large libraries, but iOS devices seem to be unable to accept them.

While these problems have existed for many years, it seems that they’ve reached critical mass with the introduction of iOS 8. When I briefly had an iPhone 6, I found that, after the first sync, it was nearly impossible to add any new content to it. I get emails almost daily from people experiencing the same issues, with all types of iOS devices, but the iPhone 6 does seem to be more prone to sync problems.

So, two things need to be done. First, Apple has to recognize that this is a problem, and not have their support teams act as though it’s something new and rare. Apple has a history of pretending that nothing is wrong, until they admit that there was a problem. Remember antennagate (“You’re holding it wrong.”), or the video problem with 2011 – 2013 MacBooks Pro, that the company only recently announced that they would fix? They constantly pretend that there’s user error, rather than deal with the issues, because an admission of a problem in their hardware or software would potentially lead them to an expensive recall or replacement program.

Second, Apple needs to fix syncing, period. If you buy an iOS device, you expect to be able to sync your content. If not, the device is simply not fit for purpose. There’s no excuse for selling a device which Apple claims can do all these wonderful things, whereas something as simple as copying music is fraught with so many problems.

It’s clear that none of Apple’s senior executive sync their iOS devices with iTunes. They probably have everything they want in the cloud, and never experience the type of problems that rank-and-file users encounter. I expect that if Tim Cook, Eddy Cue or Jony Ive had this kind of problem with their iPhone, it would get fixed pretty quickly.

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Pono: Music for Your Pets

Neil Young’s Pono music store features music in a variety of resolutions, from CD-quality up to 24-bit, 192 kHz. These high-resolution formats reproduce sounds at frequencies that humans cannot hear. You may not be able to hear all the nuances in Pono’s high-resolution music files, but your pets can.

I altered their Pono Music Quality Spectrum graphic to be more honest about the music they sell:

Graph desktop

Note that cats fit in between the 96 kHz and 176.4 kHz resolutions; they need about 128 kHz to reproduce all the sounds they can hear. Gerbils and guinea pigs need just a bit less. (Yes, I understand that high sample rates are not only about frequency response.)

This points out how disingenuous this Pono graphic is. It suggests that, for example, a 24/192 file is somehow ten times better than a CD. Or that even a 24/48 file is more than twice as good as a CD, that extra data somehow equals extra quality. This is not the case.

Also, they don’t give bit rates (kbps) for anything above CD quality. These bit rates are variable, since lossless compression uses the bits it needs, not a fixed bit rate. So if they were to be honest, they’d have to show the variability, which would prove the inanity of their graphic.

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The iTunes Guy Looks at Playlists

itunesguy-thum-100004188-gallery.jpgPlaylists are one of the best, and most creative ways to organize music in iTunes, and to listen to music on your iOS devices. But sometimes, it can be hard to figure out how to make complex playlists. In this week’s column, I look at three questions about playlists, both standard and smart. And I also look at an issue where album art, for some albums, changes on iOS devices.

Read this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy at Macworld.

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How I Would Fix iTunes, Part 5: Make it Possible to Turn Off Up Next

(This is one of a series of articles looking at elements of iTunes that I think need fixing. I’ll choose one element for each article, and offer a solution. See all articles in this series.)

In iTunes, whenever you play any music — unless you are playing a playlist which contains just one song — there is a song queue. It may be all the songs of an album, all the songs of a playlist, or all the tracks in your library. You can see the song queue at any time by clicking the Up Next icon in the iTunes LCD or MiniPlayer.

Miniplayer

The Up Next icon is the one with the three lines at the right of the Mini Player window above, and there’s a similar icon in the iTunes LCD, the part of the iTunes window that shows you what is playing.

The problem is that you may have music in the Up Next queue without realizing it, and when you go to play something else, you may see what I call “the pesky Up Next dialog.”

Up next dialog

This dialog displays when you have explicitly added music to the Up Next queue (the Up Next icon in the iTunes LCD is blue), and you then try to play something else without first adding it to Up Next. For example, you might have double-clicked an album or playlist. (The dialog is slightly different if you double-click a single track.)

If you click Clear Songs, iTunes replaces your Up Next queue with the tracks in the item you just double-clicked. Or, if you click Don’t Clear, iTunes adds what you just double-clicked to the beginning of the Up Next queue; this is the same as if you had Control-clicked the item and chosen Play Next. Of course, you can click Cancel to keep listening to what’s currently playing.

Up Next also gets in the way when you select an album to play using the Remote app in iOS. Sometimes I’m listening to music in my bedroom, where I have an AirPlay speaker. I choose an album to listen to, and, when it’s finished, I hear the next album in my iTunes library. The Remote app doesn’t show that album in the queue, yet, once the album has finished, it starts playing, and the queue is full of everything from that album to the end of my library.

Confused? So am I. I’ve gotten lots of queries about Up Next, and it’s very hard to explain; it’s even hard for me to understand what exactly is supposed to happen.

Up Next is confusing, especially because users will find that it gets in their way when they do something as simple as wanting to play some music. Apple could fix this by allowing users to turn off Up Next if they want. This is a simple change that would make playing music in iTunes a lot less confusing.

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