Dear Apple, it’s a small ask, please fix iTunes

[NOTE: 16th December 2018, I’ve placed an update at the bottom of the story, if you can’t be bothered scrolling, the main protagonist of this story has been resolved]

Apple held their annual World Wide Developers Conference on Monday, the 4th of June and and as per usual the new MacOS was announced, but this isn’t about that. It’s about iTunes and few things that should be fixed before they try to cram even more into an already bloated product.

I don’t really use music streaming. I have Spotify, though I’m not sure why. What I do have, is closing in on 4000 Compact Discs that I’ve spent countless hours archiving and making redundant copies of. They are in Apple Lossless (ALAC) with all the relevant metadata and cover art, saved in a particular folder structure. They are fastidiously organised.

Piles of Them

I noticed, as of a minor iTunes update released around the start of April (which now persists to the current version 12.7.5.9), that a lot of my cover art would no longer show in my library. This was really odd as it worked perfectly before the update. Narrowing down my search a little bit, it turns out that any cover art that wasn’t exactly square (irrespective of resolution) no longer would show on the “Albums” page of iTunes. When the album is first loaded, it just shows a blank tile. Blank tiles do indicate there is cover art for the album otherwise iTunes just displays the generic music note.

The iTunes window size here is displaying 6 albums wide

If you click on the album in question, its “tile” will stay blank, though the cover art will show along with the track list. If you click on the next album however, the “tile” returns to its blank state.

The iTunes window size here is still displaying 6 albums wide

After a bit more fiddling around, if you drag and resize the iTunes window, you can force it “refresh” the album covers and it will then show them. It won’t do all of them, as you scroll down, you’ll have to do it again and again… and again.

The iTunes window size here has been dragged around, in and out and is 7 albums wide before the cover art displayed.

From this example, this is the corresponding artwork, which isn’t square.

This is the artwork from another album, that I downloaded via iTunes “Get Album Artwork”, it is square.

The issue existed in iTunes 12.7.4.76 as well as a few releases before. I don’t seem to have access to all the point releases to figure out exactly where it changed.

Other testing identified that the issue wasn’t caused due to such a large iTunes library. This is my fully loaded CD library on my MacMini. Over 1.5TB of ALAC music files stored on an external ThunderBolt 2 drive.

The issue persisted with the “travel” library on my MacBook Pro, just under 300GB of ALAC music stored on SSD. Both MacBook Pro and MacMini running iTunes 12.7.5.9.

However in earlier versions, it loaded the cover art as expected. Here is a screenshot from a brand new install of OSX Sierra on a Virtual Machine with reduced specs from my MacMini (just to rule out processing and memory). Here we have, after loading the complete library into iTunes 12.5.0.158, cover art showing correctly

Again, YAY! They all load first time

I called Apple support on the 9th of April 2018 to advise them of this. They thanked me for my input, assigned me the Case ID 100503093438 and since then there have been a few iTunes updates, but no fix.

Apple, can you please fix this before you abandon updates to iTunes High Sierra? The covers do display properly on Music for iPhone iOS 11.3. I get that it’s not going to be high priority but it’s really annoying and hey, you broke it.

The concensus is that iTunes has become “bloatware” and I can’t disagree. I have tried almost every other software application I can find to manage my music catalog and iTunes still beats them, which is alarming. Metadata management is easy, for a single track, an album, an artist or a whole bunch of random artists in one go. Sorting is brilliant. For some reason, no other application I’ve found will let you sort by artist and year simultaneously. If I click on “songs”, they are all ordered alphabetically by artist, then within the artist, they are sorted by year AND kept in their correct track/disc order for an album. For someone who obsesses about things being in chronological order, this is a big deal.

Why does no other music application do this? I can order alphabetically by Artist, then my Album Year and it leaves the tracks (and discs if present) in order.

Cover art management is somewhat of a pain. Aside from this display issue, even if the cover art exists in the iTunes Store online and successfully downloads, it doesn’t write it to the metadata of the file. You have to drag the artwork somewhere else (the desktop for instance), clear it from iTunes, remove the files from iTunes, import them again, then drag the artwork back onto the album. I don’t understand why iTunes just can’t write the metadata at the time instead of just storing it in the iTunes cache. This isn’t an issue if your files never leave iTunes but if you want your files to display cover art somewhere else, Sonos for instance, then it’s annoying.

Cover art metadata won’t show up if you don’t manually (or using a script) import the cover art onto the songs. iTunes does not write it to file automatically (ie when you select “Get Album Artwork”).

Apple also removed the right click context menu to convert file formats. I used to put a CD in (or even just load the files I wanted to convert), edit what I had to, select all the songs, then right click and choose “Convert to Apple Lossless” (or whatever I’d selected in settings). It was simple. Since when ever they dropped it (it’s probably been a year or so now, I’ve lost track) you have to select the little “settings” button on the top right, which then opens the “Import Settings” window, so you then click OK. It’s just one more step but when Apple was about being efficient and making things easy, one more step was an issue. What kind of code optimisation did removing that right click option provide?

Now to the biggest bug bear I have. iTunes Store integration. As you would have got the gist by now, I like to have complete control over the manageability of my catalog. When I listen to music with iTunes, I want it to play the files I’ve added to my library. I don’t want my iTunes purchases, or any other files for that matter that I specifically didn’t load, to appear. If I want them, I’ll add them.

Case in point, I created a “Smart” Playlist the other day for jazz. When I saw the result, low and behold, what did I see? That damn cloud there again.

The “smart” playlist, being too smart for its own good.. I don’t want iTunes Store purchases showing up

How did this happen, I have everything, including the iTunes Store disabled?

I disabled it for a reason

I then had to add an extra filter to get rid of them.

Another filter line is needed to remove the “iCould Purchased” items

When I’m managing music I’ve copied onto my iPhone, the same deal. Stop cramming iTunes Store items into my music. Why do I have to specifically select “Downloaded Music” to see what is actually on my phone or have to disable the ability for “Music” to access the internet completely?

Even then that doesn’t completely work. I’ve plugged my iPhone into the USB audio interface in plently of rental cars and if I select random, it will still try to play my iTunes purchases, even though they aren’t on my phone and I’ve disabled mobile data for Music. The title will show up on the car stereo display, then take about 5 seconds to time out when my iPhone realises that the song isn’t accessible. I didn’t have these issues with my iPod.

Talking about cramming iTunes Store items on me unwillingly, is there a way to fix these “Artist” images? How do these get here? Apple, I know you’re trying to make things look slick but give me the power to fix it when it’s wrong.

Just because they are from the 80’s, should they be cursed to be whoever this “Lion” claims to be? These guys did the The Transformers : The Movie hard rock theme dammit.

This ain’t Juju..

And this sure as hell isn’t the aweome Solo..

iTunes on MacOS and Music on the iPhone (and obviously the iPod where it came from) were once great music apps. Apple, please fix them. They worked as I’ve described once upon a time. You’ve either not given them a full suite of regression tests or intentionally don’t care these things don’t work anymore.

If you need these applications to continue to be what they are because of cloud/streaming/music/store etc, then why can’t you also give us a stripped back version? In fact, don’t give it to us, I’ll pay. $20 USD? $50 USD? You have GarageBand for free, then people pay for Logic. In this case, do the reverse. Let everyone have their bloated iTunes/Music that they need to interact with the store and people like me who want to manage their offline libraries, we’ll pay (well I’ll pay, I’m not speaking for everyone else).

If anyone from Apple product development reads this and fixes my woes, thanks a million, I’ll buy you a beer. To everyone else that read me bitch, I appreciate that too. To those of you who will suggest other applications, I’ve tried a lot of them, for MacOS and Windows. I’m not precious about OS but so far iTunes still suits my workflow best, even though it has become a steaming mess..

[UPDATE 31st August 2018 : As of iTunes 12.8.0.150 these issues still persist]

[UPDATE 16th December 2018 : Here is an interesting bit of news. As of iTunes 12.9.0.164 which has been released as part of MacOS Mojave, the following issues appear to have been resolved:

  • The album art issue, which was the main point of this article has been resolved. Upon removing and then reloading all items from my iTunes library, all artwork displays, irrespective of cover art dimensions. Bravo Apple, bravo. I have no idea if this article had anything to do with it and it’s honestly a little annoying it hasn’t been fixed for iTunes 12.8 on High Sierra but at least it has been resolved.
Whilst it’s hard to demonstrate that this has been fixed without posting a video of iTunes loading all the items, please take it from me that this is a fresh load of items into iTunes and all artwork appeared correctly.
  • The issue with iTunes store integration also seems to be resolved. If I create a “Smart” Playlist now, the iCloud/iTunes purchases do not appear in the playlist.
  • Also the issue in relation to artists photos appearing, whilst not fixed, has been modified somewhat. As I have the iTunes Store disabled, artist photos now don’t appear at all. Basically, iTunes Store being disabled seems to finally do what it says. ]

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