Hi! My name is Cédric Bozzi, I make websites and iOS apps, and this is my blog about technology (mostly a Twitter archive, really).

14 September 2006

It’s Showtime, the morning after


First contact with iTunes 7, I’m seriously confused. I figured that “gapless playback” consisted of, you know, playing an MP3, then playing the next one. Without a gap. I’m no math geek, I don’t know how complex of an algorithm that might involve, but I just thought, if every music player in existence can do it, then it mustn’t be that hard.

What the hell, then, is “gapless playback information,” and why must it be determined for each and every track?

And why does it have to be enabled or disabled, per track?

And why are my albums playing back without gaps now, even though the box is still unchecked for all my tracks?



Needless to say, iTunes 7 looks very wrong. Others [via] have dedicated more time to pointing out all the little, and the big, mistakes, so I won’t spend too much time there. I can live with the loss of Aqua, but I’m going to spend the next few months praying for those horrendous scrollbars not to be a preview of Leopard’s interface.

I don’t think they are, though. First, because that would be a sign of visual consistency (albeit out of sync) that would be very uncharacteristic of the Apple of late. Second, because the iTunes team works on a cross-platform application that’s designed to look exactly the same on Windows as on OS X (just stop wondering why iTunes is so bloated and resource-intensive, and be happy it’s not using XUL); while the first versions were clearly made to give PC users a taste of what the Mac looks like, and it just seems they have now decided to make iTunes blend in more with the Windows universe (either because the iTunes team has been contaminated by the Windows developers they had to bring in, or because the Windows version is such an unstable, bloated piece of crap, they figured they might as well dissociate it from the Mac as much as they could).

And those reasons imply that, even if the Leopard interface sported drastic interface changes and they had been approved and locked and were ready to be publicized, the iTunes team would definitely be the very last people on the Apple campus to be notified.



It’s true, iTunes 7 handles video much better than the previous version. Launching a video is snappier, and doesn’t feel like it eats as much resources as it used to. But it still lags and stutters and jumps around if you’re not sitting still, watching your video. And for the life of me I just can’t imagine what they can be doing to make video playback get choppy in iTunes when it works perfectly in a Safari window.

Besides, they were so proud of the slight improvement they made to video playback, they thought it would be such a neat idea to move playback controls from a button bar to a fading video overlay. I’m not fond of overlaid controls in general, but what I really take issue with here is the fading: iTunes already has enough trouble playing my videos, and I don’t need to see it lagging whenever I want to access controls — or accidentally run my cursor over the video window.



I was quite happy to see iTunes 7 integrate CoverFlow; that has changed when I actually started using it. Whereas CoverFlow was a very sexy, and useful, utility, the iTunes cover flow is a very sexy, and useless, gadget.

As I explained when I reviewed CoverFlow, the one feature that makes it actually usable is the ability to set up filters: mine is set to ignore albums with blank titles (iTunes doesn’t do that, and clutters the display with a lot of art-less, name-less covers), ignore albums lasting less than 20 minutes, and, most important of all, only show albums whose average track rating was three stars or more. If you don’t have many MP3s, you probably don’t mind; I have a lot of stuff, and there’s no point in visually browsing my collection if every single piece of crap I’ve ever failed to delete shows up as a record.

It’s nice that iTunes remembers different view settings for each source or playlist, so that it makes sense to display some playlists in cover flow view; it’s annoying that it doesn’t handle metadata at the album level (but that may come later); it’s ridiculous that it handles cover flow like any other view, and it’s up to you to think of sorting your library per album title, or each album may appear several times in the view, for each appearance of a song in the track list.

(Okay, I spent ten minutes rewriting this part and I can’t manage to make sense, so here’s a screenshot.)


I would have uploaded my CoverFlow dmg here as a mirror (thank heavens the developer released an expiry-free version — or at least the release notes said so — just a few days before that announcement), but the documentation specifically forbids redistribution. If you like the iTunes cover flow view, and wish it were more functional, and you didn’t get the stand-alone CoverFlow app when you could have, well… your loss, then.



On the other hand, I like the album view — the one that isn’t much different from regular view, but visually groups tracks and displays a large cover next to them. It doesn’t allow you to rediscover your library like CoverFlow does (what can I listen to? ooh, I forgot I had that one), but it’s rather pleasant when you’ve already decided on the artist you want to listen to, and then browse for an album. (CoverFlow also allows for that, of course — except it doesn’t show track lists — but I don’t leave it running all the time, and it takes ages to launch.)



Oh, and cover art retrieval is apparently broken, too: it doesn’t embed the artwork into your MP3s, but saves it in a separate folder. Which means you lose the artwork if your move your MP3 out of iTunes (which probably won’t bother Apple, since that’s basically tying you to iTunes and your iTunes Store account) and it will require modifications to any third-party utility, such as as Apple’s own screen saver, which hasn’t been updated yet, or the stand-alone CoverFlow, which won’t ever be updated.

Actually, it may be well-intentioned — Apple insists that the iTunes Store covers are of a higher resolution than Amazon’s, and it does make sense not to embed a copy of the same cover in each individual track of a same album. But they could just give the user a choice.



The 2GB nano is only available in silver; well, it’s the cheap one, so they can reasonably restrict colors. The 8GB nano is only available in black; that’s… insane.

The big iPods are available in black or white for the same price; the black MacBook is only available for the top-of-the-line configuration, and comes at a premium, but you can at least configure a white MacBook to get the exact same specs if you want to; actually restricting color choice for the top of the line, now that’s just plain WTF.



Not only does the new shuffle lack a USB connector (which removes thumb-drive functionality, unless you carry the dock around); not only do you have to unplug your headset everytime you want to dock it (chances are the audio plug is going to die before the battery gets around to it); there’s actually only one connector, and power and USB data go through the audio jack as well.

I’m very, very curious as to how they wired the thing. The iMac’s analog/optic audio jack combo was already a mystery to me, but that one tops it, by far.



I already expressed my dislike for the iTV’s concept; I later realized, the actual physical design is puzzling, too. Where are you supposed to place it, exactly? It doesn’t integrate with your A/V equipment stack; it’s not made to be hooked to the wall either (not with the wires going up); it’s too small and flat to be displayed in your living room, next to the TV. This thing is just going to end up buried under a pile of DVDs.

I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs wants the Apple logo to shine in everybody’s living room, and that design is very wrong on that respect.


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