iTunes: Serious. Improvement. Needed.

I’ve long said that iTunes is the worst application Apple has. It’s buggy, slow, and lacking features. It’s a shame that it’s the only application I can use to manage my iPod automatically, otherwise I’d switch to a competitor faster than Sonic the Hedgehog on a Speed Break.

iTunes has some great features, of course. Uh, there’s CoverFlow (oh, wait, that’s a third-party app they bought).

There’s music streaming to my Airport Express (when it’s not dropping out).

Oh! There’s that iPod management thing I mentioned before. That’s neat.

This rant was originally directed at the guys from MacBreak Weekly, a podcast for Mac geeks. I was going to complain that they should use a standard Artist instead of the list of varying hosts they have week, since it made my iTunes CoverFlow and Album view look like crap. Here’s what my CoverFlow view looks like sorted by Artist:

Seven different album covers because each episode has a different set of Artists and iTunes, seeing different Artists, considers them different Albums.


Except it’s not just MacBreak Weekly, and it’s not just the Artist field being different.

No. It’s because iTunes’ sorting mechanism—and particularly its sorting mechanism for podcasts—is brain-dead.

If you use iTunes to manage podcasts, you already know how awful it is. All the podcasts are mixed up in one big list, there are no per-podcast preferences, and if you don’t sync your iPod up often enough, iTunes stops updating your podcasts.

But as I said, you already know how awful it is.

It’s made more awful because iTunes doesn’t recognize podcast episodes with the same Album, Artist and other editable information, as being related. This screenshot is of the Get Info windows of three MacBreak Weekly episodes; two of them appear as one album cover, the third as a separate album cover. Can you guess which one is the stand-out?


Turns out that despite MBW-15 (in the middle) having different metadata from the other two, iTunes considers MBW-14 (on the left) one album, and MBW-15 and MBW-20 as a second album.

Odder still is that MBW-29 and MBW-30, below, have very different metadata, and yet are grouped together as a single album!


I know what you’re thinking: Surely there must be some clear difference somewhere! If there is, I haven’t found it yet.

It’s not file types. I looked the files in the Finder. MBW-14 is an m4a file; MBW-15 is an mp3 file. But wait… MB-20 is an m4a file. And, it sorts with MB-21, which is an mp3 file, and has different metadata.


I simply can’t find any logic to how iTunes sorts episodes into albums.

It gets better.

iTunes has an “Album view”, which is a handy way of browsing my collection.

Album View

In this view, I can show only items that match a search term. I enter “macbreak” and I get the 32 episodes of MBW, grouped into three albums when sorted by Album: episodes 1-14 in group one; 15-32 in group two; and in group three is episode 32 by itself.

Aside: There is a hidden feature in iTunes where you can sort by Album, Album by Artist, and Album by Year. You switch among the three states by clicking the Album header in any listing. I don’t know why there isn’t a menu item for this. Cool feature, completely hidden. Shocking.

If I sort using “Album by Artist” or “Album by Year”, I get two albums (the same episodes either way). MB-14 is in one group, MB-15 and MB-20 in the other group. Other than that, the episodes that make up each group has no logic I can discern: “by Artist” has a mix of artists; and “by Year” has episodes from 2006 and 2007 in the same group.

Out of desperation, I even decided to change the metadata some more (I’d been changing it several times in an effort to bring things together, unsuccessfully, clearly).

I sorted the show by Album (three groupings), and selected all of them. I selected all 32 items, did a Get Info on them, and changed the Album name to “MBW”.

I had the same three-album split, as before.

If there were different Artists listed, I moved the listed Artist to Album Artist, and changed Artist to “MacBreak Weekly”. Again, three albums, but a different grouping this time. Now, one album was episodes 30 and 31; the second was 1-14 and 32; and the third 15-29.

I changed the Composer for all to “Pixel Corps”. No change.

I changed the Grouping for all to “TWIT”. No change.

Just about everything that could be changed to something standard was. I eventually just gave up and reset every field to something new.

And still no luck. iTunes simply refuses to sort my podcasts by any discernible logic. It must be using some extra metadata that isn’t exposed for editing.

Which is why iTunes is Apple’s Worst. Application. Ever.

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