Christmas Wish List: iTunes Pro

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes
November 18th, 2009 • 1:53 pm

As the holiday season approaches, I’d like to indulge in a bit of wishful thinking… This is not just something that I’d like to get for Christmas. It’s something that I wish someone (preferably Apple itself) would actually make, sell, and support.

Because right now, if you are not happy with iPhoto, you can get Aperture (or Adobe Lightroom). If you are not happy with GarageBand, you can get Logic Pro. If you are not happy with iMovie, you can get Final Cut Pro… But what can you do if you are not happy with iTunes?

There are many things in iTunes that I like a lot. But there are also many things that I am getting increasingly frustrated with, and there is pretty much nothing I can do about it.

So I really wish that I could buy some kind of “iTunes Pro” software that would simply take the management of my music collection to the next level, without requiring me to drop any of the existing benefits of the iTunes-based approach.

In my view, it could only be a software solution made by Apple itself. And the main features that it would have, beyond what’s currently available in iTunes, are as follows.

The first and most important one would be much better performance. Here I am, using a brand new Mac Pro with tons of RAM and eight cores (actually 16 virtual cores)… and iTunes is still unable to use more than one core at a time. Whether that’s the only reason for its poor performance, I am not qualified to determine. It probably is not. But surely it cannot be good that so many tasks in iTunes seem to cause the CPU activity level on the only core that iTunes is currently using to shoot to 100%.

My problems with iTunes’s performance are multiple. There is the Spinning Beach Ball of Death that I seem to get all the time when browsing my music library, editing tracks, etc. There are the lags of several seconds between my actions as a user and their actual result in the application, even for simple things such as clicking on the Play button to start or stop playback.

And these performance issues also affect iTunes’s responsiveness to drag-and-drop operations. More often than not, when I am trying to drag something from a Finder window to a window in iTunes, I have and drag and… wait, and wait some more until the target window actually becomes responsive and detects my intention to drop something onto it. Otherwise, if I drop too early, Mac OS X simply bounces the proxy of the stuff I’ve dragged back to its original location in the Finder window and I have to start all over again.

There is also the fact that, when my tracks are sorted alphabetically by name and I start typing the first few letters of a track’s name in order to cause iTunes to scroll down to that track, half of the time iTunes completely ignores my keystrokes and behaves as if I hadn’t typed anything.

And the fact that, when I click on an already selected track to make one of its fields editable, there is a delay, sometimes of several seconds, before it actually becomes editable, during which I am not sure that iTunes has actually detected my click, so I might be tempted to click again, with the undesirable consequences that you can imagine…

It’s all absolutely maddening. I am sure it is in part due to the large size of my music collection (tens of thousands of tracks, over 300 GB of data). But surely in this day and age, with so much power under the hood in our computers, we should be able to get better performance, shouldn’t we?

Then there is the fact that iTunes becomes pretty much unusable while ripping an audio CD. Again, in this day and age… Clearly my Mac Pro is capable of doing tons of other stuff in other applications while ripping CDs in the background, so why can’t iTunes itself handle another task smoothly while ripping tracks?

And don’t get me started on AppleScript performance. I have several iTunes scripts that I use all the time, to albumize lists of tracks (i.e. apply the correct track numbers to them), to change the case of track names, to remove extra characters from the beginning or the end of track names, etc. The performance of these scripts is totally unpredictable. Sometimes they perform almost as quickly as if they were built-in commands. But other times—most of the time, unfortunately—they are slow as molasses, with intervals of several seconds between each repetitive step. It really is unbelievably bad. I have to switch to another application and do something else, because I just can stand having to wait for so long for a seemingly simple process to complete in iTunes.

Again, this is with a brand new Mac Pro with tons of RAM and 16 virtual cores. The performance is barely better than on my previous machine, a three-year-old Mac Pro with half as much RAM and only 4 cores. It is a good thing better performance in iTunes was not my primary goal when buying this new machine… Otherwise, I would be mightily pissed.

Just for this—better performance—I would readily spend $200 on a pro-level application to replace iTunes.

And then there are all kinds of other features that I’d like to see in an iTunes Pro. A library-wide search/replace feature would be one of them, one with regular expression support preferably (but I’d take a find/replace feature with basic options to begin with). Of course replacements—and all other actions, such as accidentally deleting tracks—would have to be undoable.

I would also like to see many of these features currently handled by third-party AppleScript scripts (albumize, remove chars, change case, etc.) included in the software itself as built-in commands.

I would like a non-modal interface for editing tags.

I would like “smart” automatic handling of sort fields for new imports into the library. Sort fields are great, but even if I use “Wonder, Stevie” as the sort artist for all my existing Stevie Wonder tracks, so that they appear under “W” in the list of artists, the next time I rip a Stevie Wonder CD or import a Stevie Wonder track, I will have to remember to manually enter “Wonder, Stevie” in the sort artist field for the new tracks. Otherwise I’ll have two Stevie Wonders in my list of artists. That’s just too much work. There should be a feature where iTunes automatically applies the sort artist of your choice.

iTunes should be able to automatically replace tracks in playlists when the track itself is replaced in the library. For example, let’s say I download a free MP3 of a track promoting an album. I end up liking it, and buying the CD. When I rip the CD, iTunes might (if I am lucky and the tags match) tell me that some of the tracks are duplicates of existing tracks in my library and offer to replace them, but if I’ve already add the MP3 track to some of my playlists, it won’t replace the existing track in the playlists.

Speaking of duplicates, iTunes Pro would obviously need to have a much stronger, much more flexible tool for eliminating duplicates in one’s library. Right now, I still do it manually, which of course means that I still have tons of duplicates in my library, thereby probably adding to the performance problems…

And for ripping CDs, we need something more trustworthy than the Gracenote database. It simply is not good enough.

I could go on and on… There are so many possible improvements and features. And yet the market for such a pro-level music library management software simply does not seem to exist at all, or at least has yet to be discovered by software developers.

Since it can be hard to compete with free software, it would obvious need to be done by someone who is well placed to maintain the distinction between consumer-level and pro-level software. Apple have shown than they can do it with iPhoto and Aperture, iMovie and Final Cut, GarageBand and Logic. They need to do it for iTunes.

They can keep growing the free iTunes in other directions if they want to, such as the App Store, movies, etc. But for serious music lovers with an appetite for pro-level music library management software, there needs to be an alternative.

3 Responses to “Christmas Wish List: iTunes Pro”

  1. Betalogue » Adobe CS5: Non-standard cursor to mask unresponsiveness says:

    […] where this happens fairly often. The most guilty culprit among Apple’s own applications is iTunes, which still, as of this writing, appears unable to use more than one CPU core at any given time […]

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    […] “Macintosh › iTunes” categories to get an idea. For example, two years ago, I expressed the wish for an iTunes Pro for serious music collectors. Of course, such a thing has yet to see the light of […]

  3. Betalogue » Swinsian: Fantastic iTunes replacement for music collectors says:

    […] the introduction of some kind of version of iTunes optimized for music collectors — a kind of iTunes Pro, if you will. But of course, hoping that Apple itself would release such a product is nothing more […]