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  • The iTunes Report: Still a Mess

    July 14th, 2015

    The arrival of iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music, welcomed by some, proved to be a nightmare for others. It wasn’t just about the interface, although the individual reviews for Apple’s music subscription service were somewhat mixed. The complaints were mostly about clutter, but I am more annoyed at the inconsistencies between how you handle suggested albums in For You in iTunes compared to Music for iOS. With the latter, you have a context menu option labeled, “I Don’t Like This Suggestion,” which doesn’t have a direct counterpart in iTunes.

    Worse, it doesn’t seem to work, as suggestions that I specifically unliked still show up in For You after nearly two weeks of deliberately selecting, tapping, holding and selecting. Why foist artists I do not like on me? Might as well spend my valuable time on something more productive.

    But that’s a feature, or the lack of a feature, not necessarily a bug. When it comes to bugs, some are pretty serious. One involved having DRM mistakenly attached to content from iTunes Match. So it prevents you from playing those songs on “unauthorized” gear.

    Messy.

    The release notes for Monday’s iTunes 12.2.1 maintenance update claim that Apple has fixed the problem and “Provides a way to correct a library problem affecting former iTunes Match subscribers.” All well and good, but it doesn’t exactly state how. That forces you to search Apple’s support sites for an explanation, such as it is.

    The document I located provides guidance that could require a lengthy manual process. After applying the update, you control-click or right-click the songs incorrectly labeled as Apple Music, select Remove Download, and re-download them via the Make Available Offline option. You can, I suppose, select more than one track to replace at a time, but if you have hundreds or thousands of songs that were flagged with unwanted DRM as Apple Music, it could take hours to fix.

    Why, then, wouldn’t Apple set up a process to rescan your entire library and just fix the problem at its source? Why force users, who did nothing wrong, to have to go through a manual removal/download procedure? Awkward? You bet? Remember, iTunes Match tracks are owned by the customer, not by Apple, and embedding DRM on those tracks was just plain wrong. Apple has no right to restrict access to the music you purchased or copied from other sources, such as a CD.

    Even if the problem is fixed, there’s another issue, one even more serious. Some users have reported corrupted iCloud Music Library contents, ending up with bad metadata and artwork, duplicates, and even lost playlists and tracks. In other words, a mess that may force you to restore your library from a backup, or rebuild from scratch. Imagine if you’ve spent months or years building up a personal music library and you subscribed to Apple Music to widen your horizons. Suddenly everything falls apart, and you’re stuck with a borked music library.

    To be fair to Apple, the iTunes 12.2.1 update may have been rushed out to at least tackle part of the problem. It may take far longer to get at the root cause and find a workable solution, one that doesn’t force you to manipulate tracks manually, restore your stuff from scratch, or suffer in silence.

    It’s easy to criticize Apple for allowing this flawed update out the door, but if the number of corrupted databases or wrongly chosen iTunes Match tracks is small, it may have been one of those situations where internal testing simply failed to pick up evidence of the problem. Or if a problem was discovered, it wasn’t consistent enough to blame on a flaw in iTunes or iCloud. I wouldn’t presume to guess, and Apple will probably not explain what was discovered and why the initial fixes weren’t sufficient to overcome the problem.

    I would hope there will be some way to rebuild the library from scratch, online and on your Mac or PC, so you don’t have to engage in manual labor to set things right. The company who packed vast stores of technology into the tiny Apple Watch can surely figure out a way to fix this problem without further fuss or muss. Even then, it may take a while to thoroughly vet such an update before it gets out in the wild. Apple has been stung before with buggy updates even though Microsoft has done worse.

    To some of you, however, even a fixed iTunes won’t be sufficient to fix the problem. It’s more about some questionable choices that have made iTunes more and more irritating to use. That solution, however, would require a fairly thorough rethinking and redesign. I wouldn’t know whether Apple is sensitive to the criticism. For now, however, just fixing the iCloud Music Library and iTunes Match issues would be enough to get things rolling again.

    The rest can come later, but not much later.



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