Notes on iTunes 7

Cover art: When downloading new albums, I usually hunt down the album cover as well. Previously, artwork only showed up optionally in the lower left, in the iTunes screensaver, and on recent iPods. With iTunes 7, Apple has made cover art central. iTunes will now try and retrieve cover art automatically when adding new music, and you can force it to look for artwork of existing tracks with a Ctrl-click. But success is spotty, and you get no feedback if the search was unsuccesful. My guess is that the artwork comes from the iTMS database. But I’ve got albums I know are in iTMS but for which iTunes 7 still fails to retrieve artwork. Looks like this will continue to be a largely manual thing. Meanwhile, two new views in iTunes 7 feature artwork prominently. An album list view shows large versions of artwork along with track listings, and a fancy new “flip” (Coverflow) view uses Quartz to simulate a stack of LPs to sort through:

iTunes Flipview

I like that they’re doing what they can to keep some trace of the album cover experience, but not sure how often I’ll use the feature. Especially since gathering artwork for 95% of my stuff looks like it’s going to remain labor intensive.

Cover art update: Just figured something out. iTunes isn’t doing the normal thing and putting cover art into the ID3v2 data area of music files – it’s storing it in subdirs of ~/Music/iTunes/Album Artwork . I had wondered why it used to take 20 seconds or so to write album cover data into every track of an album, but that it suddenly seems to happen really fast. Apparently the speedup is because iTunes doesn’t have to alter every file – it just stores the art files as external .itc files (i tunes cover?) and associates the images in the library. This is nice for speed and nice for not swelling library sizes, but sucks for portability between machines/platforms. Why isn’t this a preference? Or an optional mechanism to “permanently store art inside music files?” I’ve posted about this in my O’Reilly Mac blog, which has sparked a thread.

Genre view: Is gone. The new widget for accessing the Coverflow view replaces the old Browse icon, which used to let you sift and sort your collection by artist, year, album, or genre. In other words, Apple has replaced a whole lot of functionality with eye candy, which is annoying. You can still do era and genre tricks with Smart Playlists or via search (which is generally very effective), but hate to see the Browse view … hang on, I’m an idiot. They’ve just moved the Browse icon from the top right to a subtle gray replacement icon at the lower right; it’s been demoted, not removed.

New scrollbars: Mixed feelings. The “solid” look is kind of refreshing in comparison to the usual Aqua gel-cap look, but what is it with Apple ignoring the HIG and experimenting with new interface looks all the time? Does this portend a global change to Aqua, or are they just monkeying around to gauge reactions? To change the look of scrollbars in one app and leave the rest of the OS with glow-y scrollbars feels weird. Maybe they’re just treating the early adopters user base as a guinea pig farm; releasing the UI change into a single app, then watching blogs and mailing lists to see how the world reacts.

Multiple libraries: Long overdue – You can now divide your library into multiple libraries and manage them separately, which is useful for people sharing a single login, or if you want to move just part of a collection to another machine, or if your library is so large it causes performance problems. I really expected to see this in iPhoto before iTunes (it’s been possible with 3rd party utils forever).

Update: Check out Dan Sandler’s dissection of the  new UI, in high-res PDF or low-res JPG.

26 thoughts on “Notes on iTunes 7

  1. Guy D2

    This is so funny, Scot…
    You use Eno albums to showcase coverflow, and so did I, yesterday, on sweetcucumber.com… :-) I also made similar comments about the ugly new scrollbars.

    Maybe we have an unintentional meme going on here ? ;-p

  2. shacker Post author

    Guy, that’s a trip :) And, I assure you, entirely coincidentaly. “We are connected, you and me.”

    I’m not ready to slag the new scrollbars just yet. Half of me likes ‘em.

    Jim, ah, I had not heard about that purchase, thanks for the link.

  3. SeanS

    The thing that really annoys me about the scrollbars is that I have enabled (through Onyx) double arrows on both ends systemwide. But guess what? Suddenly, itunes doesn’t respect that. Count me in the camp of those who think that the new look is not as nice as the old. I like consistent and I think the gel look is better on the scroll bars and the white look is better on the arrows. On an only somewhat related topic: One thing I will give props to Apple for: how in the world do they make rounded corners on their decorations look so much better than anyone else? Look at your typical gnome theme. They have rounded corners and look much worse. Is quartz so much better?

  4. Gilbert Wilson

    >But success is spotty, and you get no feedback if the search was unsuccesful. My guess is that the artwork comes from the iTMS database, but I’ve got albums I know are in iTMS but that iTunes 7 still fails to retrieve art for. Looks like this will continue to be a largely manual thing.

    You do get *some* feedback. I highlighted my entire library, ctrl-clicked, and selected get cover art. iTunes is now checking 1000+ albums for coverart and telling me it’s progress just like if it was importing music into my library (through the “LED” display top-center). I assume it will report the final results when it is done.

    It’s taking its jolly time about it, but that’s fine. No performance hit…

  5. shacker Post author

    Interesting. When you just select a single album, you don’t get any kind of progress indicator, maybe because the check is so brief. But if you do a bunch at once, you do.

    Unrelated:

    This may sound a bit conspiratorial or peculative, but it occurred to me that Apple might be eleasing these UI changes into iTunes only as a sort of ublic testing ground, then watching the blogs and mailing lists to see what the real-world reactions are. If well-received, the changes migrate to the rest of Aqua. If not, they get the boot. Just a thought.

  6. Nate

    Scot: Checking for artwork on a single album does spawn a progress bar in iTunes’ little “Indiglo” status element, but only if there is no music playing at the time (read: just the Apple logo is being displayed). Tangent: how does Apple manage to monkey around with iTunes’ interface every release, but always leave the ugliest element of the entire iTunes GUI unchanged?

    The funniest behavior I’ve seen so far re: the whole artwork fetching thing follows. If I do an artwork lookup on the album “F# A# oo” — which is in the iTunes Store, iTunes will hang forever. Must be some kind of problem with parsing infinity…

  7. shacker Post author

    Nate – Maybe I’m blind, but what ““Indiglo” status element” do you mean here? I don’t see a status element anywhere, nor do I see an Apple logo anywhere. Even if I stop the music.

    Hilarious bug report! Hope you sent it to them via the feedback page.

  8. Nate

    Sorry for the vagary: the status window is what I meant. Ala where you see the Apple logo in this: shot. I says Indiglo because the color reminds of those old wristwatches.

    By the by, after some research I’m thinking that downloading cover art in iTunes 7 does in fact add said art to ID3 tags of the individual files. The .itc files in ~/Music are only cache files for coverflow, nothing more.

  9. Nate

    Okay… After more research, iTunes downloaded cover art does not appear to be added directly to the file as per Scot’s original hypothesis. File sizes do not change at all after artwork is cleared/downloaded. The old manual click-n-drag method does still attach artwork directly to files, though.

    Adding artwork for a single album via iTunes Store does yield a progress bar indicator, even if music is playing, but the progress bar does not automatically come to the foreground a la disc burning progress, etc…

  10. shacker Post author

    Oh… you mean the main display – the thing at the top that toggles between scrubber, VU meter, and, yes, status. Sorry, I was looking at the bottom of the window, like a browser status indicator. OK, I see it. But still don’t see anything about downloading art… wait a minute. OK, it’s not just that the music has to be stopped, but you have to click the triangle to the left of it twice to see the status. Now I get it. Sorry.

    I verified last night that downloaded art is not portable by transferring a file to my wife’s Mac, where it showed up without artwork.

    So you’ll love this – I just selected all songs in George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” The cover art I got is for “The Essential George Gershwin.” Nice chance to use the “Clear Downloaded Artwork” option (which works as advertised).

  11. Dan

    Genre view: Is gone. The new widget for accessing the Coverflow view replaces the old Browse icon, which used to let you sift and sort your collection by artist, year, album, or genre.

    Actually, the Browse eyeball is hidden at the bottom-right of the window, next to Eject (where the Visualizer flower used to be). Like I said in my dissection (thanks for the link), you can be forgiven for missing it.

  12. shacker Post author

    Dan – Yes, I finally discovered it while writing the post, and the next sentence said that (the part that says “hang on, I’m an idiot.”) I left the process of discovery in the post text to convey the confusion of it. Thanks.

  13. Martin

    I manually add mp3s to my iPod, but since I upgraded I can’t get any *new* mp3s to show cover art, even though when I click on the file in iTunes, it shows the cover art, and the cover art has been added as an Id3 tag. Pain in the neck, and frustrating.

  14. Alan

    Ditto the scrollbars – I don’t like them either and guess what? I couldn’t find the browse button – I suppose that’s one of the reasons we come to sites like this – to make us feel dumb! Anyway, at least we usually get the answers we need even if in the process we get to feel that we’re just stupid and everyone else is way too clever for their own good!

    Thanks for the help guys.

  15. BigdTarheel

    Hello all. Since I downloaded the “new” version of iTunes my LP artwork will not change in iTunes as the songs change. As the songs change the first LP’s artwork remains in the viewer. What gives?

  16. shacker Post author

    Bigd – Look in the lower left – does it say “Selected” or “Now Playing?” You want it to say “Now Playing.” Click the word to toggle the mode.

  17. BigdTarheel

    Yes – I figured it out last night – thanks! My wife must have clicked it accidentally. I was clueless for a while. Thanks again!

  18. GOz

    I have some mp3 files in the library in which no cover art can be saved although in the copying-pasting through Get Info > Art process everything seems OK at first. When I click OK, the cover art is not saved and it never shows in neither cover flow nor the cover art pane on the lower left.

    I solved a little portion of the problem by finding different versions of those mp3 files, and then have been able to paste the cover art pics into them. The problem remains for some special ones whose alternative copies I cannot find.

    Any ideas?

  19. yman

    The new iTunes 8 is now screen reader friendly on both Mac and PC, or use your screen reader to purchase or download content from the iTunes Store. I got it from here: iTunes 8

  20. Mark Odell

    yman wrote:
    > The new iTunes 8 is now screen reader friendly on both Mac and PC, or use your screen reader to purchase or download content from the iTunes Store.

    But on Windows at least, you might want to not install everything it thinks you should have.

    Just as it’s your computer, not Microsoft’s….it’s not Apple’s either.

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