It’s been a while since I happily flamed and subsequently ditched iTunes in favor of Floola for adding stuff to my otherwise beloved iPod Shuffle 2G. Alas, Floola—while able to add stuff to the iPod—is neither able to update it nor not crash intermittently. So I decided to try iTunes one last time. I shouldn’t have, because I was reminded how much iTunes on Windows absolutely fucking sucks.
The task seemed fairly simple at the time: add music to the Shuffle. One could argue (and I have, on numerous occasions) that adding files should be as simple as opening the iPod as a drive and dragging files to it. It’s not, so I installed iTunes, or rather, because iTunes is not available separately, I installed QuickTime as well. The suck-o-meter chirped there, but I dismissed that as being simply an inconvenience.
Installing iTunes + Quicktime, I was given the option to automatically update iTunes and Quicktime. This was checked by default, so I unchecked; I don’t need the bleeding edge versions for copying files, and I certainly don’t need another system service running all the 99% of the time when I don’t have iTunes open. Result: fiercely unchecked along with an option to take me to the iTunes Music Store every time iTunes opens.
The installer completes and asks me to reboot. Suck-o-meter is now at 1. Two if I couldn’t probably blame some of the reboot-need on Windows.
With the computer rebooted, I plug in the iPod and start iTunes. Upon program launch, iTunes kindly tells me it’s noticed my iPod is plugged in. It even sees that there are files on it that weren’t added to the Shuffle via iTunes (correct, because they were added using Floola). Unfortunately, iTunes doesn’t support adding music to the iPod from multiple computers. The (only) solution: Erase & Sync. With an insatiable urge to spew torrents of swear-words, this brings the suck-o-meter to 5. Seriously? Who the hell is iTunes to tell me what to put on my iPod, or from where?
Alright, so I erase everything that’s on my iPod in order to be able to update the firmware and add new music. Because unless I do that, the iPod doesn’t even show up in iTunes. Erase completed: okay, it shows up now. That, and a banner in the bottom called “iTunes Mini Store”. I thought I disabled that during the installer? Not so. I have to close that again. So I enter the preferences to see if I can’t disable it there, after all, I just want to update and add to my iPod. The preferences tell me dark secrets; despite my having unchecked (fiercely) the option to automatically update my software, a big checkmark remains in a box that says “Check for updates automatically”. That’s like an eighties TV-show clichÃ© of having too many dates for the one evening; it’s bound to go wrong, hilariously so. Except when iTunes is doing it, it’s not hilarious. It’s 2 points on the suck-o-meter. We’re now at 7.
The suck-o-meter stops at 10. We still have a ways to go before everything implodes. The status is an erased and synced iPod, ready to be updated and recieve a few files. The update goes smoothly. As for the files, in this case, they are rather large audiobooks, so i simply open the folder containing the three files instead of have iTunes index my entire system to add them to my music library. Dragging them from the folder to the iPod icon in the iTunes sidebar seems logical right? Not possible. Oh right, my friend whom I had an almost heated iTunes discussion with, yesterday, told me that iTunes is all about playlists. Fine, I drag the file to the playlist area: success (albeit an unintuitive one)! Dragging that playlist to the iPod in the sidebar works. The iPod is syncing. While syncing I decide to rename the playlist “Audio Books”. Not knowing or trusting whether renaming in iTunes works like it does in Windows (select and wait or select and press F2), I right-click the playlist. No rename option. Can’t I rename? Even if the Windows standard way of renaming works, a context-menu option should be there as well to provide discoverability. Not so, but F2 works. The undiscoverable-in-the-name-of-optimizing-and-simplifying interface design still earns iTunes a total of 8 points on the suck-o-meter.
The iPod is updated and full of audiobooks now. The experience getting there has been an ugly, way-above-average 8 on the suck-o-meter. Comparing iTunes to most other media players excluding Real Player (that would just be unfair, or would it?), getting there was Adobe Photoshop CS3 Etch-a-Sketch slow, confusing and excrutiating. That’s another point on the suck-o-meter.
Now that everything is updated and added, I don’t expect to add files in a while; it takes time to listen through three audiobooks, after all, so simply closing iTunes should settle my woes and remind me that while the iTunes experience can be excrutiating, it is only brief.
I would like to tell you that story of the happy little elf who could simply close iTunes and be done with it. I really would. But this is not a happy story.
What does “closing an application” mean to you? To me it means that the entirety of that application is unloaded. Apparently Apple chose a more beatnik approach to this question, adding services that continue running long after the red X has been pressed. In fact, iTunes secretly installed three permanently memory resident programs: iPodHelper, AppleMobileDeviceService and iTunesHelper. For the computer un-initiated those might be all you’d discover running. But there’s more. Installed in the hidden service layer of Windows, we find Apples Bonjour network service. If we look for it, we even find installed a separate Apple Software Update application (despite us twice having told iTunes we don’t want to update anything, ever). Poor suck-o-meter that only goes to 10. This one goes to 11.
Let’s summarize. Wanting to update my iPod and add three audio book files, required me to reboot, uncheck update services I thought I had already unchecked and erase all my non-iTunes-added-music, all the while having to suffer through arrogantly unintuitive slow interfaces and Music Store ads until finally having to deal with unwanted memory resident applications. Be honest now: is that even remotely defensible coming from a company that’s supposed to be “big” on intuitive interfaces and easy to use hardware and software? I mean, think about it, and really get it in there. If you were not allowed to use the arguments “Get a mac”, or “App X also sucks”, could you even begin to explain why iTunes on Windows must reek like this? Because that’s what it does, reek!
I want you to imagine, for a second, a world wherein Apple did not require you to use iTunes with your iPod. I know it’s unrealistic, but for the sake of it, explore the what if. Do you see more iPods sold? I do. I see more iPods sold, and I see myself having an iPhone. And then I wake up and smell the coffee.
Update: Welcome Reddit’ers. Let’s hope the server can handle the traffic and please feel free to vent in the comments.