It’s undeniable that iTunes is a best-of-show program: it does pretty much everything you need to do with music, and makes managing your music library and your iPod a snap. Recently, Apple even added video management and playback to its feature list.
But all is not perfect in the world of iTunes; while most users are delighted with iTunes’ feature set, some believe that iTunes is lacking certain newly essential functions. Steve Jobs has already demonstrated podcasting support, which will be included in the next version of iTunes, but what else does the program need? In cooperation with our readers, we’ve looked closely at what’s missing in iTunes 4, so here are ten ideas for new features in iTunes 5.
1. Multiple libraries. As the iPod’s popularity increases, more and more homes have multiple iPods – iLounge staff aside, we actually know someone who owns 14 iPods! Unfortunately, managing music for more than one iPod is a hassle: you can create separate user accounts, but then you must copy your music files to each account, taking up disk space. You can also manually sync one or more iPod, but that’s time-consuming. Multiple libraries would allow several iPods to contain different subsets of an overall music library, but allow automatic syncing.
Users would be free to create several libraries (there would probably be a limit), and when you create a second library, the Library item in the source list would change to a plural, and would have a disclosure triangle allowing you to expand the Libraries item and select specific libraries. You would then be able to link one library to each iPod, or even use multiple libraries for one iPod, changing when you want to listen to different music. This would be especially useful for the iPod mini, with its limited capacity.
2. Universal album art downloads. Some competing digital music management software, such as Musicmatch Jukebox 10, automatically downloads album art when you import music from your CDs. With iTunes, you have to fetch it yourself, except when you buy music from the iTunes Music Store. Apple should be able to easily provide album art, either through a link to graphics on the iTunes Music Store, or by creating or licensing a library of album art, so that when you rip a CD, the art is added automatically.
While there are third-party programs that do this, both for Windows and for Mac, it would be nice to have this as a built-in feature.
3. Separate groupings for videos and PDFs in the Source list. Now that iTunes can handle PDF files – including but not limited to those included with purchases from the iTunes Music Store – and videos, these files tend to either get lost in your library, or get filed with the album you bought them with. While there are special icons to indicate their file types, these icons can be hard to see when you are scrolling through a big library.
You can tag PDFs or videos to belong to a certain album, and you can create smart playlists to organize them, but it would make more sense to create specific groupings in the Source list.
4. Better organization for tracks by multiple artists. In the current version of iTunes, you have listings for each artist, as well as for each combination of artists. For example, if you import Johnny Cash’s Unearthed box set, you’ll find lots of tracks by Johnny Cash, but you’ll also find six other combinations: “Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins” and “Joe Strummer & Fiona Apple,” etc. Each of these combinations is listed as a separate artist, rather than all of them being listed as Johnny Cash, and each collaboration is listed under the other artist’s name as well.
Admittedly, this type of organization could take some getting used to, but it would make more sense; if you want to find all your Johnny Cash songs, you don’t want to scroll through a list of multiple artists. This would create duplicate entries in the iTunes library, but since iTunes is just a database, this is not hard to implement.
5. Bug fixes: guarantee the stability of the iPod-to-iTunes connection under all circumstances. Though some of these issues are “driver-related” or “iPod-related” as opposed to “iTunes-related,” we have heard about from our readers (and ourselves experienced) many connectivity glitches with both the PC and Mac versions of iTunes 4. Users sometimes find that iTunes will not recognize their iPods even when their computers can, and there are occasional problems – mostly with the iPod shuffle – in random disconnection of the iPod during synchronization. Next to hardware defects, these types of problems are the most frustrating ones iPod owners are dealing with today – and the ones that most remind them of their bad experiences with other companies’ products. Apple should make guaranteeing a stable connection between iTunes and the iPod a top priority in iTunes 5, and work to both improve and simplify their integration.
6. Allow iTunes “works.” Classical music fans know that playlists of their favorite music in shuffle mode sound like a drunken DJs took control of their music. Classical music, with its multi-movement works, does not lend itself to this type of playback. As iTunes works today, each movement of a work is a separate track, and is not in any way linked to other tracks. You can join tracks when ripping CDs, but that eliminates the information that you have for each movement.
The iTunes Music Store already uses the concept of “works:” a work being an entire symphony, sonata, or string quartet. As you can see here, each work is linked, and a disclosure triangle lets you collapse or expand the individual movements:
If the iTunes Music Store can do this, then iTunes and the iPod should as well. (Note that while you see music like this on the iTunes Music Store, purchasing the music downloads the tracks without these “links”.) This would help classical music listeners join the fold of iTunes and iPod users, since it would lead to organizing entire multi-movement works as single units, creating playlists with them, and playing them back without worrying about the different movements getting separated. If this were possible, you could create a smart playlist that plays all the string quartets in your library, and you wouldn’t have to worry about their movements getting out of order (you certainly don’t want one movement of Schubert followed by an Ives scherzo). You could even use the Shuffle Songs feature on your iPod to listen to classical music.
7. Nested playlists. This is a simple one: just give iTunes the ability to add folders to its Source list, where you name each folder (say by genre or artist), and move playlists into that folder. We’ve got multiple playlists for some artists, so it would be practical – and save space – if they could be grouped in such a way.
8. Improved smart playlists. Smart playlists are great; but they are limited. They only offer All or Any as selections. For example, you can create a playlist of music you’ve rated with 5 stars that is in the Jazz genre, but you can’t create one that gets 5-star music in the Jazz or Blues genre. There’s a workaround: create a first playlist that gets all your music from the Jazz or Blues genres, then create a smart playlist that looks for 5-star songs in that playlist. But that’s a hack, and an inelegant one. iTunes needs to provide more power to smart playlists: as users have more and more music in their libraries, they want finer control over it.
9. Provide an alternate browsing interface. The column interface of iTunes’ Browse mode is nice, but why not go further and provide an icon-based interface (using folders, or even album art to indicate specific albums) and a list-based interface as well? Or why not offer additional columns other than simply Genre, Artist and Album? Classical music might like to be able to use a Composer column in Browse mode, and DJs might like to browse by BPM.
10. An alert when burning CDs telling you what type of CD you are burning. iTunes lets you burn three types of CD: audio, MP3 and data. Unfortunately, there is no alert when you click the Burn CD button; a simple dialog telling you which type of CD you’re burning, with an option to change it, would be easy to implement and save on coasters.
Do you have other suggestions or requests for iTunes 5? Share them with us in the comments thread below. We’re looking forward to seeing your ideas.