Categories
Apple Interaction Interface macOS

Minimal Cover in Sight

When in the Artist view in iTunes, rather than album covers scrolling along with the tracks, they should bump up against the header and stay in view until all of the album’s tracks scroll out of view, much like Music on the iPad or the header bars in the iOS Contacts app.

Current iTunes Artist view cover scrolling

Suggested iTunes Artist view cover scrolling

Categories
Interface Meta-data Music Pro Bono Portfolio

Credit Where Credit is Due

In the move to digital 1, and particularly with streaming, the musicians who play on recordings are rarely given credit outside of AllMusic or Wikipedia. A PDF of the liner notes might mention personnel, but I don’t know of any download or streaming service that embeds such information in tracks. For MP3, there is a standard in place for such metadata — ID3 has the TMCL and TIPL for tagging files with personnel credits. There are Apple namespaced equivalents for MP4 (AAC) files. I’ve long used the Comments field for this purpose, but it suffers from limited character length and lack of structure. The only software I’ve found that supports TMCL and TIPL with an interface designed for their input is a Windows application called ID3TagIt. Not wanting to fire up a virtual machine to use an app which has not been updated since 2006, it would be great to see support in Metadatics2. Currently, it handles musician credits only as raw text:

Metadatics-Musician_Credits

I’d like to see a UI for inputting credits:

Metadatics People tab

The menu button at the right of the name field would give you access to commands to remove the person, the instrument or role, or add another person with the same instrument or role.

Providing a field for the Lyricist would also be nice:

Metadatics Lyrics tab

Of course, this is pointless if playback software doesn’t provide some way to use this metadata. I want to be able to start a stream of songs with lyrics by Stevie Wonder, or create a Smart Playlist with all recordings of Pino Palladino on bass. Unfortunately, Apple seems to have lost interest in expanding iTunes’ metadata support and Spotify and Rdio have only the most basic track metadata.

For more social- and personal experience-oriented ideas for music metadata 3, read Khoi Vinh’s What Streaming Music Can Be.

Footnotes

  1. Note that I am not a retro-tech nostalgist. Not every LP sounds amazing, they wear out, and they are not the least bit portable.
  2. Licensed! It’s only $10.00.
  3. Some of which are similar to Last.fm.
Categories
Interaction Interface macOS Pro Bono Portfolio

Redemption from Error

I finally redeemed two iTunes gift cards last night, finding the process generally straightforward. That said, many Macs now have iSight cameras built-in. As proven by Delicious Library, an iSight can also function as a barcode scanner, moving the bulk of the input burden from the user to the computer.

Scanning an iTunes gift card

A second barcode (which creates a bit of confusion) would not have to be added if the scratch-off alphanumeric code could be recognized as such using OCR. With foreknowledge of the typeface and the processing power of modern Macs, this seems technically feasible.

In case the camera is in use by another application, the Scan via iSight button is disabled and the application name is displayed.

Camera in use by another application

There would have to be some conditional rules to hide the mention of optical scanning and the attendant button on Macs without a compatible camera.

Categories
Interaction Interface

Summing It Up

When selecting multiple items to be sent via e-mail or IM or copied to another volume, it is helpful to know the total size of the items; many e-mail servers restrict attachment sizes and CDs and DVDs only hold so much.

The Finder provides this running total through the Inspector (Command-Option-I), which is both fairly hidden and changes based on the active view. The only method I know of for getting similar information in iTunes is to use the File menu’s “New Playlist from Selection” command (Command-Shift-N), then looking at the status bar. Status bars that display the sum of the selected items’ filesize (and length for linear media) can provide this information more conveniently.

Finder

  1. Single file selected
  2. Single file selected in Finder

  3. Two files selected
  4. Two files selected in Finder

  5. Three files selected
  6. Three files selected in Finder

iTunes

  1. Single song selected
  2. One song selected in iTunes

  3. Two songs selected
  4. Two songs selected in iTunes

  5. Three songs selected
  6. Three songs selected in iTunes

Categories
Accessibility Interaction Interface

More Keyboard Support in iTunes

Somewhere between 7.0 and the current 7.1.1 release, left and right arrow key navigation of the iTunes browser columns (Genre, Artist, Album) was added. Much better.

Categories
Interface Meta-data Music

Chronillogical

I like listening to artists’ recordings in chronological order to follow the evolution of their sound. The ID3 (v2) specification supports the input of precise recording dates (and times, but even I’m not that particular), data which I’ve added to some MP3s using the only application I know of that supports extensive ID3 tags with a somewhat understandable interface, ID3-TagIt for Windows. Unfortunately, iTunes does not take the day and month into consideration when sorting albums by Year.

How iTunes sorts Grant Green’s albums by year and when they were actually recorded:

Albums sorted by Year in iTunes

An artist’s sound can change significantly over a handful of months, a process I’d like to be able to follow. I know this is not of interest to a majority of music listeners, whose favorite artists usually release an album every year or two.

Categories
Interaction Interface macOS Meta-data Movies Music

Time for iTums

With version 6 (more like 5.1), iTunes has reached the bloating point. The video integration is clumsy and playback performance is awful compared to QuickTime Player on the exact same hardware. Good thing you can pretty much make it disappear and use it as what it is: an audio player.

Video is not Audio

  1. Why didn't Apple create a more specialized info window for video? They added a "Video Kind" selection menu in the Options section, but the window is not otherwise redesigned for video.
    1. Episode and season numbers are not track numbers, a cast is not an artist, and a show is not an album.
    2. Why isn't video information like resolution, codec, and frames per second displayed in the Summary section of the info window?
    3. Some would probably find it useful to store transcripts of videos in the Lyrics section so that they could use text searching (which still doesn't search lyrics) to find quotes and build Smart Playlists, but it is disabled.
  2. You can sort the thumbnail view any way you like as long as it is by name. Update: the video sorting order set in the list view is respected in thumbnail view, so you can sort them by other properties. So you can sort them by rating, but you can't see the ratings in thumbnail view. Still a poor implementation.
  3. You can assign ratings, but you can only see them in the list view.
  4. The Title annotation set in QuickTime Player is not used as the Name in iTunes, which defaults to the movie file's name.
  5. Movies cannot be added by dropping them on either the Videos source list entry or the actual display area.
  6. The nomenclature is wrong: the artwork pane reads "Selected Song" and the contextual menu "Show Song File" when a video is selected.

The video features feel tacked on; an afterthought. This comes as no surprise given that the application was designed for audio! It makes some sense to manage music videos in iTunes because they can be pretty cleanly placed within the existing organizational structure, but I don't believe it works well with other video content. Television shows are organized by show/season/episode, movies by genre/title or director. What I want is a combination of the three following applications:

No single application has the right combination of good visual design (MovieGallery & iVideo) and plentiful metadata (iFlicks), an understandable situation given that MovieGallery and iFlicks have only a single developer and Waterfall Software is a young and small company (whose next product I am looking forward to).

General iTunes Problems

Some of these have been around for a while, some arrived with version 5.

  1. The Search Bar filters available cannot be modified. Comment and Lyrics (which ought to be indexed) would be particularly useful additions. Contextual menu commands or column header drag-and-drop would be two ways to add search filters. Removal could be handled similarly to standard toolbar buttons; Command-drag to remove or via the contextual menu.
  2. Users should be able to drag browser groups (Genres, Artists, and Albums) to folders.
  3. Users should be able to use Lyrics as Smart Playlist rules.
  4. Users should be able to drag-and-drop playlists to export them in the default XML format.
  5. The Smart Playlist editor window has little keyboard accessibility support; with full keyboard access on, I can only tab between the available text input boxes — no pop-up menus or checkboxes.
  6. The Search field should provide a contextual menu so an iTunes query can easily be sent to Spotlight as a system-wide query. This is useful in Mail, so it might as well be available consistently. Before I forget, the Finder should also do this rather than displaying toolbar customization commands.
  7. The tabbing order is different from Mail. Starting in the search field:
    Mail:
    1. Search field
    2. Source list
    3. Main content pane (message list)
    iTunes:
    1. Search field
    2. Main content pane (track list or left-most browser column)
    3. Source list
  8. For those who do not like to take their hands off the keyboard, it would be nice if the search field supported a syntax similar to that of the system-wide Spotlight tool:
    • composer:Ravel
    • artist:Dolphy
    • youget:thepicture
    Showing the Search Bar when a field-filtered query is input wouldn't make much sense, although I suppose the query could be automatically transformed if the user clicked on a filter.
  9. I mocked up an iPhoto-inspired bezel controller for iTunes over a year ago. Since that time, QuickTime 7 has been released with such a controller, but the iTunes team seems not to have gotten the memo. Having to leave and then re-enter the fullscreen visualization mode to browse the active playlist is disruptive.
  10. The contextual menu command should read "Copy Song (or Video) Info" - the simple "Copy" is ambiguous. Some people would logically assume that the command copies the audio or video content.
  11. The Artwork image well in the multi-item info window should also present a Paste command in a contextual menu.
Categories
Interaction Interface macOS

Resize This!

With all three columns displayed in the iTunes browser, the Genre column is much wider than it needs to be and lengthy Artist and Album titles are often truncated. Resize handles to the rescue…

Resizable iTunes browser columns thumbnail

I included column resize handles in my visual browsing mockup, but this more clearly illustrates the benefits.

Categories
Interaction Interface macOS

Drag-and-Drop Links to iTunes

Rather than downloading audio files in your browser, locating them in the Finder, and then dragging them to iTunes, why not drag-and-drop the links to them on the iTunes Dock icon?

Dropping a link on iTunes

The download process would be handled by iTunes.

iTunes downloading an audio file

If the audio file’s Name tag could not be read while downloading, the link title text would be displayed until the download completed. The title text would remain if the Name tag were empty. The actual audio files would be saved in the user’s iTunes music library location.

If you decided to add the site to your audio feed collection, you could drag-and-drop the syndication link to iTunes rather than having to use the “Advanced [menu] -> Subscribe to Podcast…” dialog.

Being able to drag-and-drop movie links to QuickTime Player would also be nice. Movie files could be downloaded to either ~/Movies or the browser’s default download location.

Naija Jams has good samples of Afrobeat and Highlife music from Nigeria. The Sade song shown in the mockup is no longer available (they probably realized it was a copyright violation!), but it can be had by purchasing “Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti” at Amazon.

Categories
Interaction Interface macOS

Further iTunes CDDB Idiocy

Here is the dialog iTunes presents after CD information is successfully transmitted to the CDDB:

iTunes CDDB confirmation dialog

This dialog might as well be worded like this:

Idiotic wording for an idiotic dialog

If iTunes cannot immediately send the CD information due to lack of a network connection or because the CDDB server is busy, it should quietly wait until a network connection becomes available or attempt to send every few minutes until it can connect to the CDDB server. The user should be able to assume that the application will perform the task the user ordered it to — no confirmation is necessary.

I’d much rather the iTunes development resources be invested in eliminating existing interaction problems like pointless and/or poorly worded dialogs than creating new visual styles.