iTunes: another tale of woe in UX

Published by marco on

I know that pointing out errors in iTunes is a bit passé but Apple keeps releasing new versions of this thing without addressing the fundamental problems that it has as a synchronization client.

The software has to synchronize with hardware from only one manufacturer—the same one that makes iTunes. I’ll leave off complaints about the horrific, very old and utterly non-scaling UI and just regale you with a tale of a recent interaction in which I restored my phone from a backup. In that sense, it’s a “user experience”.

In this tale, we will see that two of the main features of the synchronization part of the iTunes software—backup and sync—seem to be utterly misinterpreted.

Spoiler alert: it all works out in the end, but it’s mind-boggling that this is the state of Apple’s main software after almost 15 years.[1]

10 million new iPhones were sold over the weekend. Their owners will all have the pleasure of working with this software.

Restore from backup

Me: *attaches phone*
iTunes: Restore from backup?
Me: Sure!
iTunes: *shows almost full iPhone* There you go!
Me: Thanks! That was fast!
Me: Wait…my phone is empty (no apps, no music, no contacts)
iTunes: *blushes* Yeah, about that…
Me: *reconnects phone*
iTunes: *shows nearly empty iPhone* What’s the problem?
Me: Seriously, RESTORE FROM BACKUP (select EXACT SAME backup as before)
iTunes: On it! Sir, yes sir!
Me: OK. Apps are back; contacts are back. No music, iTunes? What part of the word “backup” is causing difficulties here?
iTunes: *blushes* (again) Ummm, dunno what happened there
Me: Fine. It was randomly selected anyway.
Me: Select random music from this playlist
iTunes: Here ya go!
Me: Sync
iTunes: Nothing to do
Me: Sync
iTunes: Seriously, dude, there’s nothing to do
iTunes: Done
Me: No music on phone. Do you understand the word “sync” differently as well? You know, like how you have trouble with the word “backup”?
Me: *notices that size of playlist exceeds capacity of iPhone*
Me: that’s 17GB of music. For a 16GB iPhone.
iTunes: Yep! Awesome, right?
Me: Is that why you won’t sync?
iTunes: Error messages are gauche. I don’t use them. Everything is intuitive.
Me: Fine. Reserve space when selecting music: 1GB (don’t need more extra space than that)
iTunes: NP! Here’s 15GB of music.
Me: Wait, what? You’re supposed to leave 1GB empty *of the available space* not the *total size of the device*
iTunes: Math is hard. … You do it.
Me: Fine. Reserve 4.2GB?
iTunes: Done.
Me: Now I have a 28GB playlist.
iTunes: *pats self on back*
Me: Reserve 3.2GB … and “delete all existing” and “replace”? Now does it work?
iTunes: 9GB for you
Me: *tweaks settings 2 or 3 more times*
iTunes: 10.5GB
Me: Perfect. That was totally easy.
Me: Sync
iTunes: On it! *hums to self*
Me: Why are you only syncing 850 songs when the playlist has 1700 of them?
iTunes: *continues humming*
Me: Fine. *wanders away*
iTunes: Done
Me: Sync
iTunes: *syncing 250 more songs*
Me: What the hell?
iTunes: Done.
Me: Sync
iTunes: *syncs remaining songs*
Me: This is ridiculous
iTunes: Done

[1] It has been pointed out to me that I am using this software in a somewhat archaic way: to wit, I am not allowing iTunes to synchronize all of my data to the cloud first. Had I done that, it is claimed, I would have had fewer problems. I am, however, skeptical. I think that a company that can’t even get local sync working properly after 15 years has no business getting any of my data.