December 2009: My iTunes Rant
Now that my Windows 7
wounds have mostly healed and my computer is now running reasonably well
with Microsoft's latest demon seed, I need to use one more article to
rant about something I find more infuriating than any Microsoft product
ever conceived: Apple iTunes! I'm a big fan of Apple's iPhone and
we have three of them in our family, mostly passed down to other family
members from me as I upgraded from the first gen iPhone to the iPhone 3G
and now the 3GS. That leaves me with the 3GS, my wife with the 3G,
and my daughter with the first gen used mostly as a glorified iPod Touch
with a camera and mic rather than a phone. The iPhone is truly a
technological marvel and I wouldn't, make that couldn't be
without it. The software that supports it, however, is just awful
and wreaks of Apple's overprotective hold on its (and others) products.
So please allow me to indulge in one last rant from the "tech guy" in an
Using the iPhone itself,
outside of iTunes, couldn't be easier. Our family shares many of
the same apps by using the same iTunes account for all three phones.
Once you set up the same iTunes account for all three phones, you just
pay for an app once and it can be downloaded to the other iPhones on
that account for free. For example, if you pay for a game that
costs $6.99 and download that on any of the three iPhones, the other two
can download that game for free: just "buy" the app again on the other
phones and you'll get the message that you've already purchased it and
the other copies will be free. What a nice way for a family to
share apps like games, tools, utilities, etc. and it's perfectly legal!
Your iTunes account generally allows up to five devices including your
computer(s) that run iTunes to be "authorized" for any given app.
This app sharing can also be done across different iTunes accounts too.
By authorizing your computer for the apps you can download the app to
the computer and transfer them across accounts... but I'm an app junkie
and for people like me, it's not very practical to have to hook two
other iPhones up to iTunes and do a lengthy sync just to transfer apps
so the multiple-phones-sharing-one-account solution is a great solution.
Everything seems perfectly logical so far. You
have multiple devices that share an iTunes account and that you
authorize to access the apps that you download. As soon as you
open iTunes, however, and you start dealing with Apple's horrendous
"sync" features, everything goes downhill from there. Let's say
you just want to sync music from your playlist onto your iPhone: one of
three iPhones on the same iTunes account. Of course you're not
going to just blindly sync a phone because there are three on that
account. So you do the logical thing and you uncheck everything
such as "sync apps", "sync contacts", and only check the box to sync
music. Under sync music, you're allowed to sync only certain
playlists (basically folders), so you choose your playlist (the one that
belongs on that particular phone) and click apply. Now you are
told that since you haven't checked "sync apps", all the apps on your
iPhone are about to be deleted. Would you like to continue?
Well, of course not! So you cancel out of that, wondering why
unchecking sync apps doesn't work the way all the other "sync" boxes
work. To get around this idiotic "feature", you basically have to
click "File", "Transfer purchases from iPhone" first each time you want
to sync. That syncs your computer's list of purchased apps with
the phone. Now you have to check the sync box for apps, and
you can then sync your music. Of course, if you have a few dozen
apps like I do, that "transfer purchased apps" operation can take over
an hour in itself before you are even allowed to do the thing you opened
iTunes for in the first place: just transfer any new music to your
So this is an area where you have to pick your poison.
Do you want to simplify sharing apps between multiple phones and deal
with other sync activities being more difficult due to the account
sharing, or do you want to have to connect the other iPhones on your
account to your computer and do a lengthy sync each time you want to
share an app. It seems either way, you have to either walk through
the briar patch or a path strewn with broken glass. Take your
pick. I have to say this is an area where I really like the
Microsoft mentality. If the iPhone was an MS product, you could
just plug it into your computer, Explorer would appear, and then you
drag your music folder right to the music folder on the phone. <go ahead
Mac fans, insert your "yeah, but if it was an MS product it would...">
So firmware 3.1.2 comes out
and you want to update all the iPhones on your account. First you
have to click "File", "Transfer purchases from iPhone" and wait the 1-2
hours on each phone before even trying the update because your phones
are sharing the iTunes account. OK. I can deal with that: my
choice (as above) and I know I have to do that although I still blame
iTunes for it because of the infuriating way that iTunes syncs and not
being able to turn off the sync process. For people using multiple
iPhones on the same iTunes account, that's just a fact of life and we
deal with it. The process for firmware updates is to transfer
purchases from the phone first and then do the update.
So the transfer of purchases from the phone takes maybe
2 hours. Then you're ready for the update. You select
"Update" and iTunes starts a backup. Let's ignore for now that you've
found the obscure setting in iTunes' preferences to tell it not to do
automatic backups: it'll back it up anyway even if you just did it 5
minutes ago. That's OK. I like a backup before an update, so
we let it go. Firmware updates on the iPhone are a fun process,
especially if you have three of them to update. So the update
starts, the file takes just a few minutes to download over broadband,
but "pushing" the update to the phone can take up to another 30 minutes
to an hour. Seems like that should take just a few minutes max
over a USB 2.0 connection, as should the backup but oh well: this is an
Apple product so it's not about performance! If everything goes as
it should, the phone should be updated even though it's taken us several
hours to accomplish this seemingly menial task.
If anything does goes wrong during the update,
however, put on your hat because you'll pull your hair out before you're
done restoring to "factory settings" and then restoring your own backup!
That's what put me over the edge with
iTunes and what prompted this article! I had successfully updated
two of the three phones (the first gen and the 3GS) to 3.1.2 but when
updating the 3G, I got a very informative and helpful message something
like "Unable to update the software on your phone. Your phone is
now unusable and if you ever want to use it for anything other than a
paperweight, you'd better restore the factory settings now (the only
available option)". OK... not a direct quote but very close!
:-) I look down at the phone and sure enough I see "Slide for
emergency" meaning the phone is a brick.
So I choose the only option and restore those "factory
defaults". An hour later, it's done. I knew it didn't
restore the backup it just made prior to the firmware update because it
didn't take long enough: it only took maybe 30 minutes instead of the
couple hours it took to do the backup. What was that backup for
anyway if it can't use it to "back up" to the prior state? Maybe I
could have canceled out of the factory backup and then manually restored
the prior backup but it didn't give that choice so I took the safe path
and chose the only option available. Anyway, the phone is back on,
is usable but all of the (maybe 100) apps are gone. The phone only
has contacts, notes, and settings: no music and no apps. OK, I
figure I'll use the function to restore a backup and instead of
restoring to factory settings, I'll pick the backup that iTunes just
created before it tried the update. I pick it, wait the 2 hours
for it to restore the backup and WOOHOO: there are all the apps!
Since this was my wife's iPhone, I click on her Christmas List app, and
nada: all the data is wiped out! Visions of divorce papers flutter
through my brain as I imagine myself telling my wife that in trying to
update her phone's firmware, I lost ALL of her Christmas List data that
she had spent days entering. Again, what exactly did iTunes
back up prior to the update? Why do I have all the apps but no
Well, after an hour or so of Googling I found something
that hinted to the idea that your app data is stored in a backup but
that you have to check the "sync" box in iTunes in order for the data to
be restored. The sync box wasn't checked so I check it and click
"Apply" and wait again: I've already restored the backup so the data
should be there and I should be able to just "sync" it. After the
sync is done: nothing. No app data. So then I get a crazy
idea. What if Apple software "engineers" were actually on some
sort of "bad trip" when they wrote iTunes and designed it such that it
can't actually sync app data from a backup unless you check "sync" for
apps first, and then do the restore from backup again?
I try that and wait another 2 hours. BINGO! The apps and
data are restored and my marriage is saved! But I need to do one
last step because none of the music is on the phone: the "ipod" section
of the phone is empty because I hadn't checked "sync" for music!
Wake up Apple! A backup of the phone should be a backup!
When you restore it, the phone should be restored to that state
(including firmware), period!
Final rant on syncing
Having restored a backup
that isn't really a backup, the only thing left now is I have to sync
music. No problemo. Everything else is synced so this should
just take a few minutes. I check "sync" for music and select my
wife's music folder so it knows to sync with that. I click "Apply"
about the same time as I get up out of my computer chair to get a
caffeinated drink (it's about 1am by now) but out of the corner of my
eye I see an error message. I sit back down and read. "This
iPhone is currently synced to iTunes on a different computer.
Would you like to erase all the data on this phone and
sync to this computer?" Well I'm guessing I got that because I
just upgraded to Windows 7 and now iTunes thinks I have a different
computer and their copyright minions won't allow me to update even
though I'm using my own iTunes account with a password: it's "computer
specific". At this point, I just gave up on iTunes, downloaded
Media Monkey, and transferred
the music the easy way.
I guess many will find this
article amusing, maybe even helpful if you've experienced something
similar and you just searched for "iphone brick after update" or
something, but more than anything it is a plea to Apple. They have
an unbelievable, almost magical product in the iPhone, yet they've
crippled it with the worst software that has ever existed in iTunes!
I'm hoping that they can make the backup, firmware update, and restore
functions much simpler and maybe they will give us a way to drag our
MP3 files directly to the phone! I don't buy music from iTunes.
Never will! Their format is too restrictive and I can't even
easily make an MP3 disc for my car without jumping through hoops.
But I do have a library of thousands of MP3's. Where did I get
them? I buy the CD from the store at about the same price as
iTunes, rip it in about 2 minutes using Windows Media Player, and it
rips them right to my media library on my computer. Even better,
all that music is available anywhere in the house from the other
computers and even on my Xbox 360 on my main entertainment system.
Start Windows Media Center on the Xbox 360, pick an artist, genre,
whatever, and off she goes. THAT'S how easy it can
be, Apple, if you do it right!
Jailbreaking you say?
Sure, I'm a techie and I could jailbreak my iPhone and get rid of some
of these annoyances but I don't want to trade them for other annoyances
or operational problems that can happen when jailbreaking. Plus,
it's difficult enough to do a firmware update, much less have to go
through that plus re-jailbreaking with each firmware! I hope
you've enjoyed my rant. And if not, at least have some pity and
take solace in the fact that I feel better having released a bit
of steam! Plus iTunes has fully renewed my faith in Microsoft!
Yes, Windows 7 was a pain and I still don't like some aspects, but
at least I worked at it and now I have it running the way I want.
That's the great thing about PC's and Windows: you can make them do just
about anything you can imagine... the way you want them done.
With Apple's "big brother" mentality and control freak software, I could
mess with iTunes all I want and would still have to deal with the same
problems forever, every time I want to do something useful on the iPhone.
Well, anything other than downloading apps directly to the phone: that's
one thing Apple seems to have gotten right.