Mike Chaney's Tech Corner

Technical Discussions => Articles => Topic started by: admin on November 30, 2009, 05:57:15 PM

Title: December 2009: My iTunes Rant
Post by: admin on November 30, 2009, 05:57:15 PM

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 all-iPhone family.


Multiple iPhones

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 phone.

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..."> here.  :-)


Firmware updates

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 data?

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.


Mike Chaney

Title: Re: December 2009: My iTunes Rant
Post by: admin on December 02, 2009, 04:11:05 PM

I just tried Zune for the first time and I have to say I'm really impressed with what I see!  This has nothing to do with the iPhone but Zune appears to be everything iTunes should be but isn't when it comes to a media store!  When you download a music album from iTunes, you get Apple's proprietary M4P format that can't be played on anything but Apple devices (and iTunes), making it difficult to just pay for and download the music and use it on your home media devices and difficult to burn an MP3 disc for your car that can hold 100+ songs.  Consequently I've never used iTunes to purchase media, nor will I ever consider doing so!  Zune isn't just a little pocket MP3 player any more: it's an online media store like iTunes.  Click on a music album there, pay for it (they're about the same price as iTunes albums: around $11), and the music downloads to your media folder which can be specified anywhere on your system including external drives.  What's more, look in that folder and you'll see that every title in that album downloaded as a real MP3 file ready to just drag to an MP3 CD and burn!  No more proprietary Apple garbage!  Even better, once I download that album I can walk out to my home entertainment system, turn on my Xbox 360, click "Media Center" and play the album on my home entertainment system!

Zune also offers 1080p movie streaming and they seem to have all the latest movies unlike services like Netflix which basically only have old movies plus one or two newer ones thrown in.  The HD movies are about $6 per movie to rent for 24 hours which is similar to other on demand services.  That strikes me as a bit high but maybe it'll come down with demand.  So if you're looking for a media store where you can actually buy and use the media you pay for, try Zune!  Even in it's early stages, it beats iTunes by a mile!


Title: Re: December 2009: My iTunes Rant
Post by: BrianPrice on December 08, 2009, 11:41:01 AM
I take it this is why you won't be writing a Qimage app for the IPhone?  ;D


Title: Re: December 2009: My iTunes Rant
Post by: admin on December 08, 2009, 01:54:24 PM
I take it this is why you won't be writing a Qimage app for the IPhone?  ;D


Maybe I'll write one for the Xbox 360 instead.  You could print optimal quality screen grabs from your Halo 3 games.  ;)


Title: Re: December 2009: My iTunes Rant
Post by: ozian6 on March 04, 2010, 06:01:36 AM
Hi Mike, have the same feelings with Itunes as I am sure many have  ... I use this program to synch my ipod/iphones, its neat,strait-forward and you can synch your Iphone/Ipod back to your computer !!!   ... no scary stuff to simply synch music anymore and I much prefer the player side as well  ... there is a free version.    http://www.mediamonkey.com/download/