It’s About Time

So this is just a quick little blip about the recent updates to the iOS software on Apple devices that was pushed a few weeks ago.

I don’t know that I ever cut loose about it on this site, but to anybody who’s ever let me “get into it” about smartphones or iPhones or digital media players or anything like that, this is probably something they’ve heard before.

In March of 2010 I got an iPhone to replace the aging messaging phone I’d had previously. At first, I was hesitant to the entire idea. The notion of a single device absorbing all the functions of my menagerie of gadgets seemed nonsensical. Why would you want one device to perform many functions at an average level when you could have a handful of specialized ones that performed exceptionally? As a lover of gadgets, I was hesitant to consolidate.

But, needless to say, I took the plunge. My skepticism was validated by the lack of functionality afforded by the old ‘iPod’ app native to iOS. One of the main reasons I like iTunes (in spite of the fact that in the old days it was a tremendous resource hog, and more recently due to the shameless plugging of services like ‘Genius’ and ‘Ping’) is that you can utilize a wealth of metadata to customize the way your music collection was organized.

Me? I like my records alphabetized by artist, and subsorted by year of release. As I type this I realize there’s a whole can of worms to be opened on the merits of various schema, but we should save that for another day. The takeaway here is that I’m very particular about how my music is organized. In particular, I like collections of songs from various artists (mix tapes, etc.) and other media (soundtracks) to be sorted separately from ‘regular’ albums.

iTunes will happily oblige such a configuration (Sort: Albums By Artist/Year, ‘Compilations’ set to ‘On’), and as of the introduction of video functionality, the iPod could manage well enough too. I was irked, to say the least, when the iPod App supported next to none of these features.

Browsing on the iPhone via artists took you to a giant list of every artist in your collection, roughly half of which had only a single song to their name. This drove me mad!!! A huge selling point of the iPhone is that it plays music, but nobody every bothers to mention that it does a terrible job organizing a library.

I’m not naïve; I know that audiophile music junkies such as myself are not the target audience of this functionality. It’s for people who listen to the same 6-7 albums while they walk to school or work out at the gym. But still, in the three years this software has been developed, it’s weird to me this was never addressed.

With the iOS 5 update, the iPod App was replaced by the Music App, and with it, a tiny little additional setting to “Group By Album Artist.” And just like that, my artists list is clean and tidy, and all the other miscellany reside in the compilations list. So for the moment, I’m placated. Still can’t sort by year of release within a given artist, but whatever.

Cleaning up the artists list solved a big usability issue of mine, and I’m grateful for that much. I’m also happy the newer models finally upped the storage capacity to 64 GB, because I’m just now starting to hit the ceiling on 32 GB. That said, I’m done hoping that they’ll open this thing up to be fully customizable.

However, in the unlikely event that the Music App was given some real love, I’d be mad appreciative.


  1. I don’t know how the iPhone compares with the the iPod Touch, (which I have) but I can sort all my music in any manner I please by syncing playlists instead of artists. Each artist has his/her/their own playlist on iTunes, in which the songs can be rearranged manually. Like I said, I don’t know how the syncing compares between the iPhone and iPod Touch, but you might be able to sort all of your music like that. (Though if you have a lot of music it may take a while, I always just adjust the playlists when I get a new CD.)

  2. Hey Bandon!

    I never thought of using playlists to organize things manually. If I was thinking ahead, I would have done something like that, but such a scheme applied to ~27GB worth of tracks seems like a task I am not up to.

    Nice to know someone has outwitted the iOS though!

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