iTunes 8 Cool, Genius Kinda Dumb

Apple made tech headlines earlier this week with the release of its new iPods and iTunes 8. We downloaded iTunes 8 just minutes after it became available on Tuesday and have been using it for the last few days. The standout feature of iTunes 8 was supposed to be Apple’s Genius feature which “helps you discover songs in your library you never knew you had—and rediscover forgotten favorites.” We gave Genius a chance (3 days, in fact), but like anyone who listens to digital music, we found out that Genius isn’t a genius at all, but more of a simpleton. Here are our reasons for our utter disappointment with Apple’s Genius. Tedious Setup: Downloading iTunes 8 took about 2 minutes over our office network but configuring the Genius functionality took quite a bit longer. As soon we launched iTunes 8 for the first time we were given the option to turn on Genius. We were given a three step overview (as can be seen in the screenshot below) of the process. The first step of “Gathering Information about your iTunes library” took 4 minutes; quite a bit of time for our not even iPod nano 3GB music collection. The remaining two steps took less time and after 8 minutes our Genius function was finally ready. Perhaps we would be less peeved at this sluggish setup process if Genius actually seemed to be collecting something valuable. Subpar recomendations: Genius adds a few things to the iTunes interface, including a sidebar that appears to the left of the iTunes window. When you select a song in your library, Genius recommends related songs and artists in that sidebar. When we selected Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” from our iTunes library the sidebar populated with songs we were missing by Tom Petty and recommendations of other songs by different artists. Here is where we wanted more. Apple seems to be recommending songs based on similar artists and genre as they recommended Bruce Springteen’s “Born to Run” and others by Journey, Elton John, John Mellencamp and The Who. Mind-blowing, I know. Genius recommends music in ways we’ve seen as early as 1999. It pushes out recommendations that fall flat in the face of other music discovery engines like Pandora or Slacker, mostly because Apple seems to be searching based on meta data rather than real human input or the music itself. For instance, when I create a Tom Petty station on Pandora, I get a mix of current and classic music. Until Apple gets more data and a wider music selection from obscure bands, these pointlessly obvious recommendations won’t prove very useful, and the sidebar feels more like invasive advertising. Creates unvaried playlists: Creating a Genius playlist is easy. Select a song, and click the Genius button on the bottom right of the screen. We like that you can vary the size of the play list from 25 to 100 tracks. The playlists themselves don’t make much sense. A playlist starting with The Shins had a song by Pink second in play. I wouldn’t group those two together even if I was creating an all-day playlist. There is also a Refresh button which appears to just shuffle the tracks already in the playlist; why? Unfortunately, you can’t edit playlists beyond that. So if a sensible track listing ever pops up, you can’t even add an extra song or two to complete it. It kind of goes along with Apple’s lack of appreciation for tinkering with their toys. And like the others are saying Microsoft might just be ahead of Apple when it comes to music discovery.

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  1. Intosh Says:

    Again, just lots of smoke, marketing and hype for something not particularly innovative.

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