Marco Arment: iTunes is a toxic hellstew

“Jim Dalrymple’s loss of his music library was painful to read because, as much as I use, rely on, and mostly like Apple’s products, we all know that there are some toxic hellstews that are best avoided,” Marco Arment writes for “The iTunes Store back-end is a toxic hellstew of unreliability. Everything that touches the iTunes Store has a spotty record for me and almost every Mac owner I know. And the iTunes app itself is the toxic hellstew. iTunes has an impossible combination of tasks on its plate that cannot be done well. iTunes is the definition of cruft and technical debt. It was an early version of iTunes that demonstrated the first software bugs to Grace Hopper in 1946.”

“Probably not coincidentally, some of iTunes’ least reliable features are reliant on the iTunes Store back-end, including Genius from forever ago, iTunes Match more recently, and now, Apple Music,” Arment writes. “iTunes’ UI design is horrible for similar reasons: not because it has bad designers, but because they’ve been given an impossible task: cramming way too much functionality into a single app while also making it look ‘clean’ … So iTunes is a toxic hellstew of technical cruft and a toxic hellstew of UI design, in the middle of a transition between two partly redundant cloud services, both of which are confusing and vague to most people about which songs of theirs are in the cloud, which are safe to delete, and which ones they actually have.”

“The safest, most sensible course of action for users is to just keep their music libraries away from iTunes Match and Apple Music… Many of us won’t use Apple Music at all because its integration into our local libraries feels too unsafe,” Arment writes. “And that’s too bad for everyone, because Apple Music is pretty great when everything works and you can figure out where everything is.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: One more time:

Beyond the library corruption issue, Apple, especially under Steve Jobs, has shown a great and admirable willingness to cannibalize themselves. They obliterated their iPod business with the iPhone, for one example. But, when it comes to iTunes, they seem paralyzed by fear of change. Apple paralyzed by fear is not a pretty thing and it doesn’t yield pretty things, It yields hot messes like iTunes.

iTunes screams to be broken up into separate, streamlined apps. It’s been screaming that for years. But Apple seems to be scared silly to do so — perhaps 800+ million credit cards have something to do with it — so they’ve tinkered around the edges, making questionable tweaks here an there and bolting on even more bloat.

Grow a pair, Apple, and do what needs to be done already.MacDailyNews Take, July 17, 2015

That Jim worked with Apple directly and is still confused speaks volumes about the gnarled ball of confusion that is the current state of iTunes, Apple Music, iTunes Match, iTunes in the Cloud, iCloud Music Library, and whatever else freakin’ music/cloud-related “services” Apple offers.

Apple, in the interest of customer satisfaction, not to mention sound media relations (pun intended), ought to buy Jim the complete Ozzy library in order to completely restore his music collection.

Lastly: Always back up your data.MacDailyNews Take, July 26, 2015

Jim Dalrymple: I got (most of) my music back; Apple working to fix Apple Music issues shortly – July 26, 2015
Jim Dalrymple: Apple Music is a nightmare, and I’m done with it – July 23, 2015
Apple’s iTunes: Whatever happened to ‘It Just Works? – July 17, 2015
The iTunes Report: Still a mess – July 14, 2015
Apple releases iTunes 12.2.1, fixes iTunes Match issues – July 13, 2015
Apple Music, both on iOS and OS X, is an embarrassing and confusing mess – July 10, 2015
iTunes 12.2 is mangling network-shared libraries – July 6, 2015
Serious iTunes Match issues for some users ahead of Apple Music launch – June 26, 2015


  1. “Keep repeating lies until everyone believes them”, is working quite well here. Even MDN is believing it.

    Oh, did I mention……

    Blah blah blah toxic hellstew, blah blah blah toxic hellstew, blah blah blah toxic hellstew, blah blah…

    1. I agree that the article was poorly written.

      However, I think the problem is not only that iTunes tries to do too much, but that people try to do too much with iTunes. I don’t do anything cloud-based with iTunes, and it’s been stable and reliable for me.

    2. Well, I am wondering what my iTunes is not doing poorly. Am I the only one that iTunes is working properly? I started iTunes back when iTunes started. I have my purchased tunes and my imported tunes. My albums are correct. My playlists are correct. I can find them and they aren’t hard to read for almost 70 year old eyes.

      What am I missing that I should be dissing Apple about?

      1. When I read that iTunes is working well for someone it is usually because they have a small library. The people who complain usually have very large libraries. Mine is about 15TB and iTunes is almost unusable. Incredibly slow and the sync feature has become incredibly unreliable.

  2. I’ve been using iTunes for over ten years, and during that time it has gone from being great to being just so so. The visual appearance has gone to grey monochrome, no snap. too many changes just for change sake. Who ever is in charge must think we are all color blind idiots. Quit trying to think for us and get this mess fixed.

  3. I’m not sure what a toxic hellstew is, but it sounds about right. Cut the crap and just go back to file management basics. And put the books back in there too. iBooks is a deeper toxic hellstew…I think.

    Oh, and put a Finder on iOS too.

    1. I totally agree about iBooks. I’ve install the El Capitan beta and iBooks (1.3) still does not allow editing of metadata. I find Apple’s attitude OBSCENE.

      1. Yup. I now have 533 books on my iPad that I just view as ‘all books’. I gave up trying to keep things organized the way I wanted them. I added “SCI-” (science), “NF-” (non-fiction), “, “CS-” (computer science), etc. to the beginning of the titles just to try and keep them organized that way, but if you “update” a book it just wipes that out.

  4. This cannot continue (but seems it will).

    I am rarely able to even sign in to the iTunes store. More often than not I get a password error notification that cannot be solved.
    So I’m unable to buy new music.

    I can no longer organize my personal music in iTunes. After the last iTunes update, I am unable to even make libraries or playlists from the last CDs I ripped into my computer.

    I wanted to explore new music yesterday.
    I thought, “What about Apple’s new world radio thingy?” And then I didn’t even bother trying it because I’ve been so completely put off by the ineffective time waster that iTunes has become.

    I can still play my old playlists through my Airports to remote speakers, so there’s that. And if I use Airfoil, it’s actually tolerable because Airfoil eliminates the horrible drop-outs endemic to Apple’s Airplay.
    But I’m getting tired of my old playlists, and I’m listening to less and less music on my computer.

    The moment I hear of a reasonable alternative to iTunes, I’ll be downloading and installing that software. I’ll stay far from iTunes until Apple convinces me that they’ve gotten serious and made iTunes functional and elegant.

  5. I have been enjoying Apple Music. Adding discovered music to my library works really well, I just wonder what will happen if I stop paying the monthly fee.

  6. I’ve had no serious problems. And I’ve been using iTunes Match since it was available. No “toxic hellstew” (whatever that means). In fact, iTunes Match saved me time and effort when I noticed that some songs in my local iTunes library had corrupted song files. I simply deleted my local copy of affected songs. iTunes Match kept those songs in my iCloud library, and I just downloaded a “fresh” copy of the song files. And it saved me time and money, when I upgraded most of my older 128 kbps iTunes Store purchased songs (with DRM) to the current 256 kbps “iTunes Plus” format (DRM free).

    I admire the “iTunes Store back-end” for keeping track of my iTunes Store purchases over so many years. Most other online stores would just let you spend extra money to mistakenly buy the same song a second time (because you forgot you already own it). iTunes Store knows you already bought it (as long as you use the same Apple ID) and puts “Play” on the button instead of “Buy.” And by going to the Purchased screen in iTunes Store, I can re-download previous song purchases, again because the “iTunes Store back-end” has kept accurate track of my past purchases.

    The current problems are mostly related to merging the past (where music is purchased) to the future (where music is subscribed). Separately, those two parts of iTunes work fine. I’ve so far enjoyed the “new” (for me) songs Apple Music suggests and streams. And the previously existing (library-centric) portion of iTunes keeps doing what it does, such as syncing to my old-school iPods. The issues are at the boundary between the old and new parts of iTunes. Apple will resolve such problems.

    With so many tens of millions of users suddenly subscribed to Apple Music during the initial free period, the level of problems in “the big picture” is very small. Each report, like this one, makes it seem like problems are universal, and “everyone” is affected. The opposite is true. The vast majority are fine, and silently satisfied with iTunes.

  7. Here’s what I want to do:

    1. I want to be able to rip all my current CDs, which I own, and put each album in a “folder” type container;

    2. I want to be able to purchase new songs/albums via the Store and then put those songs in folders I designate;

    3. Of the music and audio I have, I want to be able to transfer back and forth just the songs/albums/”folders” I want to the devices I want, which is sometimes my iPod (which I still use), sometimes my iPhone, sometimes my iPad, sometimes, one of the 4 Macs I own.

    3a. I don’t want ALL the stuff I have on every device, but want one CENTRAL place where it all resides and from which I can transfer to the devices on which I want particular songs/albums/audio.

    4. I want this to be child-like easy.

    5. I legally have all the music and all the devices. WHY IS THIS STILL SO HARD TO DO?

    6. I have old, unique audio files that were VERY VALUABLE TO ME that were apparently DELETED from ALL MY DEVICES when I “tried” Apple music because THE SERVICE APPARENTLY DIDN’T RECOGNIZE THEM. This has to stop!

    7. Fix this please.

    1. You can already do 1 through 3a. iTunes can sort by album, and you can create new playlists (“folders”), as desired. You can manually add any songs into any playlist, as desired. You can also create a “smart” playlist that add songs automatically, based on “rules” you create for that playlist.

      You can set up each iPod, iPhone, and iPad separately. Each one can contain all of your “stuff” or a portion. Just go to the device’s settings screen on iTunes, and set up syncing for each device, as desired. You can have iTunes sync “everything,” or “selected playlists, artists, albums, and genres” (again that’s for each device separately). Or you can set a device to “manually manage” syncing, and add items manually to the device. It is very flexible.

      4 is based on intelligence of “child.” Some things are easy. Some things are more complex. The user must be willing to learn.

      5 and 7 do not present any new desires.

      For 6, if you have a backup of all of those “very valuable” audio files, you can recover you iTunes library. Even without having any iTunes problems, you can lose everything when your hard drive fails. And anyone can make a careless mistake that causes data loss. Important data MUST be backed up. Apple provides an easy “set it and forget it” method called Time Machine.

  8. Apple Music is fantastic. And for Marco to say don’t use Match is irresponsible. I have have 256kbs songs FOR LIFE of everything I ever ripped. And it works flawless. And you can download them into your phone if you want. Don’t know what @paulsemus is saying.

    1. Apple is making a noble effort to strike a balance between complexity (in number of features) and simplicity of the interface. They do need to separate iTunes from the same authentication cookies managed by Safari, because that creates a big program…. clearing cookies from Safari suddenly renders iTunes into a state of hysteria, not knowing whether it’s signed in or not. One must manually sign out and then back in again to fully restore functionality. That’s gone on for far too long now.

  9. I see the progression. It’s about training the user base. The introduction of the “Photo” and Music” apps on iOS first, and then “Photos” on the Mac… next will be “Music”… and goodbye iTunes? I think the entire notion of an “App” needs to be re-envisioned. Why can’t iTunes simply be a wrapper/front-end for separate apps…. Music, TV Shows, Movies, etc. When using one of these individual apps, the full range of iTunes features is not shown. The entire interface is focused on the app being used.

  10. Yep. I’ve never truly trusted iTunes with my music library (which was time intensive to create from mostly a very large collection of CD’s) and as a result it is safe and sound. I never used “Sync” for the music and I never suffered the “Dalrymple Effect.”

    Never be too trusting or use one source for backup. Always be wary of those and that which pretend to safeguard your data and instead make sure you have taken precautions to safeguard it elsewhere yourself. “Answer me these backups three.”

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