In the process of replacing my iPod, I've noticed a couple of things "I Don't Like About iTunes and iPod". After my previous rant about iPod reliability, I'm now onto the sloppy programming behind iPod's photo functions.
So, I started transferring all my media to the new unit. The music went across fine. Videos, not so much, but more on that later. Photos, however, were taking hours to transfer. iTunes was "optimising" the photos. I remember this taking a while back when I got the previous iPod, but I'd forgotten how slow it was.
I've got about 19GB of photos, all neatly keyworded in iPhoto. Since I got my iPod Photo two-and-a-bit years ago, I've kept a copy of my collection on my iPod: usually with "Include full resolution photos" ticked.
So, what's it doing?
Each photo, regardless of the original file size is "thumbnailed" to a new file of about 851K on the new iPod Video, and marginally less on the iPod Photo and the Nano. This is allegedly to offload some of the processing effort from the iPod to the host computer, so the iPod doesn't burn through batteries trying to do the instant photo scrolling thing.
Problems with this approach:
- It takes a long time to convert all my photos. I've got an iBook G4 1GHz, not an eight-core Big Mac. Since the screen size is different on the new iPod, the whole process has to be done again. I'm also not convinced it's thumbnailing particularly efficiently. I bet ImageMagick would be faster.
- It uses up a lot of space on the iPod. Okay, I'm not likely to use up the 80GB any time soon, especially since my iBook doesn't have the disk space to store all that anyway.
- It uses up a lot of space on the host machine: in my case, 9GB extra! That's almost 10% of my laptop's HDD.
- iTunes/iPhoto isn't well-behaved enough to clean up after itself. The thumbnails have a nasty habit of sticking around. If a photo is deleted, there's no guarantee the thumbnail will be deleted. If you change iPod model (like I did), the old, useless, wrong-sized thumbnail will stay there. If, after noticing this bloat, you disable some or all Photo syncing, the cache still sits there. Considering how long the process can take, I understand this design decision, but I don't necessarily agree with it.
- It takes ages just to transfer these thumbnails compared to transferring the (smaller!) originals. Now that they've canned FireWire over the slower, less reliable USB2.0, iPod syncing is sluggish. Piping this crapload of excess data around really doesn't help.
The thing is, I really don't think any of this is necessary!
Now that the iPod Video is better specced, why can't it do its own thumbnailing, and cache them locally?
And at the very least, why do they have to be possibly the least efficient file format? JPEGs aren't hard to decode, and while I could understand the need for keeping lower resolution thumbs on the iPod, I can't see why JPEGs wouldn't do. While admittedly the iPod uses hardware to decode video, it still manages to do some reasonably sweet 3D graphics in the new iPod Games, and I don't think they shoehorned a Radeon into the iPod, so the thing's capable of doing maths, to say the least.
As far as the hard drive is concerned, the standard reply is to get a bigger drive. I've already got a 100GB drive in my iBook, and I still cling to the concept of portability, so an external drive is out. If there was a good reason for this, I'd think about being more selective, but it's just waste and sloppy programming on the part of Apple.
It seems probable that Apple crammed in this functionality with the underpowered iPod Photo, and then failed to update the codebase. I accept that the Nano might not have the oomph to do the work and would need the offloaded conversion, but then again, the Nano's not going to store a huge cache anyway! When it comes to the larger, more powerful iPods, it should act differently.
I'm sure Apple aren't losing any sleep over this problem: they're too busy working on the OS X-based iPhone and the inevitable touchy-feely non-phone-iPhone iPod that will accompany it. That thing will presumably be able to do the thumbnails itself.
It still doesn't excuse the sloppy coding that's currently there.
...and there's more to bitch about when it comes to videos too, in the next post.