Product Holes: Greatest Hits break iPod Cover Flow

Following on my previous posts about broken phone browsers, phones, and cars, here is another case of “why didn’t they catch this in testing?”

We recently got ourselves an iPod Touch, to entertain our oldest child on long trips. It is a brilliant device in many ways, I can understand why people love their iPhones (even though I am very happy with the very different style of the Blackberry phone that I was given by my employer). However, I have found one weird behavior in the music player that leaves me wondering how it got through into the shipping product.

The issue appears in the Cover Flow presentation of music, when I have several songs from different albums – but these albums have the same name. That is most obvious in the case of albums called “Greatest Hits”. I have quite a few of those by various artists, and I have synched only a few select songs from a few of those onto the iPod. In this precise case, there are two songs by  Billy Idol, one by Robbie Williams, and two by Bruce Springsteen (revealing my boring music taste I guess…).

We start coverflow and find an album “Billy Idol” and “Greatest Hits”:

So far so good. Now touch it, and turn it around to see the songs in the album:

This is starting to look interesting. The two first songs make sense… but the three later ones are not by Billy Idol.  When I tapped the third song to play it, the display turned into play mode:

When I then turned the iPod back to landscape mode to see coverflow, things have changed in a strange way. We are still at the same position in the list of albums, but the artist and cover picture have changed to now depict Robbie Williams. Funny. This means that this album is out of sort order (as the sorting is clearly by artist name in this view).

Tapping that album to view the songs on it, we have a very confused display. The album artist is Robbie Williams. The songs are the same as in the first picture above. The small icon of the album cover is Billy Idol, though. Interesting.

To me, this looks like someone at Apple thinks that album names can be used as unique identifiers for certain tasks, such as displaying album covers in Cover Flow. How that fell through testing amazes me, but maybe it only happens if you synch partial albums? It once again shows how hard it is to imagine and test all the odd cases that might happen out in the real world once a product (hardware or software or a combination thereof) is given to real users.

4 thoughts on “Product Holes: Greatest Hits break iPod Cover Flow”

  1. Hej Jakob,

    as a tip to help your problem: Select the songs that are one greatest hits album, right-click and choose “information”. Then, in the popup, in one of the tabs select (belongs to) “compilation”. This should tell iTunes that some tracks (the selected ones) belong to an Album (e.g. Greatest hits from artist A) and then later do the same with tracks from another artist.
    Then iTunes should separate them and give then split covers and all other features. This is according to how I solved it and read it on the web.
    The reason for the behavior normally comes from ripped CDs. There, iTunes has to make a decision without global knowledge: “Is the album an album with various artist that all hat “greatest hits” or is it several artists with their own greatest hits as album?” iTunes prioritizes the idea of: It’s one album from various artists. (When you download/buy an album, it will be correctly tagged right from the beginning)

    Cheers and hoped it help,

  2. Post scriptum: It’s called “Visa Info -> Alternativ -> Del av en samling: Ja”. It would be kind of a workaround.

  3. thanks, will have to see what the state of the “compilation” flag is for these albums. Could also be a matter of setting an “album artist”, I guess. It is an interesting case of what is a good default: for me, compilation albums are rare and multiple albums with the same name are common. But I guess there is a strong chance that compilations are common in many people’s collections. Interesting.

  4. I’ve noticed this too, on my iPod Classic. The above solution would work, I imagine, but I got around it initially (when my collection was smaller) by putting a different number of spaces between “greatest” and “hits” for each of the clashing albums, thus giving them unique album titles.
    Now my collection is larger, I have taken to simply renaming the album “Billy Idol Greatest Hits”, and Robbie Williams Greatest Hits”. Less elegant, probably, but it works for me…

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