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iTunes 11.0.1 Fixes Most of the Hits and Misses in iTunes 11.0 Searching

Back in the days before iTunes 11, the search box at the top right of the main iTunes window would search only the list at which you were looking. For example, if the search field in my iTunes window were set to search All metadata (a click of the magnifying glass let me set that) and I were to begin typing “fel,” iTunes would immediately filter the song list to show me only the songs that had those characters, in that order, somewhere in the song metadata: name, artist, composer, and so on. If I were to keep typing so the field contained “fell,” the list would continue to be filtered, showing, in my songs list, all the songs from Howard Shore’s “Fellowship of the Ring” soundtrack, “If I Fell” by the Beatles, and “Fell in Love with a Girl” by the White Stripes. If I continued typing so the field contained “fell ring,” only songs from the Howard Shore album appeared.

The search could also start from anywhere within a word: if I were to type “ellow” I’d find the Howard Shore songs and others that had “ellow” in their metadata, like “Yellow Submarine.”

Three things were happening. First, the search was dynamic: each character entered into the field was immediately added to the search string and the results appeared (almost) immediately. Secondly, iTunes treated separate words as separate search terms with an implicit AND between them. Thus, typing “fell ring” meant “show me only the songs with both ‘fell’ AND ‘ring’ in their metadata.” Third, the search looked anywhere within the metadata text, not just starting on word boundaries.

In iTunes 11.0, however, a new capability was added to the search field: Search Entire Library. With that option chosen, as it is by default, not only was the currently displayed list searched but all the other collections in the library were as well. Of course, that meant the results couldn’t appear as a subset of the list shown in the main window, since that list doesn’t show the entire library’s contents. Instead, the results appeared in a popover below the search field.


Hooray! What an advance! Except for one subtle difference in the initial release of iTunes 11 that was very confusing: in iTunes 11.0, an entire library search did not treat separate words as separate search terms with an implicit AND between them. Instead, it treated the contents of the field as a single matching string. Furthermore, that single matching string had to match starting from the beginning of a word.

What did that mean? Three things, in fact:

  • In my example, if I searched the entire library for “fell ring” or for “ellowship,” the popover displayed the following discouraging message: “No Results.”

  • The popover offered to let me search the iTunes Store via a prominent button at the bottom of the popover.

  • It offered to let me search just the list displayed in the main window via a pale blue header at the top of the popover — a header that doesn’t look much like a button at all and is easy to miss.

If I clicked that header button or pressed the Return key, iTunes filtered the currently displayed list just as it did in previous versions of iTunes: “fell ring” or “ellow ring” would both show me the songs from the Howard Shore album in my song list, if that’s where I was searching.

To see results for any occurrences of “Fellowship of the Ring” and only those in the popover with iTunes 11.0, though, I had to type the exact string, “Fellowship of the Ring” (or, at least, “Fellowship of”). When I did that, the popover displayed the songs from Shore’s album, and the Peter Jackson movie in my Movies collection.

So, even though you could now search the entire library in iTunes 11, you couldn’t search it in the same way as you could individual lists, and the difference was subtle enough to baffle the average user.

This, of course, was madness. Fortunately, Apple’s iTunes engineers regained their searching sanity and (mostly) eliminated those two very different ways of searching with iTunes 11.0.1. Now, the entire library search recognizes parts of words and uses implicit ANDs just as the search in iTunes 10 and earlier did, and the popover presents the matches that you would expect to see. What is more, the very slow searches that those with large iTunes libraries experienced with the iTunes 11.0 entire library search now produce results much more quickly.

Only one distinction remains between the two methods of searching in iTunes 11.0.1: in a search of a single list, you can type any part of a word to find matches, so that, in my example, “ello ring” will find songs from the “Fellowship of the Ring” soundtrack. However, the entire library search in iTunes 11.0.1 still requires that partial words in a search must begin with the start of a word: “ello ring” still tells me there are no matches, but “fello ring” works as I expect.

Obviously, users shouldn’t have to know that searches have to start on a word boundary in one kind of search and not another. It should all just work. That still needs to be fixed, but iTunes 11.0.1 has done a lot to eliminate the confusion that entire library searches in iTunes 11 created.


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Comments about iTunes 11.0.1 Fixes Most of the Hits and Misses in iTunes 11.0 Searching
(Comments are closed.)

Kevin Patfield  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2012-12-11 14:07
Can I just pick up on the change away from treating words in the search string as separate tokens with an implicit AND? Personally, when I type a search string I almost always want it to be treated as a single string in the way that iTunes 11 does (notwithstanding the other, more questionable, changes to the search). In many cases the "AND" way works just as well but what I hate is the fact that in others (Spotlight, Preview, I'm looking at you) there's an implicit "OR". In these cases you'd see not only the items containing both "fell" and "ring" but also items containing one but not the other. In these cases one has to remember to enclose the string in quotes or sift through a lot of dross. It seems to me that Apple really needs to make up its corporate mind which of these three quite different search modes it wants to adopt.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-11 14:14
The AND is definitely better than the OR for most searching purposes in iTunes, so I'm glad that it is what is used in searches of single lists. What is most irritating is that two very different ways of searching are used depending on what is being searched...and the user has no way of knowing that's the case! That sort of thing is just bad UI design.
Barry Burriesci  2012-12-12 09:20
I have been frustrated with the iTunes 11 searches as well. Thanks for the heads up on the ‘pale blue banner’, I didn't pay any attention to it before. However, I would think ‘No Results’ means ‘no results’, not “no result in every library but the one you are viewing”. Plus the banner ‘Show “whatever” in Books’ will be there whether it found anything or not. Poor design.

My other problems with iTunes center around audiobooks. Searching for audiobooks from any library other than 'Books' is likely to return nothing. I'm trying to narrow down the problem since it sometimes correctly finds some things. For example, I have an audiobook titled 'Pimsleur Italian' authored (artist) by Dr. Paul Pimsleur. The audiobook consists of 20 tracks with names like 'Lesson 01', 'Lesson 02', etc. When I do a 'Search Entire Library' with filter set to 'All' and search for 'Pimsleur' it returns with two tracks from this book. Why not all of them? Why just those two tracks? (The metadata in these tracks and the book don't provide a clue.)

Also, in some audiobooks the expanded view has the tracks in random order, some in order of track number (track1/disc1 followed by track1/disc2) and some are correctly ordered. (In list view they are all ordered correctly; and again the metadata doesn't provide a clue to this behavior)

Six years ago I gave up on Microsoft because I was getting tired of spending so much time trying to get Windows to do what I wanted, the way I wanted. I switched to Apple's OS X Tiger and was pleased at how intuitive and natural the OS behaved. Now that feeling is increasingly fading.
"Thanks for the heads up on the ‘pale blue banner’"

Be warned that right-clicking (or equivalent) it will likely crash iTunes.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-12 12:39
Indeed it does!

The old vaudeville joke:
"Doctor, it hurts when I do this."
"So, don't DO that!"
Ted Peters  2012-12-16 16:54
Still unable to reliably change album artwork. With iTunes match enabled, changes made to album artwork revert, sometimes after seconds, sometimes after days. Extremely frustrating.
Pam Niedermayer  2012-12-19 17:25
itunes 11.nn.n sucks big time. I show things in list view; but when I do a search, itunes specifies album view automatically. Gee, thanks. And it never maintains your place.

It never plays in the order implied by a playlist. Just jumps all over the place based on some invented "Up Next" POS. I clear that "Up" list, but then get no order at all, the playback stops after the first song.

I ran a software shop for 24+ years. I'd never have hired whoever did this abysmal coding.
Albert B Ikeda  2012-12-23 22:52
A perfectly good playlist copied, erased and re-copied on my iPod using iTunes 10.0 many many times without any problems. Now, out of 111 numerically ordered songs, iTunes 11.0.1 only copied 104 songs, some how iTunes 11.0.1 missed 7 songs in the playlist. I found this to be extremely annoying because it did not match my numerically ordered published song books which contained the text for each of the songs.
The previous version of iTunes 10.0, I had no trouble transferring all 111 songs in order. What happened!!! iTunes 11.0.1 missed songs number: 2, 37, 62, 64, 76, 90 and 107. Some songs were copied from cassette tapes, others were edited in Garageband and transferred to iTunes and some were perfectly good songs purchased thru the iTunes Store or from Amazon MP3. Many similar songs were copied and others NOT. WHY?????