Could I iCloud? I could not.

I write this blog mainly for my own amusement and benefit. This blog post in particular is written for the benefit of my future self, in case I am ever tempted to use Apple’s iCloud Music Library again.

I mainly listen to music using an iPhone when out and about, and iTunes when at my Windows computer. I have a carefully curated collection of music purchased over a period of 40 years, with metadata entered. I then use this data in the rules of various Smart Playlists.

Although I’m not a huge fan of the Apple Music streaming service, I do have a family subscription as that makes financial sense when a number of my children use the service. To enable offline listening of Apple Music tracks requires that iCloud Music Library be turned on. I’ve resisted doing this, as I feared that doing so would stuff things up. This holidays curiosity got the better of me and I tried turning on iCloud Music Library, and soon discovered my fears to be well-founded.

Here are five problems that I discovered before turning it back off again and having to clean up Apple’s mess.

  1. A whole bunch of tracks that I had de-selected became selected again, and synced to my iPhone. e.g.  here’s a bunch of Simon Garfunkel tracks that I had previously deselected (as I have those tracks on the full album), but after turning on iCloud Music Library they’ve been re-selected and then uploaded as duplicates to my iPhone.
  2. The “Last Played” date on hundreds of random tracks got set back to dates in 2016, although I have listened to all my music collection in 2017. In some cases the Last Played date was set to a value before I had added the tracks. e.g. these tracks by Queen were added in June 2017, but show as being played in 2016!
  3. After listening to a track on my iPhone, and then syncing with iTunes, the Last Played date wasn’t updating in my iTunes library.
  4. The track order of some albums was screwed up. e.g. here’s Mark Knopfler’s album Cal on my iPhone. To fix this, I had to unselect all the tracks of the album in iTunes and sync to remove them from the phone, then select and sync to add them back on again.
  5. On all albums that I had purchased from the iTunes store, my star ratings on individual songs disappeared, and only the star rating of the album remained. Note in the image below how the stars on the song ratings are grey rather than blue, indicating that the song rating is inherited from the album rating.

iTunes sync woes

I use iTunes to organise my music library, listen to music, and sync music to my iPhone. With this fairly basic usage pattern, its probably been close to a decade since iTunes added any functionality that is of use to me. And that leaves me fairly ambivalent about the regular notification that “an update of iTunes is available”. On the one hand I don’t want to upgrade and risk breaking something that is working fine, but on the other hand skipping an upgrade potentially leaves security vulnerabilities unpatched.

The cautious side of me steers me to upgrading, and usually this is unproblematic. But not last time.

In late July I updated to iTunes on my Windows 10 PC, and to iOS 10.3.3 on my iPhone 5. Everything seemed to upgrade as usual, but when I next connected my phone via the USB cable I got an error that the phone “cannot be synced because there is not enough free space to hold all of the selected items.”

I sync music to my phone based on a smart playlist I hadn’t changed the playlist settings or added any new music recently, and the size of the playlist as displayed in iTunes was indicating that the music should fit in the available space on my phone.

I tried simplifying the playlist rules, and a few other things, but the sync operation continued to baulk with the incorrect error about available space. I was eventually able to resolve the problem with the following steps.

Firstly I turned off the “Sync Music” checkbox, and performed a sync that removed all the music files on my phone

After doing this, on the phone I went into Settings –> General –> Storage & iCloud Usage –> Manage Storage –> Music. Even though all the music files on the phone had been removed, the phone was still reporting 10.49GB of space being taken up with music. (In the music player app, a large number of songs were displaying as available, but trying to play them would fail with an error.) By swiping left on “All songs” I was then able to ‘delete’ these phantom songs.

After this I restarted the phone. I’m not sure this was necessary, but I wanted to ensure the phone was in a clean state before the next step.

Lastly, in iTunes I ticked the checkbox to sync music again, and this time the sync progressed to a successful completion after several hours.

In summary, I don’t know whether it was the iTunes update or the iOS update that broke things, but it seems that the phone ended up with an incorrect reckoning of how many music files it had. The fix was to delete all the music files and resync the music files from a fresh start.

A message for all time

I had a very confusing message notification on my phone this morning, where for a single event the notification contained all three words “yesterday”, “today”, and “tomorrow”.

It took me a while to realise that it was an notification from yesterday about the tomorrow of yesterday, which is today.

Having worked all that out, I did indeed make it to the game today to see the Knights beat the Titans 34 – 26, including a great contribution from Nathan Ross, who scored the match winning try in the 78th minute.  Well done Knights.

Nathan Ross, after the Knights 34-26 win over the Titans.

Unable to download podcast

I manage a podcast feed for my church, and recently had a problem where I was unable to download episodes using the iOS Podcast app on my iPhone.  The podcast would download OK on other Android devices, and it would stream on my iPhone if I tapped the play icon, but if I selected “Download Episode” then the download would appear to happen, but then at the end a message would pop up saying “Unable to download podcast”, with a “Retry” and a “Done” button.

Googling this problem shows that other people have experienced similar issues, but no amount of unsubscribing, deleting, restarting, rebooting, or switching to airplane mode would fix the problem.

In the end I discovered that the problem was due to a misconfiguration in the XML file for the podcast feed. In the <channel> section of the XML file there is an <itunes:image> tag where you can put the URL of an image. I discovered that this tag was pointing to an invalid URL, to a server that I had used several years ago. After setting the tag to a valid URL, and refreshing the feed in the iOS podcast app, I was able to download episodes.


Mystery iPhone sliding window

IMG_3663Yesterday I started seeing a strange sliding window appear on my iPhone 5 whenever I went to compose a new message or email, or add a new contact. (See image at right.)

After much frustration and searching I eventually discovered that this is the “Window Zoom” functionality, part of the Accessibility settings, and it enables you to enlarge parts of the screen to make it easier to read.

It seems that at some time I must have accidentally enabled this feature, and once enabled a three fingered double tap (intended or accidental) will cause the sliding zoom window to show up in various places.

IMG_3664The solution was to simply disable the “Zoom” function in the Accessibility settings.