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Peeve Farm
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Brian Tiemann
Silicon Valley-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry and political bile.

btman at grotto11 dot com

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Sunday, October 26, 2003
14:10 - iQuickTime

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As an afterthought to a list of gripes about iTunes (quite reasonable ones, too, which he submitted to Apple's iTunes feedback page rather than simply giving the app the Imperial thumbs-down), Aziz Poonawalla has an interesting idea:

PS. Is it possible to combine QuickTime and iTunes into a single app? I would greatly enjoy being able to sort my video (esp trailers of movies downloaded from the web or Apples own site) the same way i do my music.

Not bad. A lot of people have speculated over the years about an iTunes-like organizer for movie files. After all, various QuickTime Player versions have made the odd attempt to integrate movie organization into themselves, though their success has been quite limited; with iTunes, and especially once iPhoto came out, people have been expecting something similar for movie files to appear.

I wish I could find a screenshot: QuickTime 4, the version of the player that is widely regarded as the most godawful piece of crap design ever to leave the hallowed halls of One Infinite Loop, had a "drawer" that slid out from the bottom of the player; in this drawer was a grid of little "wells", square hot-spots that you could drag movies and favorite online stream sources into. Each movie would then appear visually in the grid wherever you dragged it to, using the first frame (or "poster frame") of each movie to represent it as a visually identifiable icon, rather than as a cryptic filename.

Sure, I'll bet it sounded great on paper. It probably made great demo-ware, too. But in practice, it was garbage. Why? Because most movie trailers-- the major source of the movie clips that people put into the drawer-- didn't have a poster frame explicitly set; and so the player showed them all using their very first frames. And what would those be?

If you said "Any frame which accurately represents the content of the movie", you would be wrong. No, it was always either a blank black screen, or that green "This movie has been rated PG" screen.

Every single one of them.

And there was no filename or any other meta-data to help you tell the clips apart. So you ended up with a big grid full of little indistinguishable movie-trailer-looking icons, and you had no idea which one was which. It made a mockery of the very concept of the word "organization".

Oh, sure, they improved it with time. They added a mouse-over status message, so that it would tell you the filename or title of the movie as you hovered over each one. But that meant you had to hover your mouse over each one to tell you what it was. And in QT5, they took out the drawer and put the Favorites pane into a separate screen, hiding it from view. And QT6 improved the situation still further by taking out the whole "grid" concept and replacing it with a spartan little "Favorites" window, which amounts to nothing but a list of files that you can drag to rearrange. It's barely worth considering a "feature" anymore-- but at least it now tells you the filenames.

So: What about some kind of QT-iTunes hybrid, that would do for multimedia files what iTunes does for music?

As an aside, it's important (particularly for Windows users) to know that QuickTime is not just a movie player. It's the entire graphics and multimedia software subsystem underlying the Mac OS; it occupies a layer in the operating system just slightly higher than the kernel. It's pervasive and all-knowing. When you install QuickTime on Windows, you're actually installing nearly a complete Carbon code environment. On the Mac, QuickTime is what handles image viewing (through any application, third-party or not), movie playback, music playback, MIDI, DVDs, and so on. It's woven throughout the system. The "QuickTime Player" is actually just a little stubby outgrowth of that whole structure-- a minimal little doc-window that can call up pretty much any media type and display it. So you can imagine that there's some cognitive dissonance between what it looks like to a Windows user who installs it, and what it looks like to the operating system.

That said, though: what would such a "multimedia organizer" look like? It would have to handle both streamed and self-contained movies, and the designers would have to figure out whether it should handle music files and pictures as well-- because it could, but should it? Should it be just a movie-playing/organizing app (QuickTime on steroids), or should it be integrated into iTunes? If the latter, does that mean iTunes would evolve into a complete multimedia organizing system? I personally think that would be a disaster-- iTunes' simplicity would be totally wrecked by that. It's already stretched by the "Internet Radio" metaphor; movie files and pictures would shatter the gestalt of the thing, and evolve into a big mishmash of interface styles and controls and metaphors, like Sherlock.

iPhoto has already demonstrated that the best way to organize pictures-- perhaps-- is visually, using thumbnails, and optionally filtering based on assignable keywords. iTunes, of course, has its albums and artists and track names. What would the organizational criteria be for movies? We already know that relying visually on a poster frame is woefully inadequate. So is relying purely on filenames-- that's ugly. But what else is there? We could try sorting movies based on source name, producer name, format, length, size... but those are all very chaotic pieces of data. Movie files come from all kinds of places-- home movies, video game screen captures, ripped DVDs, and of course movie studios releasing trailers. They have almost nothing in common. Trailers might have studio names embedded in them, but home movies sure don't. Size tells you nothing, as does format. There isn't a lot in there that's usable. And the infrastructure is all ad-hoc; there's nothing like the CDs with queryable track names, the ubiquitous artist names and labels, the genres, the ID3 tags, the bite-sized track-by-track-ness of music. MP3s are suited to iTunes-like organization; movies just, simply, aren't.

Small wonder, then, that iMovie was what became the "movie" chunk of the iLife puzzle, rather than a souped-up movie-organizer based on the QuickTime Player.

I'd still like to see one, though. I'm sure there's something that could be done: an iTunes-like interface in which you can sort your movie files in a simple list, with columns showing the criteria that can be gleaned from each one. Playlists would be useful in that you can group movies on a conceptual basis: "Trailers", "Home Movies", "DDR", and so on. You'd get a poster frame that you could set right in the interface by dragging a slider, like in iDVD, or even have them playing in a loop in the organizer. Click on one, and it would show in a preview window; pop it open into a bigger window or display it full-screen if you want. You should be able to organize them into sequential lists, or even cross-fade them on the fly. You could have user ratings. You could burn them onto a CD, or even a DVD for sequential playback of a simple list of movies.

In other words, sort of a melding of QuickTime and iDVD.

And if they need a way to make money off it, well, hey... movie trailers could be direct purchasing links to movies on DVD, or something. Right? The Apple Movie Store?

It's not too far out in left-field, is it?

...Or, considering that on the Mac you can assign custom file icons to your movie files right in the Finder, is there in fact no real benefit that such an application would give you over simply using... files and folders?

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