I hate Cover Flow - Macenstein

I hate Cover Flow

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

How’s that for a headline? I know, it’s kind of like saying “I hate bunnies”, but hear me out.

We all have our favorite way to interact with our data, and I am sure there are some people who use Cover Flow every day in their iTunes browsing, but my god, I sure hope it isn’t one of the big selling points of the new iPods at this Wednesday’s special event.

For those of you who love Cover Flow, more power to you, and congrats on Leopard, where apparently you will be able to enjoy Cover Flow in pretty much every app Apple could think of a way to shoehorn it into, including the Finder. But personally (and note the category “opinion” I filed this under) Cover Flow is a bit of eye-candy that just gets in the way.

I never hated Cover Flow until I got my iPhone. But now that I experience it (accidentally) multiple times a day, I just hope Apple comes up with an option to turn it off, both on the iPhone, and in the upcoming iPod.

Why Cover Flow is annoying on the iPhone/iPod

I’m sure my hatred is somewhat based on the way Cover Flow works (or doesn’t) on the iPhone. For instance, in Cover Flow view on the iPhone, if you are listening to songs on Shuffle, the albums do not automatically scroll and update as the songs change the way they do in iTunes on a Mac. This means, if you select a U2 song (like Apple wants) and then a Metallica song comes on, you are stuck looking at the U2 album art for the duration of the Metallica (and all subsequent) songs. If you rotate the iPhone vertically, bringing the iPod back to the “Now Playing” screen, the album art refreshes, and if you rotate the iPhone horizontally back to Cover Flow mode, you have the correct album displayed. This inefficiency is compounded by the iPhone’s tilt-sensor, which, although truly a technological marvel, doesn’t know what to do when laying flat on my desk, or the passenger seat of my car, or in my hand while jogging. I am subjected to the iPhone’s Cover Flow mode countless times a day when it thinks I want to see it, and I feel like I am dealing with the magic Eight Ball sometimes the way I have to unnecessarily rotate the iPhone to get back control of my songs.

Speaking of control, control is the biggest problem with Cover Flow on the iPhone. This is because you cannot accomplish anything else in that mode other than flipping through CDs and selecting tracks. If I want to bring up the fast forward/skip, volume, or scrubbing controls, I have to rotate the iPhone back to the vertical Now Playing mode. This pretty much makes the iPhone’s horizontal layout useless to me in iPod mode. If I could lock in the Now Playing mode no matter what orientation my iPhone was in, I would be a happy camper.

Now, before you say that my problem is with the iPhone’s version of Cover Flow, and not Cover Flow itself, let me stop you right there. Yes, the iPhone has the worst implementation (to date) of Cover Flow, but it is a largely useless technology no matter where it shows up.

When I first saw Cover Flow back in Sept ’06, I was as impressed as anyone. It made perfect sense for iTunes, I thought. It mimics a JukeBox, and like a real JukeBox, sometimes it’s fun to scroll through and see what music you have on your computer you might have forgotten about. After Downloading iTunes 7.0, I promptly showed Cover Flow to the wife and kids. The wife pretended to care in order to humor me (as she does with most geeky things I show her, god bless her) but the kids really thought it was cool.

For me, however, Cover Flow’s novelty wore off a month later when I found that songs I hadn’t listened too in a long time actually kind of sucked, and as far as a method of actually finding specific music tracks, it was almost easier to go into the attic where I keep all the physical CDs I encoded and find the track that way. Cover Flow is really just Eye-Candy, and aside from using it as an alternative to the Visualizer at parties, I pretty much stopped using it altogether. (The kids, however, still love it. But then, they are 5 and 3 and barely know how to read, so Cover Flow is the only way they can find their albums. Once you’ve entered the First Grade, Cover Flow becomes unnecessary).

I know many will defend Cover Flow, or give me the “if you hate it, don’t use it” speech, and I agree with them. I hate it and I don’t use it. Except on the iPhone, where I can’t help but be exposed to it (and where my kids still think it is cool). I’m pretty sure when I buy my copy of Leopard next month, I will find I rarely hit that Cover Flow button in the view modes – I really just can’t see that being an efficient way to find Word documents, Maya Projects and After Effects files, especially with the rumored improvements to Spotlight. I know we Mac users are supposed to be a “visual” crowd, but text-based searches via Spotlight and Quicksilver will beat Cover Flow any day when productivity matters.

So why am I really writing this article?

Well, basically I am worried by what appears to be Cover Flow’s eventual taking over of the planet. With all this talk about the new iPod/nano being announced in just under a day, the only consistent info I have been seeing in all the “leaked” photos and rumor site mockups (besides a slightly squashed form factor) is the inclusion of Cover Flow. Is this a big deal? Is this what we have all been asking for? Is Cover Flow so beloved it is an actual selling point? Or, is it really just eye candy that seems cool at first, but whose novelty wears off after a month?

I love almost all of Apple’s gear – the iPod and iPhone in particular. But as Cover Flow begins to invade these devices to the point where it actually hampers functionality, we have a problem. Many early critics of OS X (on both the Mac and PC side) criticized it for having too many useless eye candy-like effects just for the sake of having them. I would argue Cover Flow is the “eye candyist” of them all – a sales gimmick masquerading as a search tool that should be OPTIONAL on Apple’s portable devices. Make it easier to avoid, as it is in iTunes (and hopefully) Leopard’s Finder. It should not be a standard view on either the iPod or iPhone, at least without allowing for the full control of the device.

Being the eternal optimist that I am, I have managed to find a silver lining to the storm cloud that is Cover Flow on the new iPods. Hopefully, if Cover Flow is put into effect on all iPods, then maybe enough people will get annoyed with the way it works for Apple to fix it on the iPhone. Come on Apple, at least let us fast forward!

53 Responses to “I hate Cover Flow”
  1. Brandon says:

    I really hate coverflow. I’ve always been used to putting my ipod in my pocket, and slipping my finger into my pocket to turn the volume up or down. Now I have to pull my ipod out, turn it right-side up to change it. Pain in the ass

  2. chris v. says:

    Well now that I’ve read most of these posts here are my conclusions:

    The people who are defending Cover Flow are “hearing” (per se) what the want to hear. Cover Flow on the iPhone or iPod Touch is useless for the people who don’t use it and annoying BECAUSE of the tilt sensor. The world isn’t always vertical so it’s an annoyance when it “accidently” senses that you are horizontal thus changing to cover flow mode. I have an iPhone and it is quite an annoyance I don’t use Cover Flow and would like a switch to turn it off.

    Yes Cover Flow is eyecandy it’s also a very entertaining way to browse. I think we can all agree that in iTunes it can be useful in it’s authorized occasions, for example; when you have spare time on your hand and want to find an old song, or when looking for a picture in an interesting interface (me myself like the finder window or Preview better but that’s just me)

    And finally when you say “don’t use it” don’t read between the lines actually read what he’s trying to come to point: that Cover Flow “FORCES’ Itself into the lifes of the iPhone users because it automatically turns on by Apples programming. Me myself will either find an application in Cydia or make one of my own.

    Those are my two cents Chris V. =)

  3. Dan says:

    @brett: If I recall correctly, Apple periodically changes how the iPod interacts with the computer in order to keep 3rd-party jukebox developers on their toes. I think I read about that when winamp temporarily lost the ability to sync with iPods once. That’s probably why songbird doesn’t like iPods. I suppose you could try rockboxing it.

    more on topic (@OP): I recently showed my Cowon S9 to an iPod-owning friend, and he gloated that it doesn’t have coverflow. Having never cared for iTunes/apple-updater/quicktime/iPod updater (RAM wastes, nagware), I never really used coverflow, so I didn’t know how to respond. Later, I go to youtube and look up a demo of it, and I must agree with the general consensus of the previous commenters.

    It appears to be just a bunch of hype over a feature that I see no practical use for (though, after reading the comments, I suspect it may be less obtrusive in the iTunes implementation). Though, I am kinda old-fashioned in that I buy CDs instead of buying the top-10 iTunes singles and pirating 80gb of songs I’d never listen to, so maybe my belief in ID3 or folder browsing is outdated (maybe I should have been born a few decades earlier).

Leave A Comment


Click here to inquire about making a fortune by advertising your game, gadget, or site on Macenstein.