Al Bsharah Business Minded, Technically Inclined

Genius Playlists – How Apple Missed the Mark


To start, I was one of the most excited people on the planet to hear that Apple was releasing iTunes 8.0, which apparently had “Genius Playlist” functionality.  This functionality essentially creates playlists of music that are similar to a song you select.  Fantastic feature, but boy did they miss the mark.

For reference, I’ve been hacking my way through solutions to create this feature for a good year now.  I’ve written a fair amount of code to do this work behind the scenes, using various bits of software to make it happen.  In a nutshell, I have written code to do the following:

  1. Create a list of songs in my iTunes library, including ratings
  2. Create a list of songs in MusicIP Mixer (this is the software that does the similar-music selection for me)
  3. Take a list of artist/album/song-based playlists I want created and build them using MusicIP Mixer’s API
  4. Filter those playlists based on my iTunes ratings, so I get the music I *want* to hear (not crappy-rated songs)
  5. Import those playlists back into iTunes using their API

Yes…it’s a hastle, but now that it’s set up it works fantastically.  I can pick an artist, album, or song…select the ratings I want included (say, 4 and 5 star only) and I’m ultimately presented with a playlist that includes the best songs that are similar to the artist/album/song I selected.  Beautiful.

So, where did Apple miss the mark with Genius Playlists?

  1. Limited to 100 songs.  Really?  Why the limitation?  Why should I miss out on additional songs that match?  A list of 100 can get old pretty quickly if you listen to music a lot.
  2. Can only pick a song.  I’d like to pick an album, or even an artist and have a Genius Playlist created.
  3. Can’t filter any further on this list like you can with existing Smart Playlists.  Really?  Can’t filter based on anything?  I’m stuck with whatever you decide is best?
  4. …for example: My Genius Playlists come back with songs I’ve rated 1 and 2.  I’ve already made it clear I’m not interested in those songs, why am I being forced to listen to them by some “Genius”?  Useless for me.

So, not being one to complain about a problem without a solution…it’s very simple to me:

  1. Implement Genius as an option within Smart Playlists.  Then, you can mix and match all of the Smart Playlist functionality with Genius abilities and voila…USEFUL playlists.  Or….
  2. Get rid of Smart Playlists all-together and at least add that filtering capability into the Genius Playlists product.  Same result, different branding.

I understand I’m not your every-day user, but I also know I’m not an extreme minority.  I think it’s pretty obvious I’m not a fanboy, but I did have an Apple ][+ back in the day!  Besides, I’m trying really hard to be a mini fanboy with my iTunes and my iPhone.  <chuckle>  Point is, I’m not bitching just to bitch.  This is a real need and something I think should be improved upon.  C’mon Apple…show some love here…

About the author

Al Bsharah

Al is the Managing Partner at Interlock Capital, a community-driven startup fund that allows seasoned or aspiring angel investors to get into amazing companies within their own budget. Al’s been involved in multiple San Diego startups since 1999 after leaving the Detroit auto industry as an electrical engineer. He's started two of his own companies where he's raised capital from both VCs and angels, and sold one of them to both Seismic and Return Path. He's graduated both Techstars and Founder Institute accelerator programs where he now mentors. In his free time he manages to play a little beach volleyball, invest in startups, trade stocks, and camp with his wife, son, dog, and friends.

1 comment

  • I’ve got to agree with you Al. I am an Apple fan, but I’m really unhappy with Genius. I’am an everyday user just looking for away to make a playlist. It works pretty good if you pick a song and it spins you a list, but if you let Genius have it’s way, it’s all very mysterious. I tried to get a list of the songs behind the quad of album covers, that is representative as the actual Genius list, but you can’t get that information. I tried to view it by list, album cover, a grid, or by cover flow and it was completely grayed out. I even tried View Options and that too is grayed out. Why is it they don’t want you to view the list behind their Genius Mixed lists? I thought, maybe it’s just me, nope. I spoke to someone at Apple tech and he said yep, that’s the way it is. So, can anyone out there tell me, why the mystery? Or, is it just messed up. I’d ilk to know.

By Al Bsharah
Al Bsharah Business Minded, Technically Inclined