How I Would Fix iTunes, Part 11: On-Device Smart Playlists

(This is one of a series of articles looking at elements of iTunes that I think need fixing. I’ll choose one element for each article, and offer a solution. See all articles in this series. If you have any particular gripes about what needs to be fixed in iTunes, drop me a line.)

If you rate songs when you listen to them on your iPhone or iPod, you may want to go back and hear the songs you rated the highest. Unfortunately, the way smart playlists work in iTunes, you can’t do this. It would be great if iTunes had an On Device condition in smart playlists allowing you to create playlists that populate as you play or rate songs on your iOS device.

This needs a bit of explaining.

Let’s say you rate a lot of your music, and you have a few hundred 5-star songs. You can create a smart playlist in iTunes to find all of those highly-rated songs. But if you have a lot of songs in that playlist, you may not be able to sync it to your device.

5 star songs

All the smart playlists you make in iTunes are based on conditions, and iTunes examines your iTunes library to find tracks that match those conditions. But imagine if there was a condition, such as Location Is On Device, which allowed you to sync a playlist to a device – which would appear empty in iTunes – but that would populate according to all the other music on the device.

In other words, a playlist such as the above, with the added condition Location Is On Device, would be filled with songs synced from other playlists, or other selections (genres, artists, albums). And any time you make changes to songs – play them or rate them – that smart playlist gets updated. So you could go for days without needing to sync your device, and you’d have a playlist with all those songs that you rated five stars. Or you could switch to a Most Listened playlist, which contains all the songs you listen to a lot. Or any of a number of other playlists whose contents come from the music on your device.

This would be complicated to get across to users – just as I feel it’s complicated to explain here – but it would be very useful.