Dumb and dumber: Apple insists on smarter Genius in iTunes 8.1

Chicago (IL) – The controversy surrounding a mysteriously missing “smarter
Genius” feature that Apple advertised prior to the iTunes 8.1 release is
now gaining steam. While many commentators criticize Apple over false
advertising, the iPod maker insists that an upgraded jukebox
application does sport a smarter Genius that can now recommend movies and
TV shows, but here’s the clincher:  It has yet to be enabled.

When Apple released
iTunes 8.1 this past Tuesday to accompany the release of the new
third-generation iPod shuffle, the company advertised a smarter Genius
that was supposed to extend recommendations beyond just music, to
also include movies and TV shows. But despite our best efforts, iTunes
8.1 still sports the old, dumb Genius that could only recommend music as before.
It appears when browsing through your music, but is gone when you switch
to music or TV shows sections inside iTunes jukebox application.

While Apple removed the smarter Genius description from the bottom of its What’s new
iTunes page following the release, many have noticed that release notes
accompanying the download (via OS X’s Software Update mechanism) still
sports a description of this feature. It is this inconsistency — combined
with puzzling absence of a smarter Genius in iTunes 8.1 — that has prompted a lot of angry comments all around the web.

Genius in iTunes 8 works pretty straightforward. 1) First, you select a song in your library. 2) Then, click the Genius button. 3) The recommendation engine creates a playlist of songs which match your taste. In this way, you discover new music that you might like and, hopefully, buy from the iTunes Store.

Genius rant

You might already have read my rant about Apple’s placebo iTunes upgrade. In that article I express my bewilderment over the lack of Genius, along with Apple’s
practice of billing features already in existence as new in iTunes 8.1.
Many other online sites, including gadget blog Gizmodo,
have reported the existence of a smarter Genius in iTunes 8.1 without
doing their homework or fact-checking. And who could blame them? After all, we all believe everything Apple tells us, right? Wrong!

Apple: “Smarter Genius is there, it’s just not working yet”

It now appears the mystery of the invisible smarter Genius has been solved. According to Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr (who spoke with
Macworld), the improved Genius feature is present in iTunes 8.1, it’s
just not enabled yet. “The feature isn’t live yet, but it will be in
the coming days,”
was his only comment.

So, there you have it. Apparently Apple needs to do a bit more tweaking of its iTunes servers before feeding its Genius new data about the TV shows and movies we’re watching.

was unveiled in iTunes 8, unleashed as part of iPod lineup refresh last
September and was hailed as the greatest new feature.

How does Genius work?

The Genius recommendation engine works by periodically collecting anonymous
data about songs in users library, play counts, user ratings and other
metadata associated with each track. If a user voluntarily opts in, Genius will send this gathered intelligence back to Apple’s iTunes servers (way out in the cloud) where it’s then merged with your past iTunes Store purchases, which is then also combined with data from all other users.

This server-side correlation allows the
engine to recommend new songs which go great together — not just based on
your personal listening habits, but taking into account what others are
listening to as well. Genius makes it easy to be just like everybody else in Apple’s world. It’s genius!

Genius works by collecting anonymous information about your iTunes library. This set of combined data from all users is then mined to recommend songs that go great together. Pictured above is Apple CEO Steve Jobs illustrating how the Genius feature in iTunes 8 works during the iPod event last September.

Genius is still dumb

With over half a billion active iTunes installations in the wild,
mining such an enormous amount of music playing stats yields (in)credible
results. While we have no objections to Genius music recommendations,
we couldn’t resist noting that Apple’s insistence to advertise a smarter Genius in iTunes 8.1 means we must still view it as dumb — at least until the movies and TV recommendatins are finally enabled, which the Apple spokesman says will happen “in the coming days”.

We heavily criticized Apple’s practice of advertising a “smarter Genius” feature in iTunes 8.1, when in fact it’s not even there. According to Apple, Genius will eventually recommend movies and TV shows as promised, but it’s “not live yet.” As such, until the “smarter Genius” goes live, we will be using the older, dumber one.