iTunes gains Automatically Add to iTunes feature

One of the often requested features for iTunes has been the ability to set a folder for it to watch, automatically adding any items you drop in that folder to its library. In iTunes 9, Apple has quietly added this feature, although I wouldn’t blame you for not having noticed its existence. In typical Apple fashion, it’s not exactly what people were asking for, but Apple’s interpretation of what they want.

When you install iTunes 9, it automatically creates an Automatically Add to iTunes folder in your ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music folder (or under ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media if you created a new library after installing iTunes 9). When you put an iTunes-compatible media file in this folder, it will, as the name suggests, be added to iTunes automatically.

In my limited testing, I’ve found that it pretty much works as advertised. Whenever you drop any file into that folder, it's instantly added to iTunes if the application is running. If not, it gets added the next time iTunes is launched. It even looks for files in subfolders you create and adds them to the library as well. And if you ever delete or rename the Automatically Add to iTunes folder, iTunes simply creates a new one for you the next time it is launched.

However, it does have a lot of caveats.

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For one thing, iTunes’s list of supported formats, especially in the video department, is comically short. You can be pretty assured that if the video was downloaded from the Internet, it will not be supported by iTunes. In such a case, iTunes will move it to a Not Added subfolder within the Automatically Add to iTunes folder. But that’s to be expected because iTunes has never exactly supported a host of media formats. Still, there are other problems.

When users asked for an option to direct iTunes to a folder, they really wanted an option to direct iTunes to any folder. What Apple has done, on the other hand, is created a pre-designated folder for the task and not given an option to change it to any other location. So if you have a huge collection of media in your Movies folder or on an external hard disk drive containing files that you’d like to automatically add to iTunes, you’ll still have to move them to that particular folder. What’s the point, then? You can just drag and drop them onto the iTunes icon in the Dock and be done with it.

Well, you say, we can just use the Automatically Add to iTunes folder as our primary movies folder, then—maybe even move it to a location of our choosing, and leave behind an alias to take its place. Wouldn’t that work? Not so much. Not only does iTunes not accept anything added to that folder if you move it, but the presence of the alias prevents iTunes from creating a new version of the folder either.

And when iTunes does add media files from the Automatically Add to iTunes folder, it moves them into its media folder and organizes them as it normally would, even if you have the option to do so disabled under iTunes’s advanced preferences. It also deletes any subfolders you create within that folder (although that’s a logical conclusion, given that they're useless if the media files you put in them never stay there).

In short, I don’t think the feature is very useful in the form Apple chose to implement it. The only possible use I can see if for you to set it as the default download location for media files you purchase/download off the Internet, so that they can automatically be added to iTunes without your having to do so (and even there, Apple has recommended you don't use it for incomplete files). I hope Apple rethinks this and gives users the freedom to use any folder they want and makes iTunes stop moving the media files around if the user doesn’t want it to. It’s still a (very small) step in the right direction though.

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