iTunes 7.3 Sorting Problems: Fallout Central

Part of the iTunes Sorting Debacle Series

  1. iTunes 7.4.2: No Change in Sorting behavior
  2. iTunes 7.3 Sorting Problems: Fallout Central
  3. iTunes’ totally effed up sorting

Apple has really screwed up with the new sorting behaviors introduced in iTunes 7.3 and it’s making a lot of people seriously unhappy. And, honestly, I’ve NEVER been mad at Apple for anything in my 25+ years of history with the company (annoyed at times, but never mad), but the more I think about this the more pissed I get. For those just joining the story, Apple released version 7.3 to accompany the launch of the iPhone. Included in that release was a new, completely arbitrary rule set for sorting Artist, Album, Composer, Genre, etc tags.

Quoting myself:

Starting with version 7.3, numbers and other non-alphabetic characters are sorted to the bottom of the list. My default view now shows Aalborg Symphony Orchestra at the top. 2pac now begins after the Zs and iTunes suddenly doesn’t even know how to handle artists whose names begin with punctuation. It starts !!! after songs that don’t have anything entered into their Artist or Album tags!


iTunes now ignores the non-alphabetic leading characters and sorts based on the first letter or number it finds in the name. The program now treats fields that are all punctuation as if they are blank, as if they have nothing typed in at all. And guess what else? It passes that behavior to the iPod.

At first, it seemed that the issue was a bug, but as revisions came out, it became clear that this new behavior was intentional. Indeed, an Apple support document created July 11, 2007, explains the new scheme as if everything is hunky-dory. The odd thing about this is that there is no rational explanation for it. Before 7.3, iTunes used case-insensitive ACSII as its basis. It’s a decades old standard that all electronic devices use.

Symbols > Numbers > Letters. That’s the order the entire Western world has been using for all of modern memory. Look on any computer’s desktop and that’s how you’ll see files arranged. Hell, even the 131-years-old Dewey Decimal System sorts numbers before letters. Perhaps more bizarrely though, is that this behavior only appears to affect the first character in the music tags. Playlists and second character sorting (unless the whole field is made of punctuation) still seem to use the ASCII method. Say whaa? If you’re going to screw up a standard, you might as well be consistent with your screwery.

Seriously, this abrupt abandoning of established convention brings Apple closer to Microsoft’s behavior regarding standards. Could you imagine if, on a whim, Apple suddenly changed the way Safari renders web pages to its own specifications, rather than W3C standards, perhaps in order to accommodate the iPhone? That’s how bad this is.

So far, the suggested workaround is to use the Apply Sort Field command to manually restore normal sorting, a process that is cumbersome, tedious, counter-intuitive and shouldn’t even be necessary. In my case, I’d have to apply it to 150-200 albums and gobs of composers and I’m not about to waste my time doing so. Alternately, you can downgrade to iTunes 7.2.

I am not alone in my ire. Others in the passionate-about-iTunes community are equally upset at this development. Here’s some choice reactions from several threads around the net.

Code Monkey at iLounge forums:

It’s not just a “strange” decision, but a downright moronic one. First off, anybody bright enough to use a computer knows that symbols and numbers sort before alphabetical characters. Second off, what was the whole point of introducing the ability to customize sorting in 7.2 if they were just going to turn around and bork it with 7.3?

GadgetGuru72 on the Apple Discussion boards:

Thanks. I am familiar with all the suggested workarounds.

However, I shouldn’t have to use a “workaround” to get a “1” or a “?” to sort before the letter “a” any more than I should have to use a “workaround” to get the letter “a” to sort before the letter “b.”

Amen to that.

Andrew Wiggins in the comments to another iLounge article:

I’m extremely irritated that the numbers vs. letters order has changed. This has messed up with my established order for albums that I was very pleased with.

Comment at engadget: (sic)


they have changed the Digit order, when you sort column be accending, so all those people who had there music sorted by Artist with bands like +44, 65 Days of Static and 30 seconds to Mars ect… will now find that in that mode they are liseted at the bottom after your XY and Z’s (if you have any) Thats just annoying, why the change?

The rampaging horde at Digg:

The sorting in iTunes 7.3 is totaly screwed. Apparently numbers now come after letters.

This was by far the most annoying thing in the update. Brackets and parentheses are ignored in sorting, too!

WTF are they thinking?

well, I did notice that the sorting on the iPod is the same way. Numbers come after letters.

In any case, stupid.

The numbers after letters thing is what really gets me. It’s completely f’ed my entire library.

Comment at Neowin forums:

I really dislike what they did to the artist ordering. That alone makes me want to downgrade

Comment at MacRumors forums:

The 7.3 update is what caused the error in sorting (numbers and symbols after z.) I was hoping the 7.3.1 update would fix it, but it sounds like it doesn’t.

Originally Posted by ryry919 View Post
not sure if anyone else has noticed this, but when I opened iTunes back up after the update I noticed that all of my artists that are a # (IE: 311, 3 Doors Down) are all now at the end of the iTunes artist sort rather than being at the top, before the A’s like it used to be.

anyone know of a way to change this back? is there anything like how you can either view you contacts in address book for first, last or last, first? just wondering.

I downgraded my iTunes to 7.2 for the time being.

Someone’s LiveJournal

Dear $deity why? Why would they do that?

Everybody knows its punctuation->[0-9]->[Aa-Zz], anything else is heresy!

And so on. I’ll add more as I run across them.

For now, the only way to get “standards compliant” sorting back is to downgrade to iTunes 7.2. I’ve done this already and until I see a version that restores standard procedure (or at the very least offers the option of using either scheme), I will not be upgrading to any future version of the software. That basically means I’ll never buy an iPhone or any other product that requires a subsequent version of iTunes. I’ll probably save myself some money that way. If you don’t have an iPhone, I suggest that you do the same. Download for Mac. Download for Windows.

In the meantime, though Apple’s traditionally not very responsive to customer feature complaints, it never hurts to try:

23 thoughts on “iTunes 7.3 Sorting Problems: Fallout Central

  1. Wow am I glad to have read this. Since for one reason or another every single version of iTunes after has been messed up for me, I never did bother to update after having tried the 7.1 and 7.1.2 versions, but I was planning to update now (even though I’ll never have an iPhone).

    I dont even want to think what this “feature” might do to all my albums with tags written in japanese…


  2. It appears that they’ve made a half-fix for this in version 7.4.1 (I just installed).

    7.4.1 sorts symbols before letters, but numbers are still sorted after letters, which I’m sure still causes many people pain.


    tunequest Reply:

    Hi Jesse, thanks for the report, but I haven’t seen that behavior. I installed 7.4.1 on my old Pismo G3 PowerBook and the sorting acted the same way as 7.3.

    Oh well. I think I could live with it if iTunes reverted to not ignoring initial punctuation.


  3. Wow – and I thought I was doing something wrong…..I accidentally nuked my IPOD’s songs (not a big deal as I have all of them still) but upgraded Itunes to 7.3.

    I kept wondering why my song lists are all our of order. Now I know why.


  4. Apple is looking into sorting Artists beginning with the letter Z first, as a way of being fair, and making up for all those years that they’ve been at the end of the list…


  5. Maybe Apple only had 299 new features for Leopard, and changing it back to normal sorting made it 300.

    Seriously, I hope they fix it in Leopard.


  6. What would please everyone, would be to allow the user to choose HOW they wanted to sort their iTunes. I’m a programmer and it honestly isn’t that difficult to implement. I’ve told Apple as much!


  7. I have a similar problem with the sorting. It is very important to me to have everything sorted correctly. I could not figure out for the life of me with 311 and 3 doors down were coming after Z’s, until I read this forum. I just purchased a new 160 gb ipod classic. It REQUIRES itunes v. 7.5, which is the newest version, and I can’t revert to an old version. Any suggestions on how to fix the sorting issue on 7.5? Is there third party software that is better than itunes?


    Michelle Reply:


    Use the Sort Artist field.

    Right-click one track–not the entire album, just one track–and hit Get Info. Click the Sorting tab. In the right column, second from the top, you’ll see a field titled Sort Artist. iTunes will recategorize the artist listing based on what you type in here. Obviously, you can’t just type 50 Cent in there, because it’ll still list numbers after letters. So you’ll have to use a bit of trickery: try typing AAA 50 Cent in the field, then hit OK. The track you selected should then be displayed at the top of your iTunes library.

    Find the track again, right-click it, go down to Apply Sort Field at the very bottom of the menu, and select Same Artist. Voila, all of your tracks with the artist set as 50 Cent will now appear at the top of your iTunes library when you sort by artist.

    Repeat as necessary.


  8. Wow. I searched for this problem on google because I figured there was simply a sorting feature in 7.4 that I was overseeing. Much to my dismay, I have obviously found out that it is totally whacked out. Good article, crappy system. Hopefully apple will come around.


  9. wow… at least i’m not the only one baffled by this decision. Another problem I noticed around the same time is that iTunes no longer ignores articles, so, for instance, all of my songs by A Perfect Circle are filed under P for Perfect Circle instead of A for A Perfect Circle. Does anybody know of a way to fix that either? Or is it just the same, revert back to 7.2?


  10. This is incredibly annoying. I put off buying an iPod because I knew cleaning up all my ID3 tags was going to be a pain. But, I caved and bought an iPod classic 80 GB. I think I figured out how to get everything out of the ID3 tags that I want so I can sort all songs by artist/song, but the damn thing sorts the numbers at the bottom. How stupid is that!? Apple, if you read this, fix your stupidity. Worst part is, I don’t even have the option to downgrade, since my iPod needs the newer versions.



  11. You think the Symbol Number Letter sorting was bad? Look at what they are doing with numbers alone! Apparently 10 now comes before 2! WTF is with that crap. Guess they are sorting by character and not word anymore. Stupid.


  12. on 7.7, still upset, my friend was taking songs from my ipod and when i got it back everything was out of order

    now i know why, i’ve spent countless minutes trying to figure out how to fix it

    7.7 has the symbols mixed with the lettering, and the numbers are at the end

    Downgrade!!! hopefully my ipod will go back to the old ordering as well


  13. Nothing pissed me off more than when the morons at itunes decided to make letters comes before symbols and letters. Their older versions used to sort things correctly, but now they’ve screwed everything up. Symbols and numbers have always comes before letters when sorted. What the heck were they thinking when they decided to change their system to sort backwards? It’s obviously intentional, but I want an explanation; they’ve intentionally made their program crappier and I want to know WHY.


    Ryan Reply:

    correction to 1st sentence *…letters come before symbols and numbers.*. It’s late…been studying almost all day. There are probably other errors, but i’m too tired to care right now.


  14. I’m late to this party; I only started using iTunes after they had made this change. As such, it never bothered me. (I found compilation album sorting behavior to be far more frustrating.) But I can see how it would be a huge pain in the neck for established users. I can’t claim any insight into Apple’s decision, but the first thought that occurred to me is that perhaps they are using this, shall we say, unique, sorting method as the basis for a patent claim. As a corollary, perhaps they are trying to preempt a patent troll. Or else they took their “Think Different” advertising slogan a little too seriously.


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