Why Apple downloads are like gambling

poker machineI have discovered a new gambling addiction – it’s called trying to download a large file from iTunes.

I have a blindingly fast Internet connection and can download a movie in a matter of minutes. Well I can if it’s not from iTunes in the evening. Then it can take days. What is that all about?

When I first noticed this I thought the problem lay at my end of things. I thought that, because that’s what Apple told me. However after changing my router, completely re-wiring my network, and making a range of other changes it became entirely apparent that the problem was not at my end. I can download huge files from anyone other than Apple without trouble – so it’s not at my end.

So did the problem lie with Telstra? Were they throttling downloads over their cable network in some way?  I did some research and some people claimed that they had fixed Apple download problems by switching the DNS server away from Telstra’s defaults. However, just as many people claimed to have fixed the same problem by switching back to Telstra’s defaults. And yet another group stridently claimed that DNS servers logically couldn’t make the slightest difference. Probably the most cogent argument though was that Apple download issues are not restricted to Telstra – they seem to hit people regardless of which ISP is used. I tried changing the DNS server anyway and nothing made a difference.

And that leaves only one part of the process where the problem can lie, and that’s with Apple. So I do some research and find that I’m not alone. People have been complaining about this sort of thing for years. The problem seems to lie with the way Apple’s distributed server network operates. It impacts different people differently, but it’s certainly not a new problem. Many people don’t notice it because they don’t download HD movies or they have low expectations of speed anyway. It’s when you are told that a movie that should take ten minutes to download will take 16 hours that it really hits you between the eyes.

Why is it like playing the slot machines? Well if you see you are getting a slow download speed, you can pause and restart the download and you’ll get a different speed. Do it enough times and you may end up with an acceptable speed.

Although having done this, it is perhaps more like playing poker – you have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. The urge to try just one more time for a better speed, only to find yourself back at square one, is very dangerous. Each time you initiate a download you roll the dice on the server or combination of servers that will deliver the file. If you get lucky it can work OK; if you don’t you can initiate flashbacks to the 1980s and analogue modems.

So does Apple know about this? If they read their own support forums, let alone the Internet in general, they do. This is clearly not a new problem. But nothing I daunted I also contacted Apple support to report the problem and got a lovely message telling me I could make Apple happy by going and giving it to some other part of the organisation…

Hello Evan,

Welcome back to iTunes Store Customer Support. I am Anand.

I am sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused to you. I can certainly understand your concern and I will provide as much as information I can.

Evan, I can appreciate how important it is to have your thoughts voiced and heard. I want to thank you for taking the time to contact Apple about improving iTunes. Apple recognizes that no one is better qualified to provide feedback about iTunes than the people who use it.

In fact, you may not know this but 80% of the changes made to our products and services are driven by comments left on our feedback page. Your email does matter and can make a difference.

I encourage you to use the iTunes Feedback page to submit your comments: http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html

Your efforts to share your feedback are very much appreciated and I assure you that nothing make Apple happier than to understand and value there customers and there views and would be definitely looking into your feedback.  

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