The Smart Mac: iTunes, iPhoto & Aperture

iTunes PlaylistsThe last stop in our series of better file management through ideas based on smart folders brings us to iTunes, iPhoto and Aperture. All of these apps provide support for organizing your files similar to Address Book and Mail. The beauty of “smart” file management, of course, is once you have defined the frameworks for the album, folder or playlist, new content will automatically fall in place if it meets your rules.


The first time you noticed a smart “anything with a purple icon” was probably in iTunes. Besides OS X, iTunes is the only piece of software to ship with several built-in smart items. You’ve seen them before, specifically the 90’s Music, Classical Music and Recently Played playlists, to name a few. If you’ve read our previous articles, you know how those work now (and can just right click them to edit their criteria).

But when it comes to iTunes, one thing that invariably also comes to mind is an iPod. If you have at least one iPod, chances are you probably have several iPods. As such, you can set each iPod to sync specific music, playlists or even smart playlists. But since oftentimes our music libraries are larger than the capacity of our iPods, Apple has built in a few unique twists in smart playlist support for iTunes to “shuffle things up.” Here’s a few ideas to get some unique use out of them. (Keep in mind, you can sync multiple playlists, allowing you to mix and match some of these unique smart playlists with your own favorite content.)

Random Tunes

If you have a small iPod, such as an iPod shuffle, you might try a smart playlist that just pulls a random sampling of your music.

Random iTunes

Music I Never Listen To

As Apple (perhaps secretly?) wants iTunes to become the Google of your media collection, it has built in tracking of how often you listen to your content. You could create a playlist that showed you all items with a play count of less than 1 for a jam list of music you’ve never heard.

Music I Never Listen To

My Top 10

If you are one to tag your songs with star ratings, you could create a playlist of your all time 10 best tunes, based on rating and frequency of play.

My Top 10


The iPhoto equivalent is, as you might have guessed, called Smart Albums. Similar to iTunes, iPhoto provides support for specialized criteria for searching, including criteria based on camera settings and support for Faces and Places. Here’s some ideas for unique iPhoto smart albums.

Group Shot

Keeping track of family photos is easy with faces. If you want to easily see all the photos from your own family, create a smart album that shows pictures based on the faces of any of your family members. (Make sure to set this one to “match any” instead of “match all.”)

The Appleseeds

European Vacation

In addition to tagging your photos by location (or GPS, if your camera is equipped), you could create a smart album that automatically grouped any photos taken in the countries you visited.


Those Pesky Movies

Newer cameras support the ability to record film, and for lack of a better place to store them, iPhoto imports them right along with your photos. But they’re all mixed up in albums and there’s no simple way to pick them apart. Just create a smart album that looks for the usual video extensions in any text. This should find them by their filename and let you view them all in one place.

Pesky Movies

Holiday Photos

If you have lots of family and friends who all love to take and share photos, you could create a smart album based on the date photos were taken. For instance, all photos that are in the range of December 20 through December 28 are likely my holiday photos. As more people send you their photos from the event, provided their camera tagged them with the correct date, they will automatically populate the album.


Apple’s high-end photo management application also takes advantage of smart file management. Similar to iPhoto, you can use criteria based on EXIF metadata (aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.). Despite the fact that Aperture doesn’t support Faces and Places like iPhoto, there are a number of additional options that can make photo management even easier.

A word of caution with Aperture, however. When creating a smart album, Aperture will only search the root level of the location where you store the album. For instance, if I’m viewing my entire library and create one there, it’ll search all photos. If I am in a particular project, however, the smart album will only search photos within that project. As usual, remember that deleting a photo in your library will also delete it from the smart album. You’re just “reorganizing” the same content with smart albums and not actually making a duplicate. (This applies to all smart items: folders, albums, playlists, etc.)

Missing Captions & Credit

Aperture provides extensive support for IPTC data (the metadata you add to your photos after the camera is done with them). You can use this to create albums that show which of your photos are missing captions or copyright information, should you wish to make sure all of your photos are properly tagged.

Needs Credit

Need the Ratings

If you’re a photographer who loves to use Apple’s star system to rate your photos, consider a smart album that is based on showing you photos without a rating. It’s a quick and easy way to find any of those photos that slip through the cracks.

Needs Rating

Apple’s own apps are certainly not the only to take advantage of “smart” organization. 1Password and NewsFire are just two examples of a growing breed of third-party applications that really harness the power of OS X’s database infrastructure to deliver content organized on the fly by your rules. If you’ve found interesting uses of smart playlists in iTunes or Smart Albums in Aperture or iPhoto, share them with us below.