So it's been a year since iTunes Match was officially launched in the US, and Apple has had a year to tweak their newest addition to iTunes, dare I say the future of music. Simply put, I love iTunes Match. I'm hooked on how it works, how easy it is to set up, and the general idea that you can have your music easily available anywhere, but still store locally in your original files, and this is where I see the real advantage of iTunes Match lies.
You may be asking the question: What is iTunes Match? This is actually a perfectly reasonable question, as Apple really hasn't explained it properly, or as well as they could have. It is an extension of iCloud, costs AU$35 per year (USD$25), that stores all of your music from iTunes into Apple's servers, uploads any of them that you haven't bought through iTunes, and that cannot be 'matched'. In theory, once you've 'Matched' all your music, you will never need to have a single monolithic iTunes library, because you've got one in the cloud, looked after by Apple, and all you need to do to access all your tracks, is enter your Apple ID into iTunes/iOS, and then bam you've got yourself access to your entire library.
Sounds good, you might say, but what exactly is the difference between this and other streaming services? It's more of a hybrid of different models, being able to stream your library from Spotify, and being able to upload all your OWN tracks, a la Amazon Web Storage, and also its own unique spin that it uses your existing library, so your files all stay there, and you can edit them and they will be updated on all your devices.
How does it work?
iTunes Match collates all your songs, uploads the track listings, checks if you have purchased any of the songs THROUGH iTunes, and doesn't bother uploading any of their music content, but forwards a link to them, so to speak. The next step is where the 'Match' part of iTunes Match comes into play; it uploads a short clip of the song, which is used as a 'fingerprint', and is matched against the iTunes Store's songs, which are all high-quality 256kb/s tracks. By doing this, the need to upload ALL of every single song (which is what Amazon's service does, and will take an age), is negligated, and results in less time spent in the initial setup. This method is used similarly to identify songs in Shazam. Songs that cannot be matched are then uploaded in full, however. It took me around 12 hours to fully get my iTunes Library matched and uploaded, which is pretty decent considering my library is around 14GB, and I had to have around 150 songs actually uploaded in full.
iTunes Match won’t upload any songs that are under 96kb/s in sound quality, anything marked as a voice memo. Whilst your tracks are being synced to Apple’s servers, it’ll have a little status label next to each song, saying whether it has been purchased, uploaded, matched or skipped.
So that is how it works. How it is in action, is a little interesting. You enter your Apple ID details into another PC for instance, and it will match that library with Apple’s servers, and put in placeholders for all your songs already stored in iTunes Match. You can then stream tracks, track by track, or you can click the little iCloud icon next to each song to actually download the track. You can do this per track, or by an artist, album or playlist. So you could for instance make a playlist called “Offline” that could store your favourite tracks, so you could listen to them regardless of if you have an internet connection, and then download that entire playlist.
Songs download fairly quickly, about the same speed as you’d get when purchasing songs from the iTunes Store and then downloading them, which I’m very happy with. Streaming is near instantaneous.
I have a few niggles about iTunes Match however…
Firstly, and one of the things that annoys me the most, is that you cannot simultaneously have iTunes Match enabled on iOS and also 'sideload' music onto it through iTunes. Now, this may be okay for iPhones, since they always have a data connection and can easily download any song on a whim. However, my iPod is a lot harder, and I would appreciate if I could just copy all my music over and also have iTunes Match enabled. After all, space isn't a premium on my iPod - I have a 32GB iPod Touch. A workaround is to copy all your music over, then enable iTunes Match. All your songs that you've copied over that are the same as the ones stored in Match will just consolidate into one. The only conceivable downsides that I've noticed in practise of doing this are that all the album artwork is lost (for some weird reason; I have yet to come up with a possible valid explanation for this), and once you've copied those songs over and enabled Match, you CANNOT simply copy any more over, you will have to download them through the internet connection.
Not all your album artwork will appear, and when you enable iTunes Match on computers other than your original computer, some iTunes artwork will just fail to load, even after playing a song (as seen below)
There are a few other little quirks that annoy me, but the simple fact is that for the most part, iTunes Match ‘just works’. I love being able to access my entire library from my laptop which has just been reimaged with Windows, and the semi-cross platform nature of it is also really great. I love not having to worry about losing my entire library with a single ship, and for such a low price relatively; its way cheaper than Spotify’s premium memberships.
Who is it good for?
iTunes Match is for most people, as Apple products mostly are. If you rely on an iPod or iPhone that runs lower than iOS 5, forget about it – iTunes Match support is only integrated into iOS 5. Also if you hate iTunes, its definitely not for you either, because you are definitely locking yourself into the Apple ecosystem by using this product. Keep in mind that it is only for iTunes Windows/Mac, and iOS – there is no Android version. But this is a relatively benign problem, as you most likely have all your iTunes music stored on your computer, and all the files you have uploaded can be easily retrieved, so you can easily jump ship to another ecosystem, something you can’t do with Spotify’s propietary file formats.
It is for people that like Apple, like iTunes, own at least two computers and an iDevice, and have a good internet connection. As such, I’d definitely recommend it. 4/5