After announcing iTunes Match earlier this year, Apple finally rolled out the service to its customers this week. The online service lets iTunes users upload their music library to the cloud and share it across all iOS devices and computers attached to the same Apple ID. The service provides unlimited access to your music and costs $25 a year.
I signed up to give it a test drive and see how it works. I was surprised to discover that I actually liked the service and will continue to use it beyond this initial trial. Here’s why.
What is iTunes Match?
iTunes Match differs from other services like Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music. All three provide cloud access to your music files, but with iTunes Match you don’t have to go through the arduous process of uploading your entire library. iTunes scans your music library, identifies your tracks and matches them to songs in the iTunes catalog. There’s no uploading if the songs are matched. Matches are then made available in the cloud as 26Kbps AAC files. Even low-quality files that are matched will be made available at this higher bitrate.
Songs that are not matched are uploaded manually in their original format, but these orphaned tracks were few and far between. Once you scan your library the first time, you only have to scan new songs which means future scans will be incremental and fast. You can store up to 25,000 songs in the cloud and download individual songs to any of your devices anytime you want. It’s that easy.
Why do I want it?
Apple understands that people want a relatively cheap and easy way to share their library between devices. Using a cable and manually syncing files is cumbersome, especially if you use multiple devices and multiple computers. It gets even worse when you start mixing iOS devices with a Mac at home and a Windows PCs at work. iTunes Match is your one-stop solution to getting your music library on every device.
You don’t really realize how important this syncing is until you find yourself needing it. I have a 16 GB iPhone 4S and don’t have tons of space for music. As a result, I don’t sync much of my music. Many, many times I have found myself searching for a particular song on my phone and end up frustrated because it was on an album I did not sync. With iTunes Match that problem is gone. All my tracks are in the cloud and I can download them anytime I want over 3G. If I run out of space, I can delete unwanted tracks from my phone and download new ones.
iTunes Match can also help you update all your tracks to 256K AAC files. Theres a hack described by Macworld that’ll convert all your low quality music into high quality music. All you have to do is let iTunes scan your music and setup your library in the cloud. Once your cloud is established, you can delete the low quality files on your computer and re-download them from the cloud. To make things easier, you can aggregate all the low quality files in a playlist so you can find and download them easily.
To be fair, iTunes Match isn’t perfect. It doesn’t upload all your files (low-quality 90k tracks and podcasts are not allowed) and sometimes doesn’t identify popular songs even when it should, but these were the exception, not the norm. This is the first version of iTunes Match and Apple will likely improve the recognition algorithm.
Another hiccup occurs when you change the song ID tags in iTunes. These changes are sent to iCloud but won’t transfer to your iPhone or iPad until you delete and re-download the modified tracks again. The is inconvenient but fixable in an update. Lastly, iTunes Match won’t stream your music, it only lets you download it. I thought I would miss the streaming but, I find I don’t mind downloading the files on the fly.
For those people who use a Mac and several iOS devices, iTunes Match is a no-brainer. It’s not that expensive and the always available music collection will save you a lot of headaches, especially when you start switching devices or add new ones to your collection.