Monday, December 19, 2011

iTunes Match - An Average User's Review

Today I was finally successful in getting iTunes Match up and running on my MacBook Pro and my iPhone 4--allowing me to access my 13,000+ songs that are held within my iTunes library from anywhere on my iPhone.

For a user like myself who has a pretty large and eclectic library of music and only 32 GB of storage on my iPhone, the $27.99/yr(CAD) iTunes Match service is one that I've been waiting to get my hands on for some time now.

For those that don't know, iTunes Match is a service that works hand-in-hand with iCloud to allow you to access all of your music anywhere you can connect to the internet on your iDevice. The beauty of the service is that it utilizes the vast amount of music content that's already stored on Apple's servers within the iTunes Store. In this way, you don't have to upload all of your music to the cloud before you can access it like some other cloud services. With iTunes Match, only songs that Apple doesn't have in their vaults will be uploaded, saving you and your ISP a great deal of bandwidth. As you listen to your music on your device, if you choose to listen to a song that isn't stored locally, your device will simultaneously buffer, play and download the track to your device and will store it until you run out of space or you choose to delete it. Of course, 'deleting' doesn't mean it's gone, it's just not on your iPhone anymore, and it will always be available from the cloud. It's important to note that this isn't the same as streaming. Your iDevice is actually downloading the full track from the cloud so the next time you press play on it, it'll be there ready and waiting.
You can see here that once iTunes Match is turned on, you've got all your music at your fingertips.

As with most things Apple, the set up and implementation of the service is very easy and straightforward, though there are a few things that any user may run into and that everyone should be aware of.

1. If you've got a lot of tunes that are not mainstream or simply aren't already in the iiTunes Store, it's going to take a LONG time for the songs to upload to Apple's servers. I actually tried 3 times at home before giving up and bringing my laptop to the office to complete the upload. (thank you corporate data plan :) (this will obviously also depend on your own bandwidth, if you've got lots of upload room, you're in business)

2. Before you turn on iTunes Match, if you've filled your device up with tunes by using the 'Fill empty space with music" option, once you turn on the service your device will probably be over capacity. Fear not though, Apple's algorithms have been designed to delete songs that aren't being used frequently and to leave about 200-400mb of space on the device at all times so you can always take pictures and video while on the go without your device running out of space. This is awesome because if you think about it, if you're away from your computer and can't re-sync, your iPhone will automatically make room on your device once it's filled up!

3. Songs that are uploaded to Apple's servers are stored as 256kbps. If you've got an ear for quality and your music is mostly stored at a higher bit-rate (like 320kbps), then you're going to notice some reduction in quality when you listen to music downloaded from the cloud.

4. If you've got songs that are coded at less than 256kbps and Apple has them in the iTunes Store, then Apple will make the higher bit-rate version available to you. For some, this may mean a $30 library overhaul on top of the improved access to your tunes. Not bad if you can appreciate the difference in quality (I totally can, especially when listening to BASSNECTAR!! WOMP).

5. While on the go, a good quality connection (whether 3G or Wi-Fi) is a must. I was sitting in the Vancouver airport and though I had full bars, I think the sheer number of people in the area on their phones was reducing the available bandwidth from nearby towers; causing the song to stop and buffer before continuing. Once I switched to the airport's Wi-Fi connection, everything was seamless. Only about a 1-2 second delay after pushing play on a song that was stored in the cloud.

6. One thing that only just occurred to me, by using iTunes Match, we now have the ability to delete songs right off your phone! Before this wasn't even possible (pffft. I know, right?)

I hope you've found these tidbits useful. If you've got any other tips or how-to's for iTunes Match, pelase leave them in the comments below so eveyone can benefit.

Thanks! And happy listening!


PS. a great list of articles on various aspects of iTunes Match and iCloud is available from our good friends at Mashable