iTunes Match Launches

November 15th, 2011

Big changes are happening in iTunes.  iTunes in the Cloud automatically pushes iTunes Store purchased downloads to all of your devices without syncing or plugging in.  Now, with iTunes Match, even songs uploaded from CDs or purchased from other sites can be sent to iCloud wirelessly and accessed by your mobile devices for $24.99 a year.  Because iTunes in the Cloud is a free service, iTunes match makes the most sense for people who get their music outside of the iTunes store.

It is called iTunes Match because not all of your tracks are actually uploaded to the cloud.  First, it looks to its library of 20 million tunes to “match” up your track with one already in the cloud.  If it’s there, you stream those tracks to your devices; if the song isn’t already in the cloud, it will be uploaded and available for streaming.  Another plus – according to Apple, “all the music iTunes matches plays back from iCloud at 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality – even if your original copy was of lower quality.”

Sounds great? Maybe not. Jared Newman at PC World brings up some of the downsides to the service:

First, the matching process takes a long time–especially right now, as there is a rush of new users putting a strain on Apple’s servers. My 15GB library, most of which comes from ripped CDs, took about an hour to match. Uploading unmatched songs takes much longer–after a half-hour of uploading, I was only through about 20 percent of my 1100 upload items.

The bigger issue, however, is how iOS devices manage your newly matched library. Activating iTunes Match on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch erases all of your locally-stored music (so it’s a bad idea to turn on the service if you’re about to hop on a long flight).

(UPDATE: According to Macworld, iTunes Match does not delete your local music library right away, despite Apple’s warnings. To double check, I tried this on my iPhone and found that all my local music was available even after disconnecting Wi-Fi. On the iPad, however, roughly half of my library is unavailable when Wi-Fi is turned off, because the songs haven’t finished re-downloading through iTunes Match. I’m not sure why my two devices behaved differently, but I’d warn against switching on iTunes Match until you have enough time to deal with any snafus.)

Songs are downloaded to your device automatically as you play them, and you can download entire playlists or individual albums with one tap, but there’s no “Download All” button for grabbing your entire library. The workaround, of course, is to create a playlist that consists of your entire library, but I wish Apple had come up with a better solution, including a way to keep locally-stored files on the device until they’ve been replaced by their iTunes copies.

Furthermore, once you’ve downloaded songs to an iOS device, deleting them can be a hassle. You can either swipe over individual tracks to remove them, or you can delete entire albums by pressing and holding on them, then hitting the “X.”

Neither solution is obvious, and if you try latter method on a playlist, it’ll delete the track list itself, not just the downloads within them. Apple needs to make bulk song management clearer and easier for users who want to swap playlists in and out.