Apple introduced iTunes Match back in June as the “One More Thing” of WWDC 2011. Being a part of the iOS Developer Program, I was given early access to try out Apple’s new cloud-based music offering. These are my first impressions.
Currently, my iTunes library has around 13,500 songs and about 83GB in size. Can Apple handle it?
Step 1: Gathering Information About Your iTunes Library.
After purchasing the iTunes Match service at $24.99, iTunes Match becomes activated and starts scanning my library for music. iTunes gathers the info needed to submit to Apple. Because of my collection size, all scanning takes significant amounts of time (thankfully, rescans go by quicker). For this step, my system took about 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete.
Step 2: Matching Your Music With Songs In The iTunes Store.
iTunes then determines of my ~13,500 song collection which songs are already in the iTunes Store for instant, ready-to-go streaming and “iCloud-ing.” The scanning goes a little slower, with this process taking about an hour and a half for me. Slow going, but my expectations are that a bunch of my music will not be found, and the majority will be.
Step 3: Uploading Remaining Songs And Artwork.
This step is the big one: iTunes uploads all the rest of my music to my iCloud account for instant access anywhere. However, to my shock, only around 3,000 songs in my collection are found in the iTunes store! What gives!?
It seems that iTunes is very particular about proper ID tagging for your music files. When I say, “proper,” I really mean, “what iTunes has listed on their store.” Many people will have improper tags, or even slightly-altered tags (for example, I removed the “Deluxe Edition” title off a lot of my albums), and if they don’t match during step 2, they don’t get listed as automatically available. I’ve tried renaming a few albums and titles to match their iTunes Store equivalents, but to no success during rescanning of my collection.
Therein lies the second issue: uploading my collection. Uploading any amount of data eats up loads bandwidth, slowing down internet access for myself—and everyone else—on my network. But to do so with ~10,000 songs? I let my iTunes start to do the upload and it had managed to send ~150 songs in under an hour. With the remaining files (at a constant rate, completely uninterrupted), it would take about 2.5 days to complete the upload. Granted, it’s probably understood that the upload would not happen all at once, but if you add music to your collection frequently, a rescan would be necessary after closing out iTunes. What is really unfortunate for us beta users is when the beta period ends, our iCloud uploads gets wiped, forcing us to upload everything again.
With a successful upload, you finally get this message. I used a secondary library to complete this part, as my main collection—on an external hard drive—has not completed uploading at the time of this writing. I’ll get to multiple library handling in a moment.
Streaming vs Progressive Downloading
There has been different rumors and statements online about how iTunes Match handles “streaming” content. The reality is simple: Desktop versions of iTunes will do true internet streaming. iOS devices will do “progressive downloading,” which means your music will play as it downloads to your device.
On the desktop version of iTunes, simply find the song/album you want to play from your iCloud… and play it! That’s it! Playback was instant in my testing.
On an iOS device, select the song you want to play, and it starts to download as it plays for you. If you want to download instead of play a track or album, simply press their corresponding buttons. Tool on-the-go, for the win!
Multiple Libraries (and Issues)
iTunes Match has the ability to combine multiple libraries into one mega library! Since it goes by your Apple ID, you tell your account which libraries you own and they will upload to your iCloud account.
However, while ideally this is an excellent feature, it does not come without caveats.
My setup: My main library is on an external hard drive to help keep my MacBook Pro clean with free space. So, when the hard drive is not connected to my laptop, I have a library of only select tunes and a few new albums that haven’t been backed up yet.
When I told iTunes to add my “minimal” library to my iTunes Match account, it went through the same scanning process as my main library. When it gets to the uploading portion, my minimal library now has all my music listed. This is great… if all your music is already uploaded. For me, however, there’s just a lot of empty promises of future music to listen to. Thankfully, you can turn off iTunes Match on a computer if you only want to see your locally-stored music.
Also, while my main library—attached to another computer—was uploading music via iTunes Match, I tried to start a scan of my laptop’s minimal library to find that iTunes can only do one scan at a time for an account. If I start a scan on my laptop, the in-progress scan on a secondary computer grays out and will require a rescan to continue.
With mixing libraries, I also found two other issues with music collection, or rather, removing music from my collections:
1. If my second library adds songs that are in the iTunes Store, they match without any issue. I can stream or download the matched AAC audio version as I want to. However, if I add the version of the songs I own to my main library, iTunes lists both the iCloud-stored version and my local version. If I try to delete the iCloud version, nothing happens. I’m just left with duplicate copies of music.
What’s funny though is that if I download the iCloud versions of the songs and view their info, I see the same tagging from my uploaded copies, which are from Amazon-purchased songs. Interesting!
2. I scan my minimal library, but don’t upload my music to my iCloud. I have a single song that was scanned but not uploaded, then add the song manually to my main library. What happens? The song is listed twice, similar to the previous example. The difference is you cannot download the iCloud version, because it was never uploaded. However, you can’t delete it either. The fix would be to complete the upload process or remove the file from the first library and rescan. Once my main library has uploaded to iCloud though, this won’t really be an issue. Still annoying in the meantime.
Continue Down The Stream(ing)
I still have a lot more playing around to do with iTunes Match, but for starting off, things are looking pretty good for the new service. This weekend, I’ll have iTunes Match turned off from my laptop while my office computer works though the weekend uploading my full collection. A business-grade internet plan makes for easier uploading, especially if it’s on the weekend when no one is working and no worries of data caps either. In the coming weeks, I will give iTunes Match a more thorough testing, and by launch I’ll give an update post.
For people not beta-testing the software, do you have any questions for me about iTunes Match? If you are testing it, what are your thoughts on iTunes Match so far? Let me know in the comments!