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Raj Bains

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iTunes Match - Review

Posted: 17/01/2013 22:57

The Cloud

Apple have been pouring resources in to their 'iCloud' storage facility at a rate of knots over the past 18months; adapting both recently released hardware and software in order to fully incorporate the idea, therefore creating another limb of their much loved ecosystem. For those unfamiliar with the cloud concept, it's essentially a subscription based service Apple offer customers for the opportunity to have their own external hard-drive in the sky, meaning that your files don't live via a singular save, but are accessible, adaptable and kept up-to-date across all of your Apple devices in unison.

However, the idea of cloud storage in general is one that never really interested me until Apple announced their iTunes Match package. For £21.99 a year you can store your entire iTunes library in the cloud, giving you access to it across your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac and (lord have mercy on your soul) Windows PC, without losing any memory on the device itself, creating what should in theory become your own personalised version of Spotify - or something along those lines.

So after months of pondering I recently took the plunge; armed with a deck of gift cards amassed over Christmas I hit the subscription option and inadvertently sealed my fate for the proceeding 96 hours...

Step One: Gathering Information About Your iTunes Library

This process is relatively pain free in all honesty; it's just iTunes way of assessing your library before getting on with the more heavy-duty end of the procedure. In reality I don't think this bit took very long initially, maybe 20 minutes at the very most, but given that it had 10,000+ tracks to get familiar with, it's probably more than reasonable.

This might be a good time to mention that iTunes recognises all of the music in your library by the way, not just things bought through the iTunes store. This means then if you're like me, and your library is a strong concoction of ripped CD's from a bygone time, the occasional iTunes purchase and a substantial collection of morally-ambiguously acquired music, there's no need to fear, they'll accept it all.

Step Two: Matching Your Music With The iTunes Store

This is the stage of the process the developers at Apple pride themselves on. By using their connections with the music industry and their already substantial database of music, iTunes Match scours your library for anything that they already have to hand, and 'matches' them to their own copy and leaves it in your cloud space. For OCD organisers of their libraries this process is ideal; but for those feral users among us who fail to update the information of their music as meticulously as we do, I imagine this could come back with little or no reward.

For me, I'd say around 70% of my library was matched first time around, leaving only the music iTunes claimed to know nothing about needing to upload, but we'll get on to that bit in a second. The other handy thing Match does as standard is to update your collection's quality to 256kbps across the board, meaning many songs will actually benefit from an increase in quality when matched or uploaded.

Step Three: Uploading Artwork And Remaining Songs

AKA hell. With around 30% of my library in need of uploading to the cloud after matching had failed me, the last thing I anticipated was the following three-day battle with iTunes to move faster than snails pace in order to upload. Match refuses to upload songs to the cloud that don't have a certain bit-rate, meaning the audio quality of the song isn't up to Apple's high standards. The way around this was to create a playlist of the selection of songs, convert them all within iTunes to Apple's own AAC format and then restart the Match process from scratch.

This done, and iTunes having gone through steps one and two again increasingly quickly, the uploading process began again. This done, and iTunes having gone through steps one and two again increasingly quickly, the uploading process began again. This done, and iTunes having gone through steps one and two again increasingly quickly, the uploading process began again. Sorry, I'm not going senile. I did just write that out three times, annoying isn't it? Well that's exactly what iTunes match did for the next few days; get 10-20 songs in to the uploading process, fall over itself and start from the beginning, testing both my patience and sanity. With no energy left, I dimmed my Mac's screen, told it not to sleep and left it alone in it's troubled cycle until it had finally completed.

Verdict

In all honesty even as an ardent Apple fanboy, step three saw me question my belief in Apple. Perhaps the wifi signal I was using wasn't the fastest, but the performance was still unacceptable. Was it karma for the volume of music in my library for which money had never changed hands? Was an indication that post Steve Jobs the company he built was starting to crumble? My questions were answered when I finally started using the Match service itself.

It's beautiful, quick, easy to use and everything I'd imagined it to be. I updated my iPad and iPhone to incorporate it, created a separate iTunes library on my Mac so that it was available from there too. The past 96 hours of pain were almost immediately forgotten, my fickle heart won over by this minor miracle in cloud storage. Apple had delivered, and all was right in the world again.

That uploading process is as far am I'm aware the services biggest flaw, but given that competitors Google and Amazon don't yet have Match like technology, but entirely depend on the user uploading each independent track to their version of the iCloud, I'm happy I chose to stay Apple native when going down that road.

It was a true personal hell to get fully set-up, but I'd go through it all again at the drop of a hat if it meant I that I could carry on experiencing the service it created just after.

 

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