iTunes Match

A couple of months ago, iTunes Singapore went live. And with it, Singapore customers using iTunes now have access to a huge library of music, and movies in which they can buy legitimately through the iTunes store. Singapore customers also get to use their relatively new service called iTunes Match. I decided to try it and there are some good points and bad points about this service.

iTunes Match is a service by Apple in which for a small yearly fee (about 30 bucks), you can upload all your songs in your library to the Cloud. But not all songs are literally uploaded to the Cloud. What it does first is to look at your library and scans all your songs one by one for any match it has with the iTunes vast collection of music that it sells. Any songs that iTunes have in its collection will not be uploaded. Instead, it will ‘check’ it off their list so that they know that you own this song, and that you can now stream it from their very own iTunes music server if you wish to listen to it. The songs that are not in their collection will be uploaded to the Cloud. The service allows up to 25 thousand songs to be uploaded including the matched songs. And any matched song that are lower than iTunes quality of 256kbps, will be automatically upgraded. Thus if you want the higher quality copy, you just delete the song from your library and re-download the higher quality one.

I had about 9000 songs in my library. Of which they managed to match about 7000 songs. The rest of the 2000 or so songs they manually uploaded them one at a time. Eventually, after several days of uploading all my 9000 or so songs are in the cloud. The process can be very long if most of your songs aren’t able to match to their library of songs in which they sell them on the iTunes store. But mostly it was hassle free. I just allowed iTunes to do its job and it does it automatically and without fuss.

Once all my songs are in the Cloud, I could play my entire music library on my iPhone or Macbook Air wherever I go, so long as I have a 3G or wifi connection.

It is actually great to have this service, especially when you have this many songs and sometimes you just feel like playing a particular song in your mind that is not on your phone. You simply browse your Cloud library and select the song you want to listen to on your iPhone. They will then download it to your phone and you can begin listening to it. It is mostly hassle free and extremely advantageous if you have a Macbook Air with limited  SSD storage space. Now you don’t have to transfer all 9000 songs to your SSD drive, wasting storage space in the process. Simply open iTunes and you can have access to all your songs wherever you go.

Now on to the not so good points. Singapore 3G service provides good coverage, but the speeds and connectivity aren’t up to standard. I experienced moments where the download speeds are just too slow to catch up to the music’s progress. Because it is “streamed”, you have to have a good 3G connection with acceptable speeds or else you are going to get nothing but jittery music. This is prevalent when you are in a busy area where everybody is connected to the 3G network, overwhelmed with traffic. And the music isn’t exactly streamed either. It is actually downloaded to your phone so that you can listen to it. I can foresee that eventually once you stream that many music to your phone, you will start having trouble with available space left in your phone for other stuff like apps or photos. Then you would have to connect your phone to your computer and through iTunes software, you have to manually delete them from your phone, ‘resetting’ it.

Browsing through my large collection of songs isn’t as smooth as it once was with my tiny little collection of songs I take with me on my iPhone. The reason could be because data have to be constantly streamed to show your the names of the songs, the album picture and so on, so sometimes navigating through the iTunes library can be a little laggy because it takes time to update any queries as you browse. Playing a song on the Cloud once  you select the song you want to hear takes about a few seconds to load up before you can hear the music playing. There is a small buffer time in between songs as well. Therefore ‘surfing’ through your songs by randomising it is not ideal, as when a new song is played, there is a buffer time in which you will not hear any music at all.

While having all your songs at your fingertips is a neat idea, and a great feeling to have, having your iPhone batteries drain faster than a vampire can suck a blood out of its victim is no fun at all. Especially when you know you have a long day ahead of you and your iPhone batteries can barely keep up with your busy schedule. Add data streaming via 3G and you will have your batteries drained by midday. So it is sometimes important to decide whether you want to listen  to your music from the Cloud, draining its power quickly, or refrain from listening to any music at all so that you can get through the day with your iPhone still powered up. Fortunately you can still use the usual service of transferring some frequently listened songs to your iPhone so that you can at least listen to some of your favourite ones. The songs that you rarely listen to, or your favourites that are not in your phone, stream it at your batteries expense.

Again the upside to it is the ability to stream all your music anywhere you go. This is particularly useful for Macbook Air users. I dont really like to carry my portable hard drive around. Thus, wherever I am, I usually have no problem getting wifi and its very easy and extremely convenient to have access to all my songs so that I can listen to them while I work using the Macbook Air. Furthermore, in iTunes Match, I can re-download my entire music collection should my portable hard drive fail or if I have a new computer sometime in the future.

So iTunes match does have its good and bad points. While the idea is a great one, there are constraints in using the service and these constraints are not due to the service of iTunes match, but rather the kind of internet connectivity one has whether it is wifi or 3G connection. I like the idea that your music is at least safe and sound, but until there is a more robust way of listening to you music as if the music is right in your hard drive, iTunes match will still offer slightly inferior level of service when compared to actually having the music itself with you whether it is in your iPhone or your hard drive.

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