Anyone who thinks Apple’s story since the introduction of the iPod has been one of uninterrupted glory is wrong. There have been many notable mis-steps throughout the company’s history but, with a focus on the 21st Century only, we can include the disliked and non-social social network Ping, the bloated and temperamental iTunes and iWeb, the software that gave you the ability to create a website just like thousands of others. iTunes Match joins the ranks of the poorly conceived, terribly implemented and just plain frustrating.
The idea is sound enough: put all your music in the cloud so you can access it anywhere. The problems, however, are significant enough to guarantee at least 50%, if not more, of those who took out a subscription for this year won’t be taking it further unless Apple ups its game and changes how iTunes Match operates and performs when we actually need it.
1) It’s buggy and the bugs aren’t just little things every now and then. They’re whopping HUGE bugs, like the unwelcome mashing of playlists so that album tracks appear in the wrong order. It’s been this way since iTunes Match opened to public subscription last December. Apple either can’t be arsed fixing this or is trying to convince us it’s a feature—after all, life is random, why not your music? Er, no. That’s what shuffle mode does when I want it.
2) You’re limited to uploading 25,000 songs you didn’t buy from iTunes. Fair enough, you might think. However, if you delete albums from your hard drive and the cloud to make way for new ones you’ve imported, I’ve found iTunes Match fails to acknowledge that those albums have gone and still refuses to upload your new stuff, even though it no longer carries the old stuff in the cloud. As an ability to access your music anywhere is the Big Sell of iTunes Match, this particular annoyance completely goes against that purpose. If I can’t access all my music from anywhere, what’s the point of paying for iTunes Match beyond this first year? There isn’t one—I’ve already upgraded the low-bitrate files that were in my collection back when I signed up for the service at the end of last year. I won’t lose access to those if I don’t continue my annual subscription. I’ve now got a consistently high-quality collection of music for my one-time-only-unless-things-change subscription. What’s more, if you had any music of, shall I say, dubious origin, after you’ve updated all your files they’re legally yours and marked as such. Forever.
3) Maybe iPhone 5 will be able to download songs quickly and easily over 3G connections and, for those who have access to it, 4G LTE. iPhones 4S, 4 and 3GS (let’s not bring earlier models into this, no point) all slow down in everyday music operations when iTunes Match is enabled on those devices. They crawl. You can take a good fifteen minutes trying to scroll through your music in the cloud, another ten minutes creating a playlist and adding albums, another ten minutes reordering that playlist into the correct playing order, plus however long it takes to download the actual tracks. This is what the layman calls A Pain In The Arse.
4) iTunes Match often refuses to match your songs, even those you know are available to buy in the iTunes Store with your own versions tagged correctly, which means, when it will upload the songs, you’ve more to upload and longer to wait.
5) You can’t use iTunes Match for your audiobooks, podcasts, films or TV shows – although films and TV shows you bought from Apple are included in the cloud now. They weren’t at first.
6) It takes someone with a large music collection, on average, several days to match and/or upload songs after signing up for iTunes Match. Of course, to an extent it’s dependent upon your Internet connection speed but, even so, this is ridiculous and made worse by the matching process being hopelessly flawed. This is called managing customer expectations I guess—make it crap from the start, we won’t be disappointed when it fails to deliver down the line, eh?
7) Spotify is overtaking Apple iTunes for convenience and most definitely when it comes to achieving Apple’s own mantra of ‘it just works’. Spotify has its flaws but it does deliver, albeit at a higher price of £9.99 a month. The Spotify app runs rings around iTunes Match on Apple’s own mobile turf, namely iPads and iPhones. Use Spotify on your iPhone, it’s everything iTunes Match should’ve been and isn’t.
8) It’s bad enough that Apple and the music companies make you bleed in order to share your music in your own home and limit the number of devices you can play tracks on. Yes, it was worse when DRM was everywhere—but, really, nobody can justify only one person in a household being able to use iTunes Match on an iPhone or iPad. Especially when the service is quite happy to upload songs that belong to your partner and let you access them anywhere but not him or her. That’s right: my partner can’t use iTunes Match unless a new iTunes Match account is paid for and the entire damn library is gone through remotely again, with all the frustrations, annoyances and failings repeated. You’re a damn fool if you go with Apple’s grand designs on this one.
Apple increasingly relies on the ‘jam tomorrow’ principle. If we were to extrapolate this to something like, say, cooking, it means that you get the flour and eggs today but you’ll only get the sugar six months later and access to an oven in which to bake your cake at least a year later. I’d rather wait until a product is ready, performing well and fit for purpose, delivering on its advertising promises. I want my cake now and I want to eat it. I was never a fan of Spotify but I’m looking into it again as a direct consequence of the nightmare iTunes Match has proved to be. I could’ve accepted a few teething problems but, six, nearly seven months since Apple introduced the service, the company still hasn’t released any bug fixes whatsoever or sought to address the many failings of iTunes Match.
It’s true that with iOS 6 you’ll be able to stream your music from the cloud, rather than wait for it to download. But Spotify already streams. What’s so difficult for Apple that it couldn’t offer that from the start? Plus, this won’t address all the other issues that could’ve, and should’ve, been dealt with months ago. My advice to anyone considering signing up for iTunes Match is: don’t bother. Maybe—just maybe—it will be fit for purpose by 2015. But don’t count on it. Right now, it’s up there with Ping as a service that Apple doesn’t love, in the Gallery of Huge Disappointments.