What the Heck is iTunes Match?

A couple weeks ago, Apple released iTunes Match. This left a question ringing through the universe, “what the heck is iTunes Match?” Well, it’s essentially your music in the cloud. For many years (here’s a video from 1997 in which Steve Jobs describes networked data – relevant data from 1:35-5:00) Apple has launched services that put user data in the cloud. In 2000, Apple launched iTools, which became .Mac, which became MobileMe, which has most recently become iCloud. All of those services, in one way or another, put small amounts of your data in a networked place. Lately the focus has been contacts, calendars, and sync data for mobile devices.

The one thing these internet services have never been great at is storing large amounts of data. A user’s pictures or music folder typically takes up the majority of the space on their hard drive, and until iTunes Match, there was not really a decent way to move it to the internet. Until iTunes Match.

Signing up for iTunes Match is easy, you just buy it with your iTunes store Apple ID. Once you sign up and turn it on in your library, iTunes Match compares your music, stored on your hard drive, to what’s available in the iTunes Store. Everything that you have that’s for sale in the iTunes Store becomes available to you across all your devices immediately. Then, for the songs that you have on your hard drive that aren’t already in the iTunes Store, iTunes Match uploads those songs to Apple’s server so the songs are available to you on your devices.

iTunes Match Uploading

This is what it looks like while iTunes Match is matching your songs to the Store

The uploading and matching takes a while. For my library, with 85 GBs of music and a theoretical 10MBps upload speed, it took about 6 hours to finish. iTunes had a vast majority of my 85 GBs of music in the iTunes Store, so the actual upload was significantly less than the full 85 gigs.

Once the music is all uploaded or matched, using iTunes Match is a breeze. I use an iMac (where the full library is), a MacBook Pro, an iPad and an iPhone. After the upload finished, i turned on iTunes Match on my MacBook Pro, and I quickly was able to see all my music from my iMac. There was a handful of music on my MacBook Pro, but for all the rest of the music, I now see an iCloud icon next to the song name, telling me that when I play that song, it will stream from the iCloud server.

The cloud icon means those songs are stored in iCloud, and will stream when they are played. Clicking the cloud saves that song to the device, so they will be available offline. The songs without a cloud are already on this device.

Clicking the cloud icon downloads those songs to the device, so they will be available to listen to when no internet connection is available.

On an iPhone, iTunes Match works the same way. The cloud icon shows I can play any of those songs, or if I press it, download them.

In this picture, the album "The Whole Love" is already on my iPhone, the rest are available via iCloud.

So, what is iTunes Match? Well, after using iTunes Match for a week, I can say iTunes Match is the easiest, most intuitive system for me to listen to ANY of my music on any of my Apple devices. With no configuration, network, port numbers, or anything like that, I’m able to stream all 85 gigabytes of my music anywhere I go.

Now, all Apple needs to do is make it easier for me to decide what to listen to!

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