iTunes Match: The Good and the Bad

Although it came in a touch later than it was promised, iTunes Match is now ready to go. Now you can have all of your music — whether it was bought on iTunes or not — on any OS X/iOS device at any time. Kinda cool, right?

Yes, this is definitely a step in the right direction, but there are a few unanswered questions that I have about the service that make me a bit nervous. Let’s get into them after the break.

What It Is

Let’s just go right off of Apple’s website for this one, that way we hear it right from the horse’s mouth:

With iTunes Match, even songs you’ve imported from CDs can be stored in iCloud. And you can play them on any iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or PC — whenever you want and wherever you are, without syncing. iTunes Match is just $24.99 a year.

Here’s how it works: iTunes determines which songs in your collection are available in the iTunes Store. Any music with a match is automatically added to iCloud for you to listen to anytime, on any device. Since there are more than 20 million songs in the iTunes Store, chances are, your music is already in iCloud. And for the few songs that aren’t, iTunes has to upload only what it can’t match. Which is much faster than starting from scratch. Once your music is in iCloud, you can stream and store it to any of your devices. Even better, all the music iTunes matches plays back from iCloud at 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality — even if your original copy was of lower quality.

In other words, you pay $25 a year to Apple and any song in your iTunes library — burned, copied or bought from iTunes — is stored in iCloud, giving you access to the music anytime on any device you want.

Digging Deeper

Thinking about this a bit further, this has pretty dramatic implications on the devices you purchase in the future, because you might not need as storage as you thought.

Let’s say you’re ready to buy an iPhone 4S, but you can’t decide between the 16, 32 and 64GB models. Assuming you’re usually connected to a good cell signal, you could buy the 16GB model and just download the music you want on demand. That means that you’ll save the cash on the purchase price of the phone, with a mild hit on your time when you want to listen to music.

Is iTunes Match worth the money?

Is iTunes Match worth the money?

On the other end of things, if you have a mammoth music library and there’s no iPhone that could contain it, then iTunes Match allows you to download those tracks you don’t keep local when you want them. Now you can still buy the biggest iPhone, and still have access to that huge library.

The Pirated Music Part

We’ve probably all got some pirated music on our computers somewhere, right? Personally, I’ve never downloaded a torrent of a new album or “borrowed” one from a friend, but I know plenty of people who have. At one point, I was offered a 1TB hard drive full of MP3s that a friend of mine already had in his library and didn’t need anymore — these things happen, and sometimes we have files in our collection that came from a less than reputable source.

Now although it’s illegal to have those files in the U.S., there’s no harm in having them on your computer really, assuming you’re not sharing them with other people. But now, with iTunes Match, you are. And those people are Apple.

Apple has a very strong moral stance on certain issues, and pirated music is one of them (remember those “Don’t Steal Music labels on the old iPods?). By sending your library and its accompanying metadata to Apple, you’re giving them a key to your possibly illicit material. Will they do anything with that information?

Most likely, no. Chances are pretty good that Apple isn’t going to turn in iTunes Match customers to the cops because it would hurt them in the long run. And chances are also pretty good that Apple already has access to that information, iTunes Match or not, just because of iCloud. But the possibility is there, right?

It’s Only Music

I really debated getting iTunes Match for myself, but then I started to wonder if I really needed it. My iPhone has all of my music on it, so that’s not an issue, and even if my iPad doesn’t have it all it’s still on my iPhone which is always with me. There’s not much of a point.

But what would make sense to me is an iTunes Match for your movies and TV shows. Since those files are so much bigger, I can’t carry everything I want on one device, it’s just not possible. But with a hypothetical iTunes Match for my entire iTunes library, I could walk around with a relatively light device, and just download what I want when I want it. Sure, the files might take a bit longer to download, but if it allowed me to watch as it went like the AppleTV, then I’d be set. No need to worry if I have the right movie on my iPhone anymore, it’s always available.

Of course, they can’t do that right now, and I’m sure it’s because of licensing issues or something similar. But wouldn’t it be neat if it was?

Closing Thoughts

When iTunes Match first came out, I was all excited because it meant that I would have access to all of my music wherever I was, no matter if it was on my device or not. But in looking at it further, I wonder if it’s really necessary. Most of the time my iPhone is in my pocket, and that has all of the music I really want to listen to on a regular basis. Do I really need to spend the money to get it done, particularly when I worry about the privacy issues?

But you’ve got a different decision to make. What do you think about iTunes match? Will you buy into the service, or do you not find it to be necessary? Let us know in the comments.