The amount of rumors and speculation about what kind of iTunes cloud service Apple would make available was massive and started to rival new iPhone rumors. Now that it’s been announced, there’s still a bit of confusion as to what iTunes in the Cloud is, what iTunes Match is, why it costs $25 a year and why would you want to buy it. Let’s see if we can clear that up a little based on what we know today.
“iTunes in the Cloud” works today, see how to enable it here. This allows you to do a few things. One, it lets you go through all your previous iTunes purchases and re-download them on up to 10 devices, no additional charge. For clarification sake, when Apple says “devices,” this means computers too — the idea behind iCloud is that a PC or Mac is just another “device” in the mix. Secondly, if enabled, when you buy new music on *any* device or computer, it will automatically put that new music on *all* of your devices. A simple concept that “just works.” Third, and probably obvious although easy to overlook, is your iTunes purchases are automatically backed up in iCloud, so there is no risk of losing music files due to hard drive or device failure. Again, totally free, works today, even with purchases made years ago. To re-download previous purchases on an iOS device, fire up the iTunes app and look for “Purchases” icon. To do it on a desktop, start up iTunes (10.3 and up) on Mac or PC and again go to the “Purchases” section.
What happens to all the music you didn’t get from iTunes, say music ripped from CDs or purchased from Amazon or elsewhere? This is where “iTunes Match” comes in. iTunes Match will scan your library, find all the matches in the iTunes store for your existing music and make them available in iCloud. This then allows you to download any of it to all of your devices, and automatically “upgrades” your music to the “iTunes Plus” version of 256 Kbps AAC — just like if you had bought it from iTunes in the first place. In the event there is no match, it will have to upload the actual files from your library, which is the only time any uploading will happen. The added side benefit is that your music collection, regardless of how it was attained or what sound quality it is, is now completely backed up in iCloud at high(er) quality. Apple reminds us with over 18 million songs in the iTunes store, they like the odds of having most of your music available to be “matched.” This provides a significant advantage over Amazon or Google’s solutions since you don’t have to upload your whole library, and also represents why Apple had to negotiate and pay out to the big music companies to offer this service. That’s where the $25 a year price tag comes in. The price is a flat fee, regardless of how much music you have. They say whether you have 5,000 songs or 20,000 songs, it’s $25. Also note, your music doesn’t count against the 5GB file space for iCloud (while we’re at it, pictures, apps and books don’t count either).
Should you sign up for iTunes Match when it comes out this fall? That will depend on your situation. If you have one device and/or most of your purchases came from iTunes anyway, I don’t see it being worth the cost. However, if you have many devices and a lot of songs from Amazon or CDs, it could be convenient to be able to grab any song from your iTunes in the Cloud library to put on any device on a whim. Got a new iPhone? Use iCloud on the device to load any music you want at will. Setting up a new PC or Mac? Same idea, your music library is available without have to transfer it to a thumb drive or external hard drive. Lastly, let’s not forget the backup aspect of your entire music library is also worth considering. Unlimited space for backing every piece of music you own? Not a bad deal at $25 a year if you have a huge library, the price is low enough for many and with no restriction on size or amount of songs, the service compares well to similar solutions.
A few things to consider:
1) At this point, it doesn’t look like there is any streaming going on with your music, it seems to be a straight download of a music file. While the initial offering of iCloud is solid, it’s probably safe to assume that Apple will only look to enhance it over time, so streaming and additional features may come in future revisions. Some Apple patents circulating through various news sites have all but confirmed this.
2) To get to your music in iCloud, you have to use iTunes, there doesn’t appear to be any web app or third party application support available. iTunes on the PC, Mac and iOS devices looks to be the only gateway to your music. That could change over time, but I wouldn’t count on that. Music from iTunes Match is DRM free (as indicated by a slide during Jobs’ presentation) so once downloaded, you’ll be able to use those files as you see fit.
3) It’s unclear if Apple will let you upload your non-iTunes music without paying for iTunes Match, basically using iCloud as a big “hard drive in the sky” as Jobs put it.
The good news is, iTunes Match for your non-iTunes purchases is the only part of iCloud that has any price tag on it, and if you’re happy with your current setup in terms of syncing, backing up and moving around music files obtained elsewhere, then this premium service is completely avoidable.
More details are available here: