Apple's iTunes Match service launched in Australia last week, bringing its vision of music in the cloud to iTunes and iOS users alike. But what is it, exactly, and is it worth your money? Here's a look at how iTunes Match works and if it's right for you.
What Is iTunes Match?
iTunes Match is a service from Apple that allows you to keep a cloud-based music collection for $34.99 a year. Unlike other services that have launched overseas, however, this doesn't necessarily involve uploading your music and using a web-based player to stream your collection. Instead, iTunes scans the music you already have in your library and tells Apple you have a copy. Apple then allows you access to any music in its existing collection, all encoded as 256kbps AAC files with absolutely no copy protection.
What's especially great is that you get these high-quality files even if your files aren't as good. The iTunes catalogue is huge, so the chances are good that most of the songs you own are already in it. If they're not, however, iTunes will upload a copy of your music to store and sync as well. All your music will be transferred to other machines running iTunes (both Mac and Windows PCs) as well as any iOS devices. This way you'll automatically have all your music synchronised and backed up in the cloud. If you lose all your music in a hard drive crash, you'll be able to get it all back without issue so long as you're an iTunes Match subscriber.
Should I Buy iTunes Match?
Whether or not you should bother purchasing an iTunes Match subscription is going to depend on your needs. To get a better idea of what's best for you, here's a look at the upsides and downsides to help you make the right choice.
The obvious benefits of iTunes Match are easy synchronisation, a backup of your music collection, and access to music files encoded at a high bit rate -- a bit rate likely higher than most of your existing collection. The service is pretty cheap; $34.99 isn't much money at all on a yearly basis. If you like and use iTunes, and own an iDevice or two, it's one of your best options for cloud-based music services.
While it's great that iTunes Match can keep your music in sync across devices, that same feature is also one of its limitations. Because you're not able to stream your music in the same way you can with most of its rivals, you only retrieve as much of your matched collection as your computer or mobile device can accommodate. This does not mean iTunes Match is incapable of streaming, but that while doing so it downloads the file to your device. You don't have the option of streaming only. (One exception appears to be that can stream unsync'd music if your device is too full to accommodate any additional downloads.) This can get a little frustrating if you don't want to download a song to your device simply because you've chosen to listen to it. Additionally, there is no option to stream via a web browser so your listening options are limited to your computers (of which you can have a maximum of five) and iDevices.
The Bottom Line
If you are into all things Apple, iTunes Match is likely the best service for you. It's cheap, it keeps your music backed up and synced without the need to upload your entire collection (or possibly any of it), and it will work with all of your devices.
If you're not fully entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, iTunes Match might not be your ideal service. If you need your music on an Android device, for example, you're out of luck. If you're simply dealing with a mix of Mac and Windows PCs, plus an iPhone or iPad here and there, it should work just fine. Plus, if you do have an Android device you will have physical copies of the music files you can transfer over and play without issue.
If you loathe iTunes, then iTunes Match is clearly not for you. Even if you really like the service, it requires the use of the iTunes software to manage your collection. If you can't buy into that you should definitely look for something else.