iTunes Match & iOS 6 - Looking at the Changes

| Analysis

Along with its Music app, Apple made some radical changes to iTune Match in iOS 6. While several useful features have been added to the service, several notable ones have also been removed or modified. 

A Unique "Thing".

Apple's iTunes Match is a unique service. Not necessarily unique in concept—both Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music beat it to the punch—but unique in terms of media coverage, updates and critical reception. For being Steve Jobs' last "One more thing…" the $24.99 annual subscription service feels a bit black sheepish at times. Without a tremendous amount of recognition from Apple, the service merely exists; doing what it promises with varying levels of performance across device, network and OS.

With the advent of iOS 6 last month, the built-in Music app received a serious stylistic, and functional,  overhaul including retooled iTunes Match integration. While the modifications to the latter went largely unadvertised, users familiar with the service's previous offerings likely noticed immediate differences—some for the better, and some for the worse.

What's Changed?

A popular grievance with iTune Match on iOS 5 was that it offered no indication of what music files resided in their entirety on a given device. Especially problematic for users with larger libraries, in instances where new music couldn't be pulled from iCloud (in-flight, anywhere with AT&T service, etc.) finding playable content often became a endless ordeal of swiping through albums and songs in search of those lacking the iconic iCloud icon.

Thankfully, iOS 6 includes an option under Settings > Music to "Show All Music". When enabled, all music either on the device or available in iCloud is displayed. When toggled off, however, only music actually downloaded to the device is displayed. Especially in cases where 3G and LTE service is intermittent, this addition will likely prove invaluable to keeping the music flowing.

In many Match users' minds, this is where the "good" stops and the "bad" begins. The following two "updates" seem to almost intentionally inhibit the service's features and ease of use. Regardless of whether this was a conscious move on Apple's part, the user experience is heavily affected as a result.

The first major modification is that users no longer have the ability to download individual tracks in the same manner as before. Under iOS 6, iTunes Match is much more album centric—sporting the "download all" cloud icon only in the upper right instead of listed to the right of every song. Users can still pick and choose their songs, but tapping a new one during playback changes the track, as opposed to starting the download behind the scenes.

An unwieldy workaround does exist: tap the download all button and then stop individual tracks before they finish downloading, though this almost seems more trouble than it's worth. The result of this change is that users end up with a lot of music they may or may not want filling up their device, leading perfectly into Match's next critical change.

Unlike iOS 5, the first version of iOS to give users more access to individual music files on their device, iOS 6 manages device memory on its own—meaning no more swipe to delete. While evolutionary in theory, this change seems like a step backward, at least for users accustomed to managing their iOS device's memory by periodically auditing their music.

While Apple claims the OS is smart enough to free up memory on its own, removing the ability to do so manually altogether seems a bit too untrusting. Of course, users looking for a failsafe purge of all musical content can still do so via Settings > General > Usage > Music, though this again seems like an unnecessary, and unintuitive, set of steps.

Is It Worth It?

For its shortcomings, iTunes Match still stands as a pretty revolutionary way to enjoy music, especially at its paltry price. While some users may pine for the functionality of the service on iOS 5, trade offs like the ability to display only downloaded music, and the blazing fast speeds of LTE on iPhone 5, (almost) make up for it. If you own a lot of music, and are looking for a convenient, cheap and mostly reliable way to access it on the go, iTunes Match might just be music to your ears.

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Comments

jfbiii

iTunes Match includes a ridiculous short authentication period. if I’m signed into iTunes I should be signed into iTunes Match. I shouldn’t have to log out of the store and then back in to re-activate iTunes Match. I shouldn’t have to “add this computer” to iTunes Match several times a week if I’ve already added it once.

Josh

I’m pretty sure “Show All Music” existed in iOS 5 on my iPhone 3GS, because I turned it off when I accidentally downloaded 500MB of music files over the cell data network during a run earlier this year.

Websnap

@jfbiii

there was an error with music match servers a week or so ago.. I had the same problem (for the first time since I got it at launch) but it hasn’t done it since. it’s not naturally part of the process.

neuro

Josh is right, I used the “Show all music” a lot prior to iOS 6.  It’s not a new feature.

TomS

Yeah, show all was there before. And yes, the inability to download tracks separately and no deleting aside from a mass delete is ridiculous.

I have a workaround. If you turn itunes match off, you CAN still slide to delete. It doesnt always work and sometimes you have to toggle it back on, then toggle it off again to get it to work, which means it has to reload and start match up again which takes a minute or two. I was able to delete a few single songs this w3ay but the hassle of toggling match on and off is annoying.

I decided to not renew the Match service this next year. I also have Spotify which really does a good job and if there are tracks i NEED from my library that arent in Spotify, i can manually hook up to the computer and sync them. Not the bets solution, but it works and all my music is in one place then.

I do LOVE Apple, but I really feel the new “functionality” is awful and a step back. However, this same thing has invaded the apps tore too.

I find it much more convenient to see a LIST of apps when i do a search, rather than a near fullscreen shot of an app, then a swipe to see the next result, swipe next result… its not a good use of the space. Navigation in the apps tore was not a bad thing before, just the searching algorithms. Fine, implement the Chomp searching algorithms but keep the old list style available

Jim Clark

While I’m sure many ITM users haven’t noticed the changes in IOS6 or don’t care, I am of the different category. While brilliant in concept, ITM is a disappointment in practice and a complete “pooch-screw” in IOS6. it still does not sync nested playlists, and meta-data (including playcounts and last played) are not synced properly or often enough, and now new for IOS6, not synced at all! DOH!!!  I add these two to the list of problems. They are serious enough problems to warrant abandoning iTunes Match on my IOS devices. In time, if they are not corrected I plan on abandoning the service completely.

John S

All the comments about the changes to iTunes Match I’ve seen miss one glaring fact—streaming or downloading uses data, sometimes WiFi but more often cellular if you are listening while commuting or at the gym, and nobody offers unlimited data plans any more. In iOS 5, you could sideload a significant chunk of “always available” favorite music (8-10GB worth) and have the rest of your 100GB library available over the cloud for the occasional time you want to listen to a particular song. You can’t do that (easily) anymore, since enabling iTunes Match on the device ERASES all the local music files on the device. This is absurd, and benefits no one, except the cell carriers. By the way, there is another bug in iTunes Match/iOS 6 that hasn’t been acknowledged: Start to download a large playlist over WiFi with Cellular Data OFF and Music Downloads over Cell OFF, and then walk away from the WiFi connection. The download CONTINUES over cellular. This is NOT the Verizon bug that was fixed, it’s a new one that just cost me 1.5GB of data usage yesterday, as I tried to download 500 “favorite” songs to my phone and then had to run out of the house for a while. I thought it would pause, but it didn’t. BEWARE!

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