iTunes Match & iOS 6 - Looking at the Changes

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.