iTunes MatchFive months after Apple revealed plans to launch their iTunes Match, which would allow users to access their entire musical library through a digital storage locker, the computer giant finally activated the service yesterday. For $25 a year, people who use the Match software via their portable device can listen to their iTunes anywhere. Amazon and Google offer similar cloud-based services in the past few months, but since iTunes has always been the industry leader when it comes to digital music, Match has been the most anticipated of the three storage lockers. And based on some early reviews, Apple's version doesn't disappoint.
Mashable writes that they are on "cloud nine" over Match, adding that Apple's service boasts better playlist synchronization, lesser upload times, more storage capability, and higher quality tracks than its Amazon and Google competitors. CNet's review isn't as glowing, but they commend Match for allowing music fans to store their music without having to worry about the well-being of an external hard drive. How it works: After enrolling in Match, the service goes through your music library and syncs it with the 20 million songs already available at the iTunes music store. It doesn't matter whether you purchased the tracks through iTunes, imported a CD, or even illegally downloaded the music; if it's in your library, and it's available on iTunes, Match will "match" it. Songs that aren't available on iTunes -- like a Grateful Dead bootleg, vinyl rips of Studio One collections, or Steve Albini's In Utero mixes -- can simply be uploaded to the iCloud.
If you already own and carry around a 80/160 gigabyte iPod (like The Amp), Match doesn't offer much advantages, since the iCloud locker maxes out at 25,000 songs. It's useful for people who use their cellphone or iPad as their go-to music device, however, because the Match actually uploads music onto portable devices when you stream a track, iPhone or iPad users with large libraries won't be able to house their entire collection. "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," Apple promises. (That's great for the casual listener, but for audiophiles accustomed to 320-kbps quality recordings, it's a slight, borderline unnoticeable downgrade.)
So why did Apple decide to finally sneak out their Match? Usually, something like this would be accompanied by a big press conference, but with Google reportedly set to launch their own music service tomorrow, it was necessary for Apple to ignite Match to avoid having their iTunes users lured by Google Music. Despite the rush to get Match up and running, it appears as though Apple has once again proved why they're the pioneers of the digital music industry.