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iTunes Match: Why Does Apple Hate Its Own Product?

October 03, 2012, at 10:51:27 AM

I took a business/personal trip to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon last weekend. This was my first out of town trip with iOS 6. Maps was pretty awful on the trip. Most of the restaurants we wanted to try had inaccurate locations marked which caused a lot of confused walking. Also the recommended route to the Grand Canyon kept changing even though we stayed on the initial recommended route.

But the failure of Maps has been well documented so I won't pile on anymore. I'm actually not concerned about it. The UI is great, it looks beautiful and I think once the data is accurate it will be a big improvement. 

The big failure of iOS 6 was the new music app. Specifically, iTunes Match.

iTunes Match: The Early Days

I was on the ground floor of Match. I joined the initial beta offered to developers. Apple was very generous with the word "beta"; it was more like an alpha release. We were warned several times to back up our iTunes Library and they weren't joking. I restored from backup several times. The iOS portion of it rarely worked for me. Each beta release of iOS 5 and iTunes made it a little better, but you could barely call the service usable. When it was finally released (missing its initial "October" promise) in mid-November, customers were met with all of the bugs the beta group had been fighting with as well as overloaded servers. iTunes Match got a bad reputation right from the starting gate.

I stubbornly stayed with it. The upside was just too good. I switch between three computers (one Windows, two Macs), an iPad, an iPhone and an Apple TV. All of my music available on any device to download? My old early 2000s albums I had stupidly ripped at 128k now in high quality? The option to store less music on my phone and download music where ever I was at? Apple will get it right eventually, I thought.

The Golden Era

Apple did get it right. Sure, there were some bugs. My Windows computer had issues connecting to the service sometimes. All of my computers made me go into the App Store to sign out and back in on an annoyingly frequent basis. I'd have occasional streaming problems on the Apple TV. Verizon 3G never seemed up to the task of streaming songs in real time to my iPhone. You couldn't load music directly from your computer onto your phone if you were using Match.

I had gotten used to the nuances and the pros outweighed the cons. Sometime around the beginning of 2012, Match had gotten rock solid on iOS 5.1 (besides the streaming issue mentioned above, but I figure that was more of a carrier thing). My only complaint was that to switch between seeing only music on the phone to seeing the entire Match library required drilling down in settings. An annoyance but no biggie. 

iOS 6

My test for iTunes Match on my mobile devices is always how it functions when going out of town. Pre iOS 6, it had been wonderful. I'd load up some music I want to listen to on my phone before I leave and if I got the urge to hear something I forgot to put on my phone I could always download it via wi-fi or 3G. I started telling everyone who would listen that they must use Match. 

I skipped any iOS 6 beta testing. I was too wrapped up in developing Songsmith. I didn't really pay attention to any iTunes Match related things with people running the iOS 6 beta. I should have. Imagine my surprise when I learned the following things before and during my trip:
  • No more cloud icons to show which songs are already on your device and which need to be downloaded. That is weird. Wait that means...
  • Yup. You can't download individual songs anymore. Only whole albums or playlists. It gets worse...
  • You can no longer delete songs off of your phone! (iOS 6 will automatically delete songs from your device using some unknown algorithm)
  • Actually you can delete songs off your phone, but you have to turn off iTunes Match, delete the songs and turn it back on. A major pain.
I have no idea what Apple was hoping to accomplish with this update, but it completely wrecks using iTunes Match with iOS. I've seen workarounds like "create single song playlists", the above deleting fix, etc. All jury rigged solutions. I just don't understand what Apple is thinking. They are only taxing their servers more by forcing people to download entire albums and pushing streaming rather than downloading. Maybe they are out-thinking themselves by managing our storage space for us and deciding what music can be removed from the device and what should stay.

"One More Thing..."

Think about this: iTunes Match was the final thing Steve Job's introduced. It was his "one more thing..." on his final keynote. It was an amazing idea and something many people had been waiting for. It seems like a simple task. Every piece of music I own available on any device I own if I have an Internet connection, otherwise local copies of music I've downloaded to that device. Apple, stop hating your own product. Fix it. Make it work. 

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