Tag Archives: web

iTunes Match

It seems that there’s a large variation in people’s experience with iCloud and iTunes Match, Apple’s recently introduced service for making your entire music collection available across all your devices. At the risk of making things worse — since I have nothing conclusive to add — I thought that I’d add my anecdote to the collection.

Like most software — and especially Apples — it works best when you work in a particular way. It’s often difficult to tell how close your expectations are to the real thing until after you’ve handed over your credit card. But what I will say is that iTunes Match works pretty well if you want to do what I do. So if you read nothing else in this post, you should look at the next few paragraphs.

What do I want to use it for?

I have about six hundred albums, comprising over six thousand tracks. I mostly listen to a smaller subset but I often get an ear-worm and want to listen to a random track that I may not have heard for years. So on my iPhone I have a lot of music, but not all of it. Use case one for iTunes Match was therefore to be able to access all my music on my iPhone even though I don’t have the space for everything.

I typically don’t put any music at all on my iPad, since I use it more for movies than music. But when I’m travelling it’s occasionally nice to be able to rely on my iPads battery as well as my iPhones! So use case two is playing music on my iPad without explicitly copying any onto it.

(These last two are clearly variations on a theme, but the key point is that I don’t want to have to stream everything. When I’m at work I don’t always have internet access, but I can probably get WiFi access for a few minutes at lunchtime.)

Ten years ago I spent a lot of time ripping my CD collection. Most is in MP3 format at 160kbps, some is at 128kbps; the newer ones are reasonable quality AAC but, if I’m honest, there’s little consistency. Additionally, many tracks are of dubious quality, with dust and scratches contributing most of the glitches. So, use case three is upgrading my library to clean, high bit rate copies.

How does it work in practice?

The process is typically Apple, by which I mean works without very much user intervention and pretty smoothly.

It first scans your library, sees what’s already in the iTunes Store and then uploads any gaps. The scanning and matching is really quick. The upload depends on the speed of your broadband.

It matched around 5000 of my 6000 tracks, which is not bad going. However there were some oddities:

  • It was very inconsistent with spoken word tracks. I have a number of radio series — the Hitchhikers Guide and a bunch of Douglas Adams interviews, the Mighty Boosh — and some tracks were flagged as “Ineligible” while others were going to be uploaded
  • Some tracks that I purchased from iTunes a while ago were not matched
  • Some albums were only partially matched, despite the full album being available to purchase

The common element is that it’s not at all clear what criteria are used to make the match. Either Lala wasn’t quite as sophisticated as I thought or Apple have not fully integrated their software yet.

Whether these are problems or not depends entirely on what you want to do with the tracks. That the spoken word albums are (mostly) unavailable is slightly disappointing but not really a problem.

The iTunes tracks not being matched is, frankly, bizarre. Here you can see one track from an album “Purchased,” one “Duplicate” (it isn’t) and the rest were uploaded (i.e., not matched and a copy from my library uploaded to iCloud).

Still, neither of these issues stops all my music being available on all my devices — use cases one and two.

However the last point above is disappointing. Some albums match every track bar one or two. This means that it’s not possible for me to upgrade the whole album to a 256kbps AAC file. Not the end of the world but not exactly what I was promised.

In use

iTunes Match is mostly pretty seamless. You see all your music on all your devices. If the track hasn’t been downloaded, it appears with a cloud symbol next to the name. Click or press on the track and it plays, albeit with a short delay. iOS clients download rather than stream the content. The Apple TV just streams the music and videos.

Two surprisingly un-Apple-like glitches take the edge off the whole thing.

Firstly, not all the album art work makes it from my iTunes library to my iPad and iPhone. It’s a small point, but for a company that places so much emphasis on the aesthetics it’s unexpected.

Secondly, while it is possible to upgrade your low quality MP3 files it’s not entirely clear how to go about it. I guess I expected to see an “Upgrade track” or “Upgrade Library” or even a “Update to iTunes Match” menu option, but no.

I couldn’t see anything in the documentation either. I had to fall back on Google. The trick, it turns out, is to delete the file. Obvious, no? Then iTunes will show the same track but with a cloud icon to the right. Then you can download it.


So, overall, I like iTunes Match. It’s not without flaws, it’s undoubtedly a 1.0 release, but it’s already useful to me and I think it’s only going to get better. I guess the big question comes at the time next year. Will I renew the service?

What’s wrong with Google+

I’ve been playing around with Google+ more-or-less since it launched, but I’m not sold on it yet. After a bit of thought, I think it’s because there’s a fundamental disconnect between the kinds of behaviour that it encourages and the kinds of behaviour that it’s actually good at. Or maybe I’m just using it wrong. Either way, I’ll explain my reasoning here.

First, I should describe my frame of reference. I use both Twitter and Facebook, but I like the former much more.

In Twitter, a message (tweet) is, to risk stating the obvious, a message. It’s text-only; multi-media is managed entirely by links. (They have started to implement their own media services, such as for pictures, though these are still, currently at least, just links to servers hosted by Twitter and are not special in any other way.) Replies are tagged — in that you can see which message it was a reply to — but they’re basically the same as any other tweet. Shared tweets — retweets — works in the same way: they’re tagged but otherwise appear just as another message. Relationships are one way, that is I can follow you but there is no obligation for you to follow me.

Facebook differs in both of these respects. First, not all messages are alike. It natively manages multimedia such a photographs, videos and links. Replies — comments — are also a special type of message and are displayed differently. Relationships are always reciprocal, which means that if I see your updates, you see mine. You don’t see posts from other users that you’re not connected to but you do see comments from them.

Facebook also has the concept of pages, which I’m going to ignore for the moment since it’s not how I normally use Facebook1. The gist is that while Twitter has one message type for everything, Facebook feels much more complicated.

Google+ tries to straddle the two with one-way relationships (like Twitter) and multi-media messages and comments (like Facebook).

To be clear, I don’t think that the Facebook or Twitter approach to relationships or messages is superior to the other. I think they’re geared towards different things.

I think it’s fair to say that the Twitter method encourages you to follow more people. The obvious reason for this is that relationships are only one way. I can follow a celebrity or a company that I am interested in but they don’t have to clutter their timeline with my comments about iPhone development or my life in London.

More subtle is that all the messages are about the same size. The advantage of this is that you can quickly skim large numbers of messages, only looking at the pictures and videos that promise to be the most interesting.

Google+ tries to straddle both, but I think that’s where it fails. Like Twitter, they encourage you to follow a lot of people but even following a fairly small number of users I find the flow of messages hard to keep up with. Since the whole message is displayed I, in some way, feel compelled to read posts that on Twitter I’d probably skip.

The screenshots below, from the Twitter and Google+ iPhone apps, illustrate what I mean.

Google+ iOS story view

This is the Google+ view. I see a single post and two out of nearly fifty comments. Of the people that I follow on Google+, this, I would say, is pretty typical.

Twitter iOS tweet view

And this is Twitter, where I see four tweets. This arrangement is not uncommon, though I often see more tweets than this.

And then after the posts there’s the comments. On Twitter I only see replies by people I already know. If I see a post by, say, Robert Scoble, do I really need to see a hundred comments by people I don’t know? Chances are good that I might want to see comments from people I know but probably not complete strangers.

Facebook solves the problem by reducing the probability that you’re going to have a few hundred comments on a post. If you “only” have a couple of hundred friends, it’s pretty unlikely that every one of them will comment! If you have a hundred thousand followers that does change the dynamics.

(A counter-argument would be that this is a good way to find new users to follow. However, I think the clever thing about Twitter is that these other comments are still public and can be viewed, it’s just that by default your message stream is not cluttered with them.)

In short, the simplicity of Twitter is often seen as a disadvantage but I think it works remarkably well. Facebook has a different goal — closer relationships with smaller numbers of users — but also seems to do pretty well on that front.

Google+, by trying to facilitate both uses cases, seems to do neither quite as well.

  1. Though you’re welcome to visit the pages for my apps, Yummy and www.cut. []

My delicious.com bookmarks for September 8th through September 10th

My delicious.com bookmarks for January 27th through January 31st

  • Who Can Do Something About Those Blue Boxes? – "Used to be you could argue that Flash, whatever its merits, delivered content to the entire audience you cared about. That’s no longer true, and Adobe’s Flash penetration is shrinking with each iPhone OS device Apple sells."
  • Penguins, Peaks and Penny-Farthings: Nat Geo Covers 1959-2000 – "The National Geographic Society celebrates its 122nd anniversary on Jan. 27 … Though the early issues had rather drab academic looking covers, by 1959 they were consistently adorned with eye-cathing art and photos."
  • Verified by Visa bitchslapped by Cambridge researchers – "Secondary credit card security systems for online transactions such as Verified by Visa are all about shifting blame rather then curtailing fraud, Cambridge University security researchers argue." Or put another way: those annoying screens you get when you buy something online are not for your benefit.

My delicious.com bookmarks for January 16th through January 22nd