Posted on October 22nd, 2015
Since the beginning of the home computer revolution, I have used thousands of programs (apps, for the kids out there). Some have been good, some have been bad, some have been amazing. But, in all that time, only one of them can be crowned "Worst Software of All Time."
And it's Apple's iTunes.
No joke... iTunes is the single biggest pile of shit I have ever encountered.
It started as a music player called SoundJam back in 1998, and I was a huge fan. When it came to playing your digital music collection, it was easily the best solution out there. Apple knew this too, which is why they bought out the program and self-branded it iTunes to fit with the whole "i-esthetic" they had going on at the time. And, for a while there, all was good. Apple changed a few things and made it look a prettier, but it was still the SoundJam I enjoyed.
But then everything changed. No longer merely a music player and cataloger, iTunes quickly became Apple's "hub" for digital media thanks to the release of the iPod. It wasn't too bad at first... sometimes I had a hell of a time syncing my music but, for the most part it worked well. It was also around that time we got handy additional features, like "Smart Playlists," that were a welcome additions to the program.
The honeymoon wouldn't last.
As more and more "features" (aka "crap") were added to iTunes, it grew into a massive pile of bloatware that was complicated, confusing, and bug-ridden. iTunes wasn't exclusively for playing music any more, it was a storefront for the iTunes Music Store. Movies and TV shows were added. And ringtones. And podcasts. And apps. And internet radio. And books. Very quickly iTunes was suffering an identity crisis, and Apple struggled (and failed badly) to come up with a user interface that made sense across all the shit it was supposed to be managing.
Then, just when you thought it couldn't possibly get worse, Apple Music was crammed into the mix.
And suddenly I was longing for the days that iTunes was merely complicated, confusing, and bug-ridden. Apple's streaming music solution, which I could give a fuck about, further pushed iTunes into utter ruin. The program is so fucked up now that you don't use it... you tolerate it. And even that's too much to ask sometimes.
Take for instance video streaming.
I have been ranting for years about how fucking stupid it is that Apple forces you to download your movie and television purchases so you can watch them. Never mind that every other digital content provider on earth allows streaming video, Apple did not unless you wanted to watch on an AppleTV. But, surprise surprise, video streaming was added along with Apple Music. No more being forced to clutter valuable hard drive space with a download when you want to watch The Matrix for the hundredth time... now you just start playing.
Except when you can't. Which is often.
I can't tell you how many times I've tried to watch a movie only to have it stutter, drop out, go out of sync, or even crash. This evening I wanted to watch Edge of Tomorrow and found it impossible. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Stutter. Stutter. Stutter. At first I wanted to blame my internet connection. But streaming from Netflix was fine. Streaming from Amazon was fine. Streaming from YouTube was fine. It's just Apple's piece of shit service that doesn't fucking work. So I have to wait 20 minutes for the movie to download before I can watch it. Used to be you could watch a movie while it's downloading, but the stuttering was worse than when I tried streaming. It's absolute bullshit that Apple has BILLIONS of dollars at their disposal and can't get this shit figured out when literally everybody else has.
And what about music?
Apple added a subscription service called iTunes Match back in 2011 which allows you to put your music in "the cloud" so it's accessible anywhere. And not just your music purchased from Apple... all your music, no matter where it came from. And it was too good to be true. All that music I ripped from my CDs at a low bitrate because I didn't want it taking up hard disk space? Well, if Apple sells it, they automatically match it and upgrade the file to the best quality they have available. And since it's in the cloud, it's taking up -zero- megabytes on your drive! Brilliant!
Except when it isn't. Which is often.
The biggest problem is not really Apple's fault. If a music publisher all of a sudden decides to withdraw their music from iTunes, you lose it. This goes for every last song you purchase from Apple. Unless you've downloaded a backup it's gone. And since this scenario is in the licensing agreement you sign off on, you have no recourse. So... always have a backup of your music. This is critical.
While the concept of iTunes Match is good, it's not utopia. Sometimes music you own won't match for some reason... even though Apple sells the song. Other times Apple will match the wrong tracks. I bought The Beatles collection in mono... the way it was meant to be heard. Apple matched everything to the stereo version. And of course there's no way to fix this in the system. Annoying, but not a deal breaker.
Other problems arise when the iTunes service is down. Or Apple's streaming servers are overloaded and streaming badly. Unless you have local copies of your music (defeating the whole purpose of the cloud), all your music is inaccessible. That should be a deal breaker.
And it gets worse. iTunes is such a massive pile of crap that sometimes you can't access your music even when Apple's streaming service is working flawlessly. I have 30 "albums" by Depeche Mode. When viewing my library as "Songs," everything not purchase through iTunes disappears (even if you have "SHOW ALL MY MUSIC" checked). Change to "Artists" view and suddenly they're back. The program is so hideously complex that little problems like this are everywhere.
Topped off by the fact that iTunes is FOREVER asking you to type in your fucking password. Most of the time for no damn reason.
It's to the point now where I regret having purchased any of my digital content from Apple. Especially movies and TV shows. Far better to have purchased my digital content from a company that actually gives a flying fuck about providing a workable solution to their customers.
And Apple is absolutely not that company.
Probably isn't going to be any time soon.
Posted on July 2nd, 2015
Well, gee, where do I start.
In summary: Apple Music is a poorly-executed, bug-ridden, embarrassing pile of crap that is sadly typical of the utter shit that permeates anything to do with iTunes. If you've already got Spotify, there is nothing to see here. I'd argue that Apple's execution of a streaming music service is actually worse than Spotify in just about every sense. After the three-month free trial is over, I'll be dumping Apple Music like the steaming turd it is.
Shall we begin?
I have no clue as to what's happening at Apple these days. More and more they just can't seem to get their shit together. Apple Music is just one more failure in a series of failures, and it's getting tiring.
I shouldn't have to work so hard to be an Apple fan.
Posted on January 30th, 2015
My favorite television show of all time bounces between Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original, not the shitty 2009 remake) and Veronica Mars. Interestingly enough, they were both created by the same guy... Rob Thomas (not the singer from Matchbox Twenty).
Cupid has never been released on home video, so the only way I get to see it is to watch digital recordings I copied from VHS tape. Needless to say, "crappy" doesn't even begin to describe their quality (or lack thereof), so I am always on the watching for an officially release on iTunes or something.
It never comes.
The good news is that over the past decade we've seen a number of shows I've been waiting for finally get a release. Once I noticed the fantastic Now and Again was out last Fall, I decided to see what else was available...
And here's a list of shows I'm still waiting for...
And I don't get why they haven't been released. The process for converting old TV shows to digital video is undoubtedly fully automated by now. I can't imagine it costs very much to do... especially since you don't even have to press DVDs any more.
I dunno. Maybe television studios don't want the money?
Because I'd be happy to pay.
And so would a lot of other people, I'd imagine.
Posted on December 1st, 2013
Time to strike up the band and pour the champaign... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Walker. I was sad to learn that Paul Walker died yesterday. Not so much for his movies (because I'm not that familiar with them outside of the "Fast and Furious" franchise) but because he was a really decent human being whose humanitarian work helped a lot of people. His Reach Out World Wide is a wonderful organization, and I would hope he gets some recognition for all the amazing work he did in founding it.
I searched and searched for a picture with proper credit, but couldn't find one.
Why don't people credit their photos?
Rest in peace, sir. You did good.
• Comics. I don't read many comics any more... I just don't have the time... but Comixology had a sale on some "Avengers vs. X-Men" titles I've been wanting to read, so I went for it. And ran across this...
Now THAT'S some sparkling dialog right there! I know not every comic book can be Watchmen or Dark Knight or whatever... but this kind of blew my mind.
• Maps. My love of maps is well-documented here at Blogography. Over at Buzzfeed they made me love maps even more when they had Brits label American states on a map. The results are fantastic...
You can see the big version of this one (and many more) by following this link. And, because fair is fair, here's an even more fantastic look at Americans trying to name European countries on a map.
• iTunes Fail. I have numerous issues with iTunes. The biggest one being that I can't stream my movie purchases and am forced to download them if I want to watch... when every other company in the digital movie business allows streaming. Incredibly backwards and stupid, but Apple says "no." But even putting crap that iTunes can't do aside, iTunes is frustrating because it has so many problems with what it can do.
I have a MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It's display capabilities are beyond HD. Way beyond HD. And yet, I still get this ridiculous error message form time to time when trying to purchase HD content...
But even more shocking than that is iTunes occasionally telling me it doesn't support QuickTime... the fundamental video system of every Macintosh computer since video has been on Macs...
Stupid shit like drives me insane. Partly because it's so random, and you never know what's going to cause it... but mostly because it's Apple, and there's no way you can just call them up and have it fixed. Yes, they have "proper channels" you can go through to report problems, but I have never had a problem solved going that route. Hell, I've reported mistakes in Apple's "Maps" application that have gone completely ignored for months (years maybe?). Oh well. It's Apple.
• Nigella. I'm a massive fan of celebrity English foodie Nigella Lawson. She's bright, funny, smart, a heck of a cook, and drop-dead beautiful...
I searched and searched for a picture with proper credit, but couldn't find one. Again.
Why don't people credit their photos?
Lately she's been in the news for some not-so-pleasant things, and it's got me wondering where my breaking point is when it comes to famous people I admire (a more popular American example being Alex Baldwin's recent homophobic rant). Do I care? Should I care? Is it even true? So what if it is? I have the answers to none of those questions. It probably depends on what the issues are and how they affect things I care about. But that doesn't stop the "news" from telling me how I should feel about it. Which is everything "journalistic integrity" is not, but that's where we are now. It's what we erroneously call "being judged by the court of public opinion" when it is, in fact, the media which leads the public to their opinion. And you can be pretty sure that their judgement is going to be on the side of whichever option sells more papers (or whatever). I don't know how we got to this point, but it's been driving me crazy lately because I can't see anything else when stories like Ms. Lawson's hit the newswire. I guess all I can do is grit my teeth, wish Ms. Lawson the best of luck, and hope that she bounces back like Martha Stewart instead of crashing and burning like Paula Deen. I guess. Since all my information comes from the news media on all these people, what do I know?
Alas yon bullets now go gentle into that good night...
Posted on September 19th, 2013
One of the big new "features" for iOS that got touted at Apple's event was iTunes Radio, so I'm busting it out to take a look.
It's very cool.
It's also very dangerous.
But first we'll start with the cool stuff...
Newly integrated into iTunes, iTunes Radio is a similar service to either Pandora (free-listening ad-supported) or Rhapsody (ad-free membership service through iTunes Match) whereas you can listen to a variety of songs which have been helpfully organized in "similarity groups" based around artists, genres, or songs you like. For example, if you like Depeche Mode as I do, setting up a "Depeche Mode Station" is dead simple. Just search for the artist and pick your poison...
Annnnnd... done! Your station cues up immediately and starts playing...
It's important to understand that this station is not Depeche Mode exclusive. You'll get occasional Depeche Mode, but you'll also get similar artists like Erasure, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, and Eurythmics. Just as if you were to create a "Depeche Mode Enjoy the Silence Radio Station" it's not just going to play that one song over and over... you're going to get that song plus similar tracks.
If you don't have an artist in mind, iTunes Radio has some "featured stations" to get you started. These include stations based on iTunes chart-toppers, popular genres (like Pop and Rap), sponsored stations (like the Pepsi Pulse Pop station), and even "Guest DJ" stations by popular artists and performers...
"Guest DJ" stations have commentary by the "guest" which may add information about the song (if it's theirs) or provide insight as to why they like the song (if it's somebody else's). Unlike songs, which can be skipped, commentary has to be played all the way through.
Which brings us to "skips."
Just like other internet radio services, iTunes Radio puts a limit on the number of songs you can skip past... six per hour (regardless of whether or not you are an iTunes Match subscriber). This may sound limiting but, if you find yourself wanting more than six, you're probably not listening to the right station in the first place. But what if you can't find a different station that's closer to what you're looking for? Fortunately, iTunes Radio gives you options to customize your stations so that they'll be more to your liking and less "skippable." The easiest way to do this is head to the "Star Menu" and tell iTunes Radio whether you want more songs like what's playing... or not to play that song ever again...
I could be wrong, but I think choosing "Never Play This Song" only applies to the current channel. So if there's an artist you really hate, you'll want to ban them from every channel manually. Fortunately, that's not quite as horrible as it sounds. You don't have to wait for each of their songs to show up, you can just ban an entire band from your station, or add them, if you'd prefer...
Also note that you can temper a station between "Hits" (most popular songs), "Variety" (all songs), or "Discovery" (obscure songs). To be honest, I don't notice a heck of a lot of difference at this point, but maybe that's something that will get better with time? Or maybe I just wasn't giving iTunes Radio enough time to build a list. I'm impatient that way. One thing that would be nice would be if "Discovery" mode looked at your library to play stuff you don't have... and perhaps that's the intent... but it's not very effective if that's the case.
And now for the problems. Which are surprisingly few so far.
The most puzzling problem is duplicate songs. On more than a couple occasions, a song will play again for a second or third time after it's just finished. It's happened to me four times now, and I'm not quite sure what the deal is. At first I thought that maybe they were coming from different albums (original album, greatest hits album, compilation album)... but a quick check under history shows this is not the case, so I don't know what's going on...
The other problem is something that may not be an actual problem. I had thought that iTunes Radio was going to be dynamically syncing across my devices. Meaning I can start listening to a song on my Mac, then pick up where I left off when I head out with my iPhone. But maybe I heard something wrong... or misunderstood. In any event, it ain't happening. It should.
And here's where we get to the dangerous part.
With every song played, Apple conveniently places a "BUY ME!" button next to it. Whether it's in your play history, or in the track info window, you're being given every opportunity possible to purchase whatever it is you like listening to that you don't already own. Like so...
Now, this is dangerous for two reasons.
The first is that you'll find yourself buying a lot of music because it's just so convenient. I ended up purchasing $26 of new stuff in just one day (curse you, 1980's and your delicious music!). I'm not an avid Pandora listener by any means, but I maybe purchased two whole songs in the years I've been using it off-and-on. Good thing I have a $50 iTunes Gift Card to burn through.
The second danger is more serious... iTunes Radio doesn't seem to check your library to see if you already own the song. So, unlike the iTunes Music Store, you're in real danger of purchasing stuff you've already bought. In some cases, this is somewhat understandable. The Depeche Mode song Something to Do that I own is, I suppose, different from the Something to Do: Remastered version that Apple wants me to buy. But that's not the case with Yaz's Only You which is the exact same Only from the exact same album I already own (twice if you count the version from the 1999 Best Of... album), and yet, when it plays I'll be encouraged to buy it a third time...
Note that the Upstairs At Eric's version that iTunes Radio played and wanted me to buy has been "matched" by iTunes Match. Apple knows I already own it! The second copy from the Best Of... album was actually purchased from iTunes. They definitely know I own that! So... like I said... dangerous. But, than again, I haven't actually bought music I already own (that I know of), so maybe Apple checks with the iTunes Store and iTunes Match before it actually charges you? I dunno. If this is the case, they really should go a step further and not waste your time encouraging you to spend your hard-earned money on something you already own (but may have forgotten about). It happens when you own thousands and thousands of songs.
So... anyway... danger aside, I love iTunes Radio. Love it.
Once I fine-tune a station, I'm getting even better play-lists than I did from iTunes Genius Mixes. Plus discovering some terrific stuff I either never knew about or didn't recall hearing before. And that's about the best I could have hoped for.
I just hope I don't go broke buying new music while listening to it.
Posted on November 29th, 2012
Before I rip into the brand new version of iTunes that Apple unleashed on the world today, I thought I'd say something nice.
I love the kind of instant fulfillment that iTunes provides.
Tonight I was watching television when I saw Victoria's Secret's "Sexiest Gifts" ad. It had a really cool song playing that I liked. So I Google the lyrics... find the song title (All Eyes on You by the band St. Lucia)... and BLAM! I go to iTunes and the song is mine.
Then I see a commercial for Men In Black 3 and BLAM! I go to iTunes and the movie is mine.
While at the iTunes Store, I see that seasons 1-3 of Community are on sale for $15(!) each... BLAM! Mine!
No more having to drive to the store or order online and have to wait for it to show up. You want something... BLAM! it's yours.
And now a few comments on iTunes 11...
A classier, more elegant update to the ugly-ass iTunes 10 icon.
The new iTunes 11 interface is big and pretty. It's also a heck of a lot simpler. Everything that can be condensed and collapsed has been condensed and collapsed. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because all the basic functionality is easier to use and out of the way. Bad because some extraneous functionality is not as easily accessible and you have to dig for it. And let's not forget the ugly... "iTunes DJ" is gone for some reason (so is Ping, but that's probably a good thing).
The most important update feature (for me, anyways) is that iCloud is now completely integrated into iTunes. The upshot being that now you can stream your movies, videos, and television shows to watch on your Mac without having to download them first, just like Apple TV. Cool! Now the only time I have to waste space on my hard drive for my iTunes purchases is when I want to have access to them while offline. A bonus feature is that iCloud stores your position, so you can start watching a show on your Mac, then pick up right where you left off on your iPad.
It's not all peaches and cream with iCloud integration, however. Even though you can stream video from the cloud, your Mac will still force you to fucking download all your fucking video purchases even though you don't fucking want them on your fucking Mac. At least from what I can fucking figure out. This is fucking bullshit...
Yeah, delete that shit off your downloads list as many times as you want... they'll be back in your "Available Downloads" before you can fucking blink. Sure I can tell iTunes not to automatically download purchases, but they never go away. And sometimes at random, iTunes starts to download them anyway.
Since iCloud was basically added as a hack on iTunes 10, this idiotic bug upset me, but didn't piss me off. But now that iTunes 11 is "iCloud Functional"... it sends me into a thermonuclear rage that the only way to keep iTunes from wanting to download videos IS TO DOWNLOAD THE VIDEOS. NOTE TO APPLE: THIS IS FUCKING STUPID!
And speaking of FUCKING STUPID, does anybody have any idea why this dialog box keeps randomly popping up when I try to play a video?
It's not consistent. If I click to play the same video that gave me the above error, odds are it will play properly the second time. This is an amateur hour bug, and I cannot fathom how Apple lets this crap slip through. I'm using a brand new MacBook Pro. I've been using iTunes 11 for ONLY TWO HOURS and found this problem... surely they beta test for longer than two hours?
I was excited when I saw that Apple had integrated the iTunes Store into my library. How handy is that? No more being bounced out to the store every time I want to buy a new episode of a show or find similar series to purchase! Or not. Half the time when I press the "In The Store" button, I just get a list of recommendations. The other half of the time, I get NOTHING...
A smart e-retailer would pop up a list of more Cougar Town episodes for me to buy while looking at my past Cougar Town purchases. But Apple? They make me leave my library, go to the store, click on television shows, then perform a Cougar Town search. What a hassle. No impulse buys for me. I guess that despite Apple's massive success, they are still a little brain-dead when it comes to selling. Something tells me this will be fixed real soon. There's entirely too much profit to be made.
And it's not just taking my money where Apple makes things ridiculously inconvenient. Just finding my music in iTunes 11 is a hassle too. Let's say I want to play the Pet Shop Boys new album Elysium, so I search my library and up it comes...
I just click on the album, and I'm off and running, right? Of course not...
Even though I specifically clicked on the album I wanted to listen to, iTunes takes me to ALL of their albums. I have to scroll down to find it. Now, I know that I'm in "Artist" view, and if I were in "Album" view it would have worked properly... but why can't it work properly in "Artist" view too? It doesn't make any sense.
But, then again, more than a few things in the new interface don't make much sense to me. Just like in previous versions of iTunes, there's a "List View" where you can uncheck little boxes next to songs you don't want to have played. But what happens when you go to non-list views where there are no boxes to uncheck? Why, you still uncheck them! Metaphorically, I'm sure...
In lieu of checkboxes, "unchecked" songs are greyed out when you're not in "List View." Well, whatever. This just seems sloppy and lazy and un-Apple to me. "Well, there aren't any checkboxes in this view, but we can't think of a better way to handle things, so fuck it! We'll just pretend there are checkboxes!"
Meanwhile, back at the iTunes Store... things are equally screwed up.
Let's say that I'm shopping for television shows. I see an ad for the third season of The Glades, so I click through. Now, normally, if I wanted to see more seasons of The Glades I would just use the navigation trail at the top of the page...
But you know what? I clicked on that damn link a half-dozen times. And each time iTunes just reloaded the exact same page. Nope. In order to see what other seasons are available, it's back to the search box. And some wacky results..
This is about the most unhelpful shopping search results you could possibly get. The first results are just a bunch of random episodes. They don't even tell you which number each episode is. Hell, they don't even fucking tell you what order they're being displayed! I'm assuming they're sorted by popularity, but who the hell knows? And of course there's no option to change the sort... whatever it is. Want them sorted by date added so you can buy the latest? Tough shit! Can't do it. Even if you navigate to "All Episodes" they are still force-displayed in a seemingly random order. And when you click the back-arrow to go back to your search? Oh, sorry... refinements to a search aren't navigable, so you skip right past it. Useless. At the very least, Apple could put the "TV Seasons" at the top of your search results, because clicking on those will give you actually useful information... like episode numbers and air dates!
Blerg. With all this stupid crap Apple got very, very wrong... did they get anything right? Certainly! They have a new feature called "Up Next" which packs a lot of cool stuff in a small space...
My library is playing through on "Shuffle" and the "Up Next" dialog shows what's coming. I can quickly eliminate songs I don't want to hear... move a song up the queue... add a song to a playlist... jump to the album the song is from... jump to the song in the iTunes Store... give a star rating... and more. Kind of nifty.
Another nice improvement is the mini player...
It's smaller, but does more. Amazingly, you can even search your library from it...
Sadly, you cannot access mini player when iTunes is in full-screen mode. I guess Apple felt it would be way too handy to be able to drag mini player to another virtual screen in "Spaces" while leaving the main player at full screen. I disagree. (UPDATE: or perhaps you can?)
One of the best things about iTunes is not a new feature... it's the speed. iTunes 11 is blazingly fast. Scrolling, even in album view, is a quantum leap above previous versions. Given how much time people spend scrolling through their libraries, this is a really big deal.
And that's about all that jumped out at me.
I haven't spent but a couple hours using the update but, despite my problems above, I have to say that I like it overall. For most of the stuff you'll use iTunes for, the interface is a big improvement. Hopefully the details that are less than perfect will be fixed in time.
And in the case of removing stuff from your downloads list... it had fucking better be sooner than fucking later.
UPDATE: It used to be that the iTunes Store would let you know if you've already purchased an item. Now, it doesn't. I don't know if this will lead people to accidentally re-purchase stuff they already bought, but it's pretty lame.
UPDATE: And... iTunes 11 video streaming is complete shit. Movies, shows, and videos will buffer for playback... but never actually play back. Hitting the play/pause button does nothing, yet I can "scrub" through the buffer no problem. This is fucking insane. How in the hell did this pile of shit ever get released? Even if Apple isn't beta-testing their software any more, they could at least have somebody play with it for 15 minutes to catch these bugs before they ship! I never wanted to be one of these people who said "Apple hasn't been the same since Steve Jobs died"... but, yeah, if this is the direction Apple is headed, we're all fucked.
UPDATE: For reasons unknown, I can no longer stream my video purchases. I have to download them before viewing, which is some stupid fucking bullshit. Amazon and Google videos will happily stream to your Mac or iOS devices. Apple, on the other hand, is living in the past, and forces you to download you purchases... wasting storage space and wasting your time. As you might guess, this laughably antiquated idiocy has me fucking furious. Guess I won't be buying video from Apple until they can stream your shit like everybody else.
Posted on November 14th, 2011
Sorry, but this is a geeky computer post most of you will probably want to skip.
And so Apple finally unleashed their iTunes Match service today. I say "finally" because we were told that it was going to be released on October 31st, but then it wasn't. I can only guess that it wasn't ready yet, and Apple wanted to take some extra time to make sure everything was working perfectly before launch.
Because, from my experience, iTunes Match is mostly crap. For now, anyways.
The idea is that you pay Apple $25 a year, and they manage all your music for you via iCloud. Songs in your iTunes library that Apple sells in the iTunes Store, regardless of how you acquired them, are immediately available online from Apple's servers. Also... no matter how poor quality your music files are, Apple automatically upgrades them to high-quality 256-kbps DRM-free files. You can then either A) Stream these files from iCloud over the internet to your computer or iOS device any time you want... or B) Download them to your computer or iOS device any time you want for offline listening.
If the song is not sold by Apple, it will be uploaded to iCloud so you can access the original file via streaming/downloading as stated above. It will not be upgraded in any way, however, because Apple doesn't have it for sale.
When it works... it's pretty special.
For example, I bought the CD Cruel Summer by "Ace of Base" years ago and ripped it into iTunes. Since the album is also sold by Apple, I am supposed to get the full benefit of iTunes Match. But not really...
Above you see iTunes Match in action. Or not.
The songs with NO cloud icon after them have been recognized by Apple as being sold in their store and I can stream or download them immediately to any device or computer I have registered with iCloud (but my original ripped file is left untouched on this computer). The songs with a dotted cloud icon after them are in-process and may or may not be recognized... if NOT recognized for some reason, they have to be uploaded. The songs with an exclamation(!) cloud icon after them have some kind of problem and return an undefined error when iTunes attempted to match/upload them...
What's the cause of the error? Who the fuck knows! This is APPLE we're talking about!
Usually re-processing them will work, but not always.
Anyway, to demonstrate how iTunes Match is supposed to work, I am going to delete the Ace of Base song Adventures in Paradise from my library (since it's one of just three measly songs iTunes Match has recognized off this album as being sold by Apple)...
Note that I am net telling Apple to delete the song from iCloud. I'm guessing that I would lose it permanently if I did this (assuming I hadn't backed it up). From what I can tell, ONLY songs you purchased directly from Apple are permanently available from iCloud (whether your membership is current or not).
After the song has been deleted, the file is no longer on my MacBook, but the song is still listed as being available. I can then click the standard little "Download from iCloud" icon to the right of the title and get it back. Here it is downloading to my MacBook (a little "progress pie chart" is on the left there)...
Now here's the cool part...
On the LEFT is the new high-quality Apple file I just downloaded. On the RIGHT is the original low quality file I dragged from the trash. iTunes Match is working as advertised. I just traded my old "low-res" music file for the fresh "hi-res" one that Apple sells in their store. Assumably, since the file was uploaded direct from the record label, it's the best possible version of the song available in a condensed digital format. To do any better than this I'd have to rip the file from CD in a "lossless" uncompressed format... but I don't have room on my MacBook for large files like that and, given that I'm not an audiophile, probably wouldn't notice the quality improvement anyway.
BUT... what if you don't want these audio files hogging up space on your hard drive? No problem! Apple allows you to "stream" songs to your computer for listening without downloading. KINDA. Technically the files are downloaded to your computer to a temporary buffer. This way, you can fast-forward, rewind, and skip around instantly... which is something you can't usually do with streaming music. As to how big this buffer is and how long it lasts, I have no clue. But it's a very nice way to handle streaming audio. To "stream" music that's not on your computer/device just click play or double-click the song anywhere except on the "Download from iCloud" icon.
So, yeah, when it works, Apple's new iTunes Match is pretty darn cool.
But, for a huge chunk of my library, it most definitely does NOT work...
And here's where it gets strange.
Just for kicks I deleted a song that I know Apple does not sell... The mono version of Baby's in Black from the album Beatles for Sale (2009 Mono Remaster). Apple only sells the Stereo version (which is not the version I want because true fans know that The Beatles only cared about the mono tracks on their early albums... stereo releases were considered a novelty at the time, and the band was rarely involved in making them).
After deletion, I immediately clicked the "Download from iCloud" button to get it back. Now, since Apple does not sell this song, I should have gotten the same mono version file I just uploaded. But, as you can probably guess, I didn't. I got back the stereo version that Apple sells... but they left the song label the same...
A quick look at the graphic equalizer confirms that this really is the STEREO version with two unique left and right channels...
Just to be sure, I also took the graphic equalizer to my original file so I could confirm is really is the MONO version with the same channels...
So, to sum up my iTunes Match experience...
Sometimes it works as advertised and it's all good. But an alarming number of times there are problems...
Needless to say, this is a bit frustrating. Whether or not Apple can fix this is anybody's guess but, for me at least, I just paid $25 for something which is fatally flawed.
What Apple has to do is find some way of letting customers manually correct the iTunes Match information. The problem is that I can't even figure out when Apple has made a match... or when there was no match and they had to upload my files (UPDATE: Actually, I can, see below). So even if I could correct the data, I wouldn't know which files needed it. Unless I delete each and every one and downloaded it back. Then matched files would be flagged as "Matched AAC Audio File."
In the meanwhile, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Like... what happens to all my downloaded "Match" files if I don't renew my membership? Do they evaporate? What happens when a record label jerks their music from Apple's store? Do you lose your music? And so on. And so on. Since this is only my first day with the service, maybe my questions will eventually be answered. But Apple is Apple, so I've resigned myself to the fact that they probably won't be.
As for iTunes Match?
The potential is there... but I can't recommend it. Yet.
Check back in a bit.
UPDATE: iTunes does have a column you can turn on which will show you the iTunes Match status of your music...
Still no way I can figure out why some tracks are recognized and others are not on the same frickin' album. You'd think that once Apple figured out I own the album, they'd recognize ALL the tracks. But, alas, no.
Finding this feature lead to my discovering something very interesting...
a-ha's amazing final album, Foot of the Mountain, was never released in the USA. I had to import the CD and rip it into iTunes. HOWEVER... iTunes Match totally recognized and matched it! Apparently, iTunes Match gives you access to ALL of Apple's music stores worldwide. This is very cool, but is it intentional? Time will tell.
UPDATE: One of the reasons I was so keen to sign up for iTunes Match was that I could finally get rid of all the DRM-Protected music I bought and replace it with fresh DRM-Free downloads. I had already upgraded most of my music to "DRM-Free iTunes Plus" but there were some songs that never wanted to upgrade for some reason. Such as the album Play by Moby. iTunes Match recognized all but one song (even though I bought it from Apple!), but I deleted them all anyway so I could test whether songs I uploaded were still intact when I downloaded them. Sadly, the answer is NO! Trying to download the DRM-Protected song I had uploaded fails completely...
Needless to say, this is a load of shit. I BOUGHT THIS SONG FROM APPLE AND YET APPLE CAN'T MATCH IT? WTF?!? Just goes to show... buying DRM crap will only end up punishing paying customers instead of the criminals it's supposed to.
UPDATE: And things just keep getting worse. Holy crap is iTunes Match a mess! Take a look at this...
This is an album I bought from Apple's iTunes Music Store. Note that all songs are recognized as having been purchased. Note also that the status of the songs in iTunes Match is "Matched" or "Purchased" or "Uploaded"... seemingly at random. ALL OFF THE SAME ALBUM! They should all be registering as "purchased" but are not. If Apple can't even get the stuff THEY SELL YOU right, how in the hell can they be trusted to figure everything else out? And who do I talk to about getting all this straightened out?
UPDATE:I was hoping that re-importing a CD directly into iTunes with Match enabled would make it so that the entire album was recognized instead of just random songs. No such luck. iTunes is apparently matching by digital fingerprinting... and doesn't have very accurate fingerprints from CD rips to match against. Crap. I can only hope that their service will get smarter in time.
UPDATE: Despite a few minor bugs (like skipping to the next track when the current song isn't buffering fast enough and iTunes runs out of data to play), I have officially deleted (almost) all my music files from my Home Mac, my Work Mac, and my MacBook Pro. The only files I keep are unmatched protected songs, which won't play from iCloud for some reason. Since I mostly only use these devices when I have internet, it seems crazy to waste the hard disk space when I can just stream everything. For plane rides sans WiFi or other situations where I don't have internet, I'll just listen to the music I've got loaded on my phone (which is always with me). I gotta say... if Apple could just do a better job of recognizing the 800+ songs that are currently "unMatched" in my library, this whole iCloud thing would be absolutely killer. Until that day, it's just merely awesome.