iTunes Match Update

Just a quick update to my last post on iTunes Match. Since the post Apple have updated their iTunes Match page in America to include a FAQ and video which helps clarify exactly what iTunes Match is and how it works differently for desktops and mobiles for streaming.

Does iTunes Match stream or download songs?
On a computer, any songs stored in iCloud will stream over the air when played, though you can download them at any time by clicking the iCloud download button. iOS devices will start playing tracks from iCloud as they download and will store them so that you can listen to them later even if you don’t have a network connection. Apple TV only streams songs.

So I fired up the Mac Mini and signed into my account – low and behold my library is available from the Mini rather than pointing to my shared library on the iMac – see screen below.

Click on a track and it is streamed after a couple of seconds. It’s not as slick or fast as Spotify but it’s not a million miles away either. When I click on next to play the next track there is a couple of seconds delay while it requests and starts the stream. The same is true for playlists (which are also synced across devices) but interestingly if you let the track finish and move onto next track it is instantaneous. So it looks like it does some pre-loading of the assumed next track in certain scenarios. Like the FAQ states, this doesn’t download the track – just streams. Clicking on the cloud icon downloads the track to the Mini. Nice.

iTunes Match

iTunes in the Cloud has been with us for a few months now. New and existing purchases available in iTunes and also on your iOS devices via the cloud. If you’ve bought most of your music from Apple then your pretty much sorted but what if the vast majority of your music has been bought elsewhere? What about the ripped cd’s and, lets be honest, the music acquired via torrents, sharing groups etc over the years? Thats where iTunes Match comes in. Launched last month in America it was rumoured by some analysts as being well into 2012 for the UK but last Friday after a premature launch the previous day, Match was available for users in the UK.

What is iTunes Match?
iTunes Match is a subscription service from Apple. It costs £21.99 a year ($24.99 in the US but I should educate myself rather than grumble about UK pricing) and once you’ve signed up it will automatically review each year unless you decide to cancel it. Once subscribed your whole music collection is matched and made available online. iTunes analyses your music and those tracks that are already available on the iTunes store but weren’t originally bought from iTunes are called ‘Matched’. The matched tracks are then made available on your iOS devices for download just like iTunes in the Cloud has already done for your iTunes purchases.

All users will still have a percentage of music that is unmatched – not purchased on iTunes and the Match service couldn’t find the same track on the iTunes store. For those tracks Match will upload them to your iCloud account and make those available to your iOS devices (and other computers with iTunes and the same authorised account). The main limitation with iTunes Match is that it will upload a maximum of 25,000 tracks. Thats quite a large music collection and only applies to uploaded tracks excluding those purchased and matched. However Apple have assumed the worst case scenario in that if your music collection is over 25,000 tracks in size then iTunes Match will fail to run. The workaround is to temporarily reduce your library to less than 25,000, subscribe to Match and let it do it’s stuff and once it’s complete, assuming it has uploaded less than 25,000, add the rest of your library. A bit of hassle but it’s pretty easy to do. Another restriction is that Match will only work on tracks at a higher bitrate than 96Kbps but I only have a couple of spoken tracks at that quality from a library of over 11,000 so it’s not a problematic restriction.

So Match put’s all your music in the cloud but the main benefit for me is that the matched tracks are available at 256Kbps AAC DRM-free quality no matter what the bitrate is of your original track. Wow. The second main benefit is not only are the matched tracks of better quality, but they are properly licensed music no matter what the original source was – ripped, torrents, Napster…Limewire even. Double wow.

I’m sure thats why this is a paid service – the online storage that Match requires but also the licensing of the music. One question I had was what happens if I don’t re-subscribe? Do I lose the matched music? The answer is no – you only lose the iCloud storage and the ability to download your library on any of your devices.

Using iTunes Match
The first step for me was to backup my iTunes library. I was unsure as to what if any damage would be done to my library and I didn’t want to lose tracks, album art or metadata in the process. With that out of the way I signed up for iTunes Match on Friday morning. It was quick and easy to do and after a couple of minutes iTunes Match started to analyse my library. Once that was complete (5-10 mins) it then started matching with the 20 million tracks available on iTunes. I expected this to take hours but was pretty speedy. I’m not sure what Match uses to ensure it finds the right track but think it must be a combination of tags, track length and estimated sizes. Scratch that – it is using Gracenote’s MusicID service according to this Cult of Mac post.

Once the match process was done, 6381 tracks out of 11143 were available in iCloud. The nest step was to seed the remaining tracks – all 4876 of them. That was around 11GB of data that was uploaded to iCloud and it took a few hours.

Interestingly the upload never seemed to complete. There was no network traffic but iTunes Match was still trying to upload…something. I think the service got stressed on that first Friday and that’s what I was seeing. I also saw a couple of tweets saying the service had been suspended. 24 hours later and when I relaunched iTunes the Match service spent some time and this time it finally completed. I’m not sure how long this took but I eventually had all of my tracks available in iCloud. Great. Now what?

First test was how Match works on iOS. I grabbed my iPad and enabled iTunes Match and got a message that my music library on this device would be replaced. From other podcasts and forums I’d seen, this meant the iPad music would be wiped and I’d start again.

However the music that had been sync’d to the iPad remained in place and eventually (20 mins or so) my whole library was displayed with cloud icons next to those tracks that were available to download. Playlists are also sync’d via iCloud and you can make changes to the playlists from any device and those changes will be saved across all devices. After some digging, this excellent article from Macworld explains the replacing/supplementing issue – If your iOS device was synced to a music library you’ve connected to iTunes Match, it will only supplement your currently synced content, leaving already-synced songs alone and adding iCloud download icons for those that haven’t been added to your device. If it’s synced with music not in your iTunes Match collection, however, all of that will be replaced.

Download speed over wifi is great, 3G – mileage will vary as expected. The tracks will start playing before they are fully downloaded. It’s not streaming, but pretty close. If I’m honest though, how often am I going to want to download tracks when I’m away from my Mac? I can see it happening the odd time but thats about it.

Upgrading tracks
With Match up and running the next job was to replace my old crummy tracks with spiffy good quality 256Kbps AAC versions. I created the following playlist (hat tip Macworld) which highlighted the tracks available to download that were of better quality than I currently had.

Many of my tracks were ripped from CD and I stuck at 192Kbps at the time. I also had quite a few albums acquired form less honest sources that were of low quality. I selected a couple of test albums, held down the option key and clicked delete. I sent the albums to trash but kept them on iCloud. I setup a second playlist that showed music on iCloud and not on local machine, selected both albums and clicked Download. Thirty seconds later I had two albums refreshed at a higher quality but most importantly my ratings and played count were retained from the old files. With that test concluded, and safe in the knowledge I had backed up everything, I selected all files of a lower quality, deleted them and then kicked off the download.

I them went out for the morning.

On my return iTunes had finished – 6548 tracks downloaded which is just over 53GB in total. Boom.

Is it worth it?
So thats iTunes Match. If I’m being harsh it’s the new form of Apple tax – replacing the yearly subscription that was MobileMe with iTunes Match. However it’s a service that delivers an upgrade to the quality of your music, gives you legitimate copies of your music irrespective of source (when it was announced in June 2011 I couldn’t believe it was the case) and allows you to download your music from anywhere in the world without leaving your machine running at home…or needing to carry it all with you.

One final benefit is that your music collection is backed up to the cloud. In event of a hard drive loss you can download your full music library to an existing or brand new machine. Compared to the Amazon S3 costs, that alone is worth £21 a year for me.

For me it’s highly recommended – just make sure you’ve taken a backup before proceeding just in case.

Free Dr Who Episode

A quick post to let Dr Who fans, and those that like freebies, that there is a free episode of Dr Who available in iTunes. From the new issue of The Radio Times (which I still get although I hate the font’s they’ve now moved to using – horrible!) if you visit:

www.itunes.com/drwhofree

you can download ‘Last of the Timelords’ for free. No need to buy Radio Times or fill in any codes etc. Click on the link and download the episode in iTunes. Easy. It’s not too bad an episode either.

iPhone 2.1

Two months on from it’s launch, the iPhone today got it’s biggest software update so far. My thoughts on the upgrade are below:

– Backup does work a lot quicker than before. It now doesn’t get in the way of syncing
– Application installs on the phone via Appstore are so much quicker – 10 times quicker, or so it feels. Makes installs so easy and quick to do
– Syncs are overall more speedier
– Contact list scroll lag has gone
– Text and keyboard lag seems to be fixed
– Updating app’s will remember their screen position
– New 3g and edge icons
– Signal strength meter at home is now 4 bars instead of the 1 that I’ve had since i got the phone. Speedtests are much the same so it looks like the bars are just a fix to more accurately display connection rather than being a better connection
– Mail – failing to get some mail content tonight which was allegedly one of the issues fixed…an issue I didn’t previously have
– Genius playlist is nice but due to size of iPhone and amount of music it’s not as useful as it is in iTunes
– Battery life – who knows. Too early to tell but I have zero expectations of any sizable improvement to battery life

The biggie for me are the third party application crashes as I’ve suffered this problem for the last 4-6 weeks. Is it fixed? No idea! First install of firmware and no app’s worked. I then tried syncing again and some worked. Decided to start fresh and do full restore without using an old backup. All app’s installed but none would work. I then wiped all the app’s, sync’d, re-downloaded the app’s and sync’d. Still no joy. Then I installed an app from the Appstore on the iPhone – yay they all work. Or so I thought. Some didn’t. Tried them all and around half were still failing. I then downloaded another app from the Appstore and now all the applications are working.

While this sounds like problem solved that is the same behaviour I’ve seen up to now so it will take a few days/weeks before I’m convinced that particular issue has gone. It also seems there’s a couple of things missing. No background notification feature which was supposed to launch this month. I’m also disappointed that after boasting of 3000 app’s and 100 million application downloads that there is still no easy way to see only new additions to the Appstore. iTunes 8 and the new firmware should have had this feature added at the very least.

Those negatives aside it’s good to see the iPhone has lost it’s beta feel. Basic functionality now works well and with all the app’s back up and running it feels far more useful again. Lets hope it stays this way over the coming weeks.

iTunes UK - TV Content at last

I think it’s around two years since TV shows were first available on iTunes in the USA. Finally some content was made available to purchase in the UK this week. First thing you notice is how little there is – it’s all American and there’s not much off it. There’s rumours of BBC and Channel 4 content to come later but there’s nothing at the moment.

Then you notice the price. It’s high. £1.89 per episode. That would be £43.47 for Lost series 3 which sounds a lot but the whole series can be bought on iTunes for a reduced price of £32.99. Currently the box set is available on Amazon for £44.98 so there are savings to be made however it’s almost double the American price, like most things here in the UK. While I’m saying there are savings to be made on DVD’s, that’s for latest box sets only. Earlier box sets are available for much less than the iTunes price, and would you really want to pay more for lesser quality?

I’ve just spent £1.89 to test just how good the iTunes TV shows look. Continue reading “iTunes UK – TV Content at last”

Tangerine

Tangerine is a new beta app for the Mac that has one major aim – to create playlists for iTunes based on the Beats per Minute (BPM) of a track. It also wants to do that quickly while looking good at the same time. First impressions are that it manages all three.

AnalyzeOnce installed and running Tangerine will locate and analyze your iTunes library. There are issues if your library is located on an external drive but mines detected without a problem. The analysis is very quick – Potions website states around 3 tracks every second but obviously the anaylsis will be dependant on your library size and your encoding quality. Once analyzed it’s then down to you to create playlists based on the BPM that’s been associated to the mp3 file.

Playlist OptionsBy using sliders to easily change the criteria it’s easy to make varied playlists – from fast paced workouts to slow burners. Once complete the playlists is displayed and you have the option of saving it in your iTunes library. Another nice feature is the ability to write the BPM values back to iTunes allowing you to use the BPM within iTunes itself.

Completed Playlist

All the basic functionality worked well but there were one or two quirks especially with the BPM analysis. It seemed to mark some real slow tracks with very little beat with a high BPM. However it didn’t mark any of the faster tracks incorrectly so hopefully this can be addressed before official release. The look and feel of the app though is terrific. Once the playlist has been generated it is shown in the Tangerine window along with it’s album art. There are also some nice speech bubbles used to show track info. Playback controls (more accurately playback info) could have been displayed with more clarity though – again something that could be addressed before 1.0 release.

Some features I’d like to see – ability to use a playlist as a source for the newly generated playlist rather than the whole library. I’d also like to pick genre or ratings (you can select use predominately higher ratings) and base new playlists on those criteria. Actually I can pick genre or ratings – you just need to add a rule in the preferences which you can enable/disable to you liking. Nice. I guess the one thing it really does need is a readme…and a help file.

This is a really handy app for gym bunnies or runners that want to tailor there playlists to not only good songs but songs that match their pace. I’ll be using it to generate some game based playlists – high for racing games (or Lumines), low for something like golf. One little point to finish on – the installation screens on Mac are great and Tangerines is one of the best. Enjoy.

Tangerine Install

Apple Special Event

September 12th could be an expensive day. Apple are doing another of their ‘special events’ which has everyone speculating on new products. Hot tips are a new iMac and an iTunes movie store and maybe a new iPod or replacement for the Nano.

I would love to see Macbook Pro updated with at least the new Intel chips – that would be enough for me to purchase. I also want, well, need a new iPod as my current one is full and I can’t be doing with picking and choosing what music I want on the player. I’m still not sold on a video iPod though especially if it’s larger than the current models. Would be nice to see a video and a music iPod developed.

One thing on the movie store – rumours are $14.99 for new titles and $9.99 for older movies – sounds a bit steep considering the movies will come with DRM restrictions. Surely that wouldn’t be the price for a movie sized only for a new iPod? That got me thinking – would we see hi-def movies sold for that price through iTunes? The movie’s would be large but would users be willing to download hi def movies and play then from their laptop or pc rather than buying an HD-DVD or Blu-ray player. Will probably never happen but the option would be nice.

iTunes Signature Maker

Shamelessly copied from elsewhere I present my iTunes signature – itsm.mp3 (2 Meg download). The program that generated the file can be found on at Jason Freeman’s site. It has a few options and will generate your own signature based on this. The only requirements are that you use iTunes and can run Java apps on your pc.

So can you name all the tracks in my signature? I couldn’t but the app creates a list of the tracks used….

1 – So I Begin – Galleon – I Believe
2 – Love Will Come Through – Travis – 12 Memories
3 – Landed – Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman
4 – Whatever, Whenever – Groove Armada – Vertigo
5 – Kiss This Thing Goodbye – Del Amitri – Waking Hours
6 – Fix You – Coldplay – X&Y
7 – 1 Thing – Amerie – Touch
8 – Don’t want to Fall in Love – Chris Issac – Chris Issac
9 – All I Need – Air – Moon Safari
10 – Toca’s Miracle – Fragma – Dogs Balearics Disc 2
11 – Creep – Radiohead – Pablo Honey
12 – Bad Day – Daniel Powter – Daniel Powter
13 – Are You Gonna Be My Girl – Jet – Get Born
14 – Vertigo – U2 – How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
15 – El Salvador – Athlete – Vehicles and Animals
16 – Somewhere Only We Know – Keane – Hopes And Fears
17 – I Can’t Be With You – Cranberries – No Need To Argue
18 – Shiver – Coldplay – Parachutes
19 – Further – Longview – Mercury
20 – Fake plastic trees – Radiohead – The Bends
21 – Drop The Pressure – Mylo – Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll
22 – Give It Away – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Greatest Hits
23 – Oh My Gosh – Basement Jaxx – The Singles
24 – Amsterdam – Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
25 – Go – Moby – 3 for 1
26 – Electric Mistress – Jamiroquai – Dynamite
27 – ’95 aka Make Things Right – Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95
28 – Catch – Kosheen – Catch
29 – Free – Estelle – RnB Essential Spring 2005 CD2
30 – Mr. Brightside – The Killers – Hot Fuss
31 – Between Angels And Insects – Papa Roach – Infest
32 – Run – Snow Patrol – Final Straw
33 – American Idiot – Green Day – American Idiot
34 – Girls – Prodigy – Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned
35 – You’re Beautiful – James Blunt – Back to Bedlam
36 – Leave home – Chemical Brothers – Exit Planet Dust
37 – What Sound – Lamb – What Sound
38 – Any Day Now – Elbow – Asleep in the Back
39 – Feel Good Inc – Gorillaz – Demon Days
40 – Hush – LL Cool J feat. 7 Aurelius – Now 60
41 – Black And White Town – Doves – Some Cities
42 – TwoMonthsOff – Underworld – AHundredDaysOff
43 – The Blower’s Daughter – Damien Rice – O

Worthwhile playing around with the settings to see what different sigs can be created.

iTunes 5.0

New iTunes version 5.0 with a new look and some new features even for old iPod users. Playlists within folders, contact and calender synch with Outlook, far better search (allegedly like spotlight in OS X), shuffle options (woo), parental controls (woo – this is irony by the way) and album reviews in the music store. Was that really worth an update to a version 5.0.

On installing it seemed to update my whole library. On syncing with the iPod it’s refreshing ALL the tracks. That’s 22 gigs it’s writing back to the iPod. Strange. Even odder – some tracks won’t write to the iPod – they did yesterday. I updated the iPod firmware and all seems well by going from version 2.2 to 2.3.

The new search is great – fast and accurate. Folders are also nice as the parent folder will display a sum of all the child playlists. Not convinced on the new look which is better than the old brushed metal but seems to have an odd double pixel around the left and right window border.