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Adventures in iTunesland... my experience with iTunes Match

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by , 20th July 2012 at 11:48 PM (12229 Views)
I realise that this may not be an especially fashionable point of view on this and other boards (but it will be on certain ones!) but I like Apple. I've owned Apple computers since around 2008 since it became clear that Vista was a complete train wreck and I wanted something at home which I wasn't going to need spending hours buggering about with. Anyway, I bought an iMac and haven't looked back since. In the time since then, I've become a bit of a fanboy and I've bought an Apple Time Capsule (Sold it when I got DSL and a router from my ISP), two Airport Extremes (One bought when the router from my ISP was crap and I completely regretted selling the Time Capsule, the other bought when I gave my original to my parents) , an iPhone, a Macbook, an iPod (admittedly I bought this long before my first Mac), an AppleTV 2, a Magic Trackpad, I've bought another iMac to replace the one I bought originally and I've bought music, apps and a few TV programmes from the iTunes store. While I wouldn't advocate using Apple stuff at work any more due to Apples apparent hatred of the enterprise, for my needs at home they've been perfect and absolutely trouble free.

When I've purchased music, I've generally got it from iTunes. I know the arguments against it, mostly due to sound quality but when I realised that I mostly listen to my music in my car, on my computer and on a cheapish iPod dock I realised that I honestly couldn't tell the difference between a CD and an encoded iTunes file any more. My recent issues with my ears haven't helped in that regard either. Anyway, I digress. When Apple announced iTunes Match, it seemed like a fantastic idea. Unlimited access to your music collection from the cloud? Streamed directly from Apple's servers? £21 a year? Fantastic! Perhaps even too good to be true. When they eventually got the licensing in this country sorted out and made the service available here I waited about a month then signed up. This was February I think. I thought I'd write about how I've got on.

When you first sign up, iTunes analyses your music collection and attempts to match it against music in the iTunes database. If it can't find it, it uploads a copy to their servers, presumably converted to AAC. Out of my ~9000 track music collection, it recognised about 7000 tracks and uploaded the rest which took about a night. This seemed to work smoothly.

The first test was from my Apple TV. I signed into the service and played music from my library without my computer having to be on. Jolly good, so far so good. Access to music was fast enough and my internet connection was more than able to cope.

The next test was with my iPhone 3GS. Here I hit a bit of a snag. Being the Apple tart that I am, I was subscribed to MobileMe. I got my email through there and all the other services so my MobileMe account was the AppleID that was signed into my phone. Of course, my main iTunes account predates MobileMe and this was the AppleID that I had bought my iTunes Match subscription with. After a bit of head scratching trying to work out why I couldn't see my ITM subscription on my phone, I worked this out and signed in with my older AppleID and manually set up my email and calendar sync on my phone. Bit of a faff but not too bad I suppose.

Anyway, when you first sign into ITM on an iPhone, you get a warning message telling you that iTunes Match will take over the music library on the phone and that all stored music will be removed. OK, fine. I chose a playlist and went for an hours walk around New Barnet, Hadley Common and Chipping Barnet to see how well it performed.

On the iPhone, I would say that it's OK at best. The main issue as far as I can see is that on the iPhone, it doesn't actually stream. It downloads the song to the device and plays it from the local memory. However, it only seems to download the song that you're playing and the next song on the list. This is fine when you've got a stable signal (and unlimited cellular data!) but not so good when you don't. I was walking for about 15 minutes before the signal degraded to the point where it wasn't able to download the music quicky enough and playback stopped.

It also downloads-and-plays when the thing is on WiFi too and even on WiFi this seems to be a pretty poor experience. I have an iPod dock in my kitchen which I use for playing music or internet radio when I'm cooking. Sometimes it manages to download songs, sometimes it doesn't. It's quite frustrating to be listening to an album and have it cut out half way when you're enjoying it! I've found it better to use the shared iTunes library feature and connect to the iTunes library on my Mac which is a bit of a shame because you can't use Genius on a shared library.

The final test was at work, iTunes Match seems made for the job here! At work we have virtually no cellular signal and I didn't want to be killing my phone's battery at work downloading and playing music. I decided to install iTunes on my work PC (running Windows 7) and give it a go.

iTunes on Windows has always been pretty bad but I didn't realise how bad until now. There are two problems:
  1. It plain does not like folder redirection onto networked drives. Running iTunes with my network account made it unstable, it was constantly forgetting its settings and it frequently wouldn't connect to the iTunes store
  2. It doesn't support transparent NTLM authentication on proxies so it's constantly asking for authentication on the proxy. And i mean constantly. Mozilla and Google can get transparent authentication working with their browsers but you can't Apple. Why is this?

Problem 1 was solved by creating a local account on the PC and running iTunes from that using the RunAs command. Problem 2 was solved Cntlm, a rather handy piece of software which as a authentication proxy to your proxy. Cntlm handles the NTLM authentication for your proxy by acting as a proxy on your local machine and forwarding the traffic with the appropriate authentication headers to your main proxy. The local account IE proxy settings were set to localhost:3128 and proxy authentication issues were vanquished! Once these issues were solved, iTunes match worked brilliantly. I had almost instant access to my music collection, no pauses or stutters and it actually streamed instead of downloaded the music so nothing was stored on my local PC apart from the album art cache. I can't really lay the blame for the problems I had at work on the service but the software is pretty shoddy.

So in conclusion, the service is good but it needs work. On the AppleTV and on a standalone PC or Mac with a direct connection to the internet, it works very well. It could work better on the iPhone. On a networked PC with a managed internet connection it required a bit of messing about but I got there eventually. Yay!

Updated 20th July 2012 at 11:49 PM by Norphy




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