December 13, 2011
Apple, I believe you have done it again.
When it launched about a month ago, I really didn't know much more about iTunes Match other than it would allow me to access all of my home computer's songs in my iTunes library through the cloud.
Since I ditched my 30GB iPod model for an 8GB iPhone a few years ago, I have been playing catchup with having so many songs at my disposal for years. Even when I got a 32GB iPhone 3GS, a lot of that space was taken up by all the other goodies iOS devices have to offer. I made the decision to drop to a 16GB iPhone 4S to save $100 because I figure I will want the next iPhone iteration, which is likely to be physically larger to compete with some of the Android-based phones, include 4G LTE -- a huge bump in speed if you're on Verizon -- and obviously will have a 64GB model.
But even now, I'm loving iTunes Match. I previously had to make choices on which songs I would sync with my iPhone. I was limited to those songs until i got back home and changed my choices. At this time of year, maybe I would want to hear songs from "The 99 Most Essential Christmas Masterpieces," a collection of classical music I bought from Amazon for probably $2. It's the frackin' bomb for a band geek at this time of year.
I would usually leave this album and other similar ones off my choices because they are 99 songs that are usually longer than the 3 minutes or so most popular music is today. When storage is scare, you've gotta make tough calls.
iCloud started to change this by allowing me to re-download iTunes purchases from any iDevice or my computer. iTunes Match stepped it up by allowing me to essentially do the same things for ALL songs, be they purchases from iTunes, Amazon or rips from CDs. If you're my age and older, you likely have a lot of ripped CDs in your digital library. I didn't start purchasing music online almost exclusively until about 2005, so I definitely have quite the old school library.
This is quite a deal at $25 per year.
The only drawback I have found, aside from me thinking I could be totally happy with a 16GB iPhone, is how this is going to change wireless data usage. The big cellphone carriers in the United States -- AT&T and Verizon -- started to limit data usage in the past couple of years. When I was with AT&T and this happened, I was thrilled because I could pay $25 for 2GB per month instead of $30 for unlimited. I never topped 1GB, so this was a no-brainer.
But that changed quickly. With iTunes Match, I could easily blow through that in a week. I hit my first gigabyte of data within about a week this month. Thankfully Verizon alerts me to this and I became frugal with data use outside of my home and work, where I have WiFi.
I think this, along with similar services from Amazon and Google, is all part of this move toward media stored and accessed remotely. The problem is our networks are severely limited and can't handle the speed at which we want to move at a price we want to pay. Even as our wireless networks get crazy fast with the evolution of 4G LTE -- the ACTUAL 4G technology developed with wireless data in mind and not the rebranding of existing technology -- we still have challenges. It costs me about $40 for a 6Mbps connection at home. That's fine for downloading audio. But on the rare times I buy or rent video online, plus all that Netflix and Hulu use, it gets crowded. If other people get on your network, hello nightmare.
The good news is we keep pushing forward technologically. President Obama has pushed for getting broadband Internet into rural areas of the country. This means a lot of the western parts of the country can start to move toward what we lucky urban and suburban dwellers enjoy. Just as Internet offerings increased with the penetration of simple Internet connectivity into homes, "fringe" services like iTunes Match will be available to even more people. There was no YouTube before broadband. Facebook and Twitter developed after a good majority of homes had broadband.
The next big step is video services. Netflix will be banking on this because of the slowness of mailing DVDs and Blu-ray Discs in the mail compounded by the Postal Service slowing down its delivery schedule. It makes much more sense for rentals to be streamed to you instead of all of that old school physical delivery method. Advance past that to a possible revolution in TV service -- think about choosing your own TV channels instead of packages from cable and satellite providers.
iTunes led the way in revolutionizing the music business into a highly digital industry. Amazon has competed nicely, and Google is getting skin in the game. With the big bucks of video services at stake, keep your eye on how this develops over the next decade. I think we're all going to end up with a lot more choices to fit our needs and our wallets.
Michael Buckelew is part of the digital team for SCNI, the parent company of the Gwinnett Daily Post.