“iTunes Match, I am Disappoint”

I recommend products all the time, but also steer people clear of products that are nothing but headaches. iTunes Match falls squarely in the latter category. After many problems with iTunes Match not working over 2 years that I have documented in my blogs, I finally decided to give up on this red-headed step child of Apple’s eco-system.

“Let me sync—Oops! Let Me Try Agai—Oops!…”

I joined iTunes Match the day it came out but quickly discovered it was slow and buggy. Often backups will fail many times during the process only to have to restart completely from scratch, examining the entire library instead of caching changes, and then comparing everything before it even attempts to upload tracks. Support likes to blame the network. To prove them wrong, I stood in an Apple Store with a consistent 4–9MBps DL/UL showing a friend that it failed no less than 4 times over 90 minutes, and never completing a single sync of a few GB. I repeated that experiment a few more times at different stores with different network loads, with the same result. In fact to finish the initial sync, I had to go to Apple Store, Palo Alto to hang out for a many hours and use their phat bandwidth, because it had already taken a month on normal Cable and DSL lines.

Sony’s Ungraceful CDDB

What was worse, iTunes Match somehow decided to destroy my updated tags routinely in favor of the stock tags that are incomplete or inaccurate at best. I do not blame Apple for the horror show that are the stock tags. The blame for that falls upon Sony’s Gracenote that does not maintain accurate tags nor offer more than basic genres that would only satisfy as music novice. Previously in my blog, I detailed how errors in their tags database caused re-ripped CDs to show up twice. The last tag I had to correct just yesterday was for Squeeze’s Classic “Another Nail For My Heart” which someone at Gracenote decided the title was “Another Nail In My Heart.” This is not a big deal until you consider the time it takes to correct it. This causes track duplication when I re-ripped the album, and to preserve my correct metadata, I have to do this: remove the old version and link the new version by navigating to it in the file browser. Compound this 2 minute fix by a few hundred or thousand and you see why I hate anyone who works for Gracenote that thinks their product is “the best!” It’s the opposite. The only way to avoid this is to compare the track names side by side, which iTunes makes a bit of a pain. Luckily, I discovered PowerTunes last year which make the song entry to file correction process a bit easier, but still takes more time than it should. If only people at Gracenote spent as much time maintaining their DB as they do marketing it with to companies with “thou shalt not use any other CD meta-data DB!” clause, it might not be the mine field that it is. I assume this restrictive clause is because the company buying a license might discover the other DBs are often better. I was told by a software engineer for a CD meta-data program that Gracenote’s DB is locked in, and that the contract means he cannot write code to use the DB he personally uses for his CD ripper. What this means is that even though a person who also loves music and actually writes the software to access CD metadata, he himself does not actually use his own software for personal use because it would “…fuck up my iTunes Library.”

“Yes, It’s Backed Up. No, You Can’t Restore it.”

The second blow was iTunes Match failing to restore about 10 albums. After a HD directory glitch was unnoticed, it was compounded by a backup that wiped the backups out. I tried to restore about 10 albums, however iTunes Match kept erring on these 10. iTunes Support was unable to resolve the issue after a few hours of back and forth. So, I had to go back to my original sources and either re-digitize them or re-rip them. 2 or 3 of the Albums were very rare or irreplaceable and had previously been destroyed in a fire, so they are now permanently gone. To Apple Support’s credit they did send me 2 lightning cables for my new iPad as a way to say sorry.

The final blow was iTunes Match somehow deciding to delete a few hundred songs that were lossless. I could have simply downloaded the AAC lossy versions, but I only use that in a pinch — if the originals were somehow lost. So, I had to go to my backups I keep for just these circumstances. Within an hour, Carbon Copy Cloner had restored the gigabytes of missing tracks.

“This Toggle Does Not Work”

After this fiasco, I turned off auto-renew about a month before it was supposed to auto-renew. But, thanks to some sort of wonkiness, it still renewed, and the only thing Apple support could do was make an exception and give me iTunes store credit.

Apple Support seems to know how broken some of Apple’s software is, because they often are very helpful with few exceptions. Overall, my experience with their support has been superb, even in cases where they didn’t have to help me, but took their directive to help customers beyond what most support personnel will do.

Too Big to Do it Right

So, despite Apple being the best OS and hardware company in the industry and having the best support, their iTunes Match is an utter failure on so many levels. It is not worth the $25/year for anyone that cares enough about their music to back it up. If it was lossless when backed up instead of converted to lossy AAC, it might be worth it, but for some reason, Apple cannot do what Bandcamp does daily: offer lossless & lossy audio files.

Submit Feedback, (We Might Read it, But it Won’t Matter)

I told Apple Support and many Apple reps about these problems, and I was told to submit feedback. I have given up, because after submitting feedback for over a decade, the Apps just get worse. I also told an Apple rep that contacted me about my latest comments last month about how Apple has chosen to go for the middle of the market with its software at the expense of advanced users.

But, even if someone at Apple heard them, they went in the exact opposite direction with the latest iWork releases. This parallels the fiasco that was their Pro suite software that they continue to neuter. If anyone remembers the Apple Keynote where Jobs got on stage to show off iChat’s video conference feature and iChat itself, all of these advances have been quietly replaced by less capable software. If you want to video conference on a Mac now, you have to turn to Skype for $5/month or Google.

The “Advanced Features are Too Complicated” Mind Set

iTunes itself is squarely targeted at music dilettantes, with its flat & rigid 1:1 library structure, modal tag inspection, , single root folder (and single music sub-folder) and successive interface dumb-downs. So, why should any “i”-labeled app be any different? For hardware this makes sense, because a physical object is immutable.

Unfortunately, larger commercial software companies don’t seem to think this is a good idea, because they are afraid they will scare off the middle of the market and lose wads of cash. Instead the people in charge think of the software as static, like a piece of paper, and lack the imagination to think that multiple answers can all be right, and that there is only one way to present things. I think they do not give people enough credit, and expect everyone to want to work one way — often dumbed down to the lowest common denominator of computing ability.

However, software is not constrained to physical limitations, and to think of a software UI as a physical good is to limit its utility to one group or another. If your code is sound and the display layer is isolated from the business logic, there is no reason to not allow advanced features to be shown or easily accessible with a mode switch. This allows novices to avoid the confusion caused by the many choices that advanced users want. Meanwhile advanced uses are not hobbled with limited settings or inefficient UIs. Unfortunately, my ideas are in the minority outside of graphic design and 3D app.


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