As the resident geek in my family, I tend to have to explain things from time to time. In fact, they’ll generally ask me even though there is a somewhat more technical nerd in the family, particularly as I tend to explain such things fairly simply (and I read a hell of a lot more info on the ‘net, so I guess I tend to understand the function of consumer products a little better).
Anyway, this is one that has come up fairly often recently – which was a surprise to me, as I thought it was a fairly straightforward concept. Turns out I’m just a nerd who spends too much time on the Internet. As a result, I decided it might be a good topic to take a brief and general look over, in the hope that the average Joe might better understand how these services will make life easier. Click through if the terms iCloud and iTunes Match mean nothing to you.
Let’s start with the parent product – iTunes Match is really a function of iCloud after all (however, I don’t want to confuse things, so don’t spend too much time on that statement)…
Essentially, iCloud is a new way that Apple provides the same services they provided in the past – and this is intended to make your life easier. Where in the past you would maintain your contacts (and emails and calendar and apps and documents) on your device, and backup to your PC whenever you remembered to, iCloud saves everything to a little corner of the Internet. It’s (supposedly) a secure corner that’s set aside just for your information. This way, you can point your iPhone, or iPad, or iPod, or PC/Mac to this corner of the Internet, and ALWAYS be up-to-date, regardless of what device you are using (changes on one device are immediately reflected on another).
What this means is that you will never have to sync to a PC to ensure your contacts are identical on both your iPad and iPhone. Your calendar is always accurate, and so on. Beyond this, iCloud can also backup your device to this corner of the ‘net, which means that if you LOSE your iPhone, you can immediately restore this backup to a new phone, and lose virtually nothing.
On top of this, if you are using your iProduct for documents, they can also be saved to the ‘net and available at any time – of course, this requires additional applications, but the fact you can edit a document on your iPad, and then pick up where you left off on your PC without the need to plug anything in and copy across would be valuable to a lot of people, I’d wager.
Further, there is Photo Stream. All photos taken on your device are saved to your internal storage (as per usual), but the most recent 1000 photos are also saved to your corner of the ‘net. This makes your photos available to all of your iDevices regardless of where the photo was taken (take a photo on your iPhone, look at it instantly on your iPad or PC/Mac). This is very useful for people such as myself, who NEVER took photos on my phone simply because I just couldn’t be bothered transferring them to my PC – now it happens automatically.
In essence, iCloud automates all those little tasks that are central to mobile devices, and in many ways, it’s fairly imperceptible. I guess some users will take iCloud for granted – particularly as they likely never synced, backed up, or really used these functions in the past. Which is sad, because smart phones are SO much better when used the way they were intended (be they iPhone or Android).
What if I only have one device?
Well… I guess it depends. iCloud is free, after all – you aren’t paying for the service. The fact your device can be backed up automatically should be the driving factor behind your decision to use iCloud – at the very least it will be easy to replace a lost or stolen phone. On top of that, I personally place a lot of value on Photo Stream, as I can now take as many photos as I like, and know they will all be saved to the HDD on my PC without me having to do a single thing – and I can also show them all on my iPad, if need be, without any trouble. For me, I find all of iCloud a lifesaver, and paticularly because I’ve tried to do all of it manually in the past. For others, it may not really make much of an impact on their everyday life, but it WILL simplify things, regardless of whether you actually notice it or not…
What about the fact Apple has control of my data?
Sure, this is a valid question, and I guess you need to think about what that means to you. The reality is, Apple does not OWN your data, nor can it actually ACT on your data, but in the same way, they are not responsible if someone manages to hack your data (the choice to use iCloud is yours and yours alone – it is not forced on you).
Personally, I trust that Apple has done everything that is required of them to maintain security of their data centre, but I agree that it is likely only a mater of time. Then again, it’s more than likely that all of the same kind of information is already all over the Internet, so what are you really afraid of? My contacts and emails are already handled by Google. My conversations are handled by multiple parties. My photos and personal information are kept with facebook and Picasa. My credit card details are … in many various places across the ‘net. I just feel that using this as an argument not to use iCloud is a bit pointless and defeatist, but there are many people out there that find this a great concern. My feeling is that it’s not Apple I need to worry about, but hackers – and hackers aren’t targeting me directly. But I’m pretty vigilant in regards to my bank accounts, so I guess I keep one eye open…
The reality is – the second you do anything on the Internet… The second you connect to the Internet – you’re screwed. Your files may be safe on your little HDD on your PC, but a hacker can get in there and liberate them quite easily. Oh, you use the latest Trend Micro or Norton Antivirus/IPS? Guess what – Sony was using the latest ENTERPRISE version of McAfee when they were hacked last year – EVERY business that gets hacked is using the latest “insert product name here” – and super expensive hardware to boot. You are not safe unless you disconnect. So I say… screw it. Jump aboard and see what happens. I truly believe you’ll be fine as long as you know what information you’re sharing, and where – that way you know what to pull the plug on. Then again, there are a lot of people out there that just don’t get that…
Anyway, end rant.
OK, iTunes Match – essentially, this is iCloud for your music. With the release of the iPod in the early 2000′s, Apple has taken the music world by storm, and in reality, provided a great deal of value to the music industry (feel free to agree or disagree – but the fact is, iTunes gave digital distribution the kick-start that it needed). But regardless of the success of iTunes, it still did not compare with the apparent success of P2P sharing and piracy. Now, in the onset of a new digital age, what can the industry do with all of that?
While it was only a matter of time before Apple released their cloud music platform, it was unclear as to what shape it would take. The fear was that Apple would only honour music purchased legitimately on their platform. However, in order to compete with Amazon and Google – who both had music storage/streaming options, as well as the subscription models (Rhapsody/Pandora/Spotify), Apple really couldn’t afford to do so – and to be honest, I don’t think it was ever on the cards.
So what iTunes Match does is scan your iTunes library, and matches all of your songs against the ever-growing list of available songs on iTunes. In essence, everything you have in your library that exists in iTunes will be made available to all of your devices for the cost of a yearly subscription. All of your music that does not exist in iTunes? Well, that needs to be uploaded, but once that has been done, these songs will ALSO be available to all of your devices (for me, it was about a third of my music collection, and yes, it has taken a while to upload, but I’m on a slooooow connection).
It’s essentially music storage for up to 25000 songs, and all of these songs are almost instantly available on any iDevice. For me, I now have access to all of my music on my iPhone. Music that is not stored on your iDevice is promptly downloaded to it, and the song begins to play while downloading – it’s actually quite seamless.
But what if I don’t want that song on my iPhone after I download it?
Yep – the reality is, this isn’t a streaming service, it’s a hosted storage subscription, and I’m OK with that. There’s some manual maintenance required – getting close to filling up your device? Well, you’ll need to delete… song by song (as yet, there appears to be no batch delete for music). I don’t think it’ll be a huge issue, for me at least – I will still work by playlist (yes, I’ve learned to love playlists), and I’ll only download the odd song that catches my interest. I will just need to keep an eye on my capacity and clear my music from time to time. A pain in the ass, for sure, but just knowing that all of my music is now safely backed up off site is peace of mind enough – and compared to how it was previously? It’s barely a pain in the ass at all.
Isn’t this using up my data plan?
Yes, silly! If you aren’t connected to WiFi, ANYTHING you do over the ‘net is using up your data plan! So while it may seem really useful to download music on an ad hoc basis, it may not be the best idea long-term… Keep an eye on your 3G data usage…
Some users may not see the value in iTunes Match as a product, but I know I do, and Apple certainly does – which is why they charge for iTunes Match and not for the rest of iCloud (US$25/yr AUS$35/yr – rest of world, google). Personally, it’s a no brainer – my music is backed up, and it’s now ALL available to me at any time I should desire. Do I feel like listening to Sir Mixalot now? Why OK, that’s up there in iCloud. What about Eddie Murphy “Party All the Time”? That’s there too, but no thanks, that song sucks. And for me, $35 per year is a bargain… but I have a lot of music, so it makes sense to me.
Summary of ramblings
So… What does this all mean for the user? Well, it depends on whether you actually use your smartphone as a smartphone, or just as a phone. If you just use it to send messages, make calls, send the odd email and play a game from time to time… well… Perhaps you won’t notice iCloud. Truth is, to some degree, it might even confuse you and get in your way (you damned simpleton – how do you even navigate the Internet? jks )
However, if you actually rely on your smartphone as your personal organiser, where you keep a lot of the info you need from day-to-day, as well as keep track of where you need to be, well, you should probably look into what you need to do to set up and (importantly) maintain iCloud.
And lastly, if you use the music function on your iProduct at all, and the majority of your music collection at home is digital (mine is ENTIRELY digital, but I know many MANY people who are yet to let go of their precious CDs), then iTunes Match is a must. Bite the bullet and spend the dollars – it’s really not that much if you can afford an iPhone… *cough*