iOS6 and iTunes Match: What's New? (Not much) 

Back in May, we hit the semi-anniversary of iTunes Match. About 4 months later, after the release of iOS6 and Mountain Lion, where do we stand?

For the most part, we're almost in the same spot. In May, the outstanding issues really amounted to:

What's Better?

Album art seems to be almost completely fixed. I haven't noticed what the change is—whether it's just the initial syncing of the art when you grab the music or doing some smart syncing behind the scenes—but things are definitely better. I have yet to see missing or incorrect art, even when listening and skipping through music without a data connect (i.e. on the subway).

Smart playlists just seem to work now. At least mine seem to. The ones that always seemed out of whack before ("recently added" songs) seem to update appropriately and they match what's in my iTunes, which means maybe they're reflecting the authoritative library date, rather than when they were added to the iOS device. Or, I'm just lucky enough that they sync up right now. Still, it's a good sign.

One thing I've noticed anecdotally is that metadata (ratings, last play date, etc.) seems to sync much faster than it did before. I could very well be crazy, but it seems like both iOS and iTunes are pushing out their changes reasonably quickly, and that means things seems sort of magic. You update a genre or a star rating on iTunes, and before you have time to think about it, it's already on your devices. That's good and sort of the promise of iTunes Match -- "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

What's the Same?

Play counts still don't sync. The first track you play might update its play count. Nothing else does. I don't get it. I don't get why other meta data updates but not play count. This is very distinguishable from magic.

What's (Arguably) Worse?

Managing music on the device seems to have taken a step back. You still have to flip the switch (in, which isn't a huge deal) to show all music, or just what's local. When I want to play something not on my device, I flip the switch and then go to the album (or playlist) it might be on. Except now there's no sign that it's not on my device. The iCloud icon shows up only on the "collection" level -- album, artist, playlist. It doesn't show up on a song by song basis. I can click the song to play it -- but does that cache it and save it to my device (it does). Or, I click the iCloud icon and it will download every song on that list that's not on my device … which may include things I don't want at this moment.

I don't think this is a huge deal for most people. You're either a song buyer or an album buyer, and in both cases, if you want it on your phone, you're getting everything in that bucket. But, it is something to be aware of, and it's certainly something that deserves a nicer interface than what we're given in iOS6.

The Gist?

iTunes Match is solid. It does what you want almost all of the time. If you're someone who is careful about the care and feeding of your iTunes library, you might notice some of the little hiccups, but I don't think the average person will. I think for most folks, they'll end up with their music in both places.

With iTunes 11 coming next month, we could see another iteration of iTunes Match features.