LOS ANGELES — Syncing music from your iPhone or iPad across computers has got to be one of the least enjoyable experiences in Apple’s computing ecosystem. The advent of iCloud was meant to lift the headaches of this cord-reliant process into the upper atmosphere and usher in what the late Apple guru Steve Jobs called the post-PC world.
The main problem until now: You can have different songs on different computers and devices, and they never seem to be where you want them.
With iCloud, a faraway bank of computer servers known as the cloud remembers what you’ve bought on iTunes and pushes them to you wirelessly on all your Apple devices. The promise is pretty sweet — especially with the basic service free.
In about a week of tests, using both high-speed Wi-Fi connections and regular 3G cellular networks, the system did just what Apple’s Internet services boss Eddy Cue said it would: “It just works.”
Songs I purchased on a Windows version of iTunes showed up on an iPhone 4 in about 15 seconds using AT&T’s cellular network (although I had to tinker with the settings to turn automatic downloads on). When songs appeared as incomplete downloads, I could still start playing them as the downloading continued.
Free book samples popped in just as fast as songs, but TV shows required both Wi-Fi access and manually tapping the cloud button beside each episode. Plus, the TV show service had a glitch. I’m still waiting for the iPhone to register “Hell on Wheels,” an upcoming AMC show I downloaded for free on my PC’s iTunes.
Movies won’t work in the cloud system at all — at least not yet, thanks to Hollywood’s convoluted system of rights for premium pay TV partners such as HBO.
If you don’t have the new iPhone, the 4S, you’ll need to install the latest mobile operating system, iOS 5, a free update that will require hooking up the device to a computer. You need an iPad, an iPhone 3GS or 4 or an iPod Touch released in September 2009 or later. You’ll also have to update the computer’s iTunes software to 10.5, which is also free. Mobile systems before iOS 5 will still allow you to see your purchases and download them wirelessly; it just won’t happen automatically.
Still, iCloud is not a complete wireless solution.
You’ve likely acquired music somewhere other than iTunes, either online at places such as Amazon.com — especially when Amazon has discounts — or from CDs you bought or borrowed.
To cover that likelihood, Apple Inc. has iTunes Match, a $25-a-year service that aims to match every song on your computer against the 20 million it has in the cloud. It will upload what it can’t match from your computer. Then you’ll have access to the entire collection wirelessly on demand — at least when you have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. The service, which works only with music, will be available in the U.S. at the end of October.
ITunes Match makes sense for a few reasons. For one thing, most songs on people’s iPhones, iPods and iPads didn’t come from iTunes. Second, lots of people have more songs on their computer than they can fit on their iPhones or iPads. And iTunes Match offers storage for up to 25,000 songs, which I’ve calculated is about the same as 100 gigabytes of memory. That’s a lot more than the 5 GB that iCloud gives you for free. ITunes Match will also upgrade some of your iffy, low-res song files to iTunes quality if there’s a match.
You can get away with paying for iTunes Match just once, but you may have to pay instead for cloud storage, which can wind up costing you more. Apple charges $20 a year for 10 GB, $40 for 20 GB and $100 for 50 GB of storage space.
Whether iTunes Match will prove as easy to use as iCloud is unclear.
I have my doubts given all the complaints people have had with cellular network coverage. Apple says the service will stream your cloud songs to you instantly, store a copy of your most-played songs automatically and allow you to download whichever songs you’d like onto your device for offline playback.
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