Beginning this Fall, users will be able to sync their iTunes-purchased music across devices automatically thanks to iCloud, a larger initiative that does the same for contacts, calendars, documents and apps. Music fans who want to take this syncing to the next level and include content they acquired beyond iTunes can pay $24.99 per year for iTunes Match. This includes independently produced music that isn't available among the iTunes Store's 18 million songs.
The songs will automatically be downloaded (not streamed, as Apple was quick to point out) to all of your devices and synced wirelessly.
How Does It Compare to Amazon and Google's "Cloud Locker" Services?
In its own marketing material, Apple positions its new offering directly against the digital "music locker" products offered by Amazon and Google, and even offers us this handy, if not exactly unbiased, chart:
Amazon's Cloud Player launched in March and provides the closest comparison to what iTunes is going for, and Amazon even has an online music store to go along with it. It lets users upload their entire library to the cloud and supplement it with Amazon MP3 purchases. Google Music, which has no music marketplace, is still in closed beta but is offering far more space than Amazon. We did a more in-depth comparison between these two music locker products when Google launched theirs in May.
For its part, iTunes Match lets users avoid the time-consuming upload process by matching tracks automatically with those stored on Apple's servers. Of course, songs not found in the massive iTunes database will have to be uploaded manually.
Google Music's pricing is not yet known, but at $25 per year, iTunes Match is offering a more afforable option than Amazon's Cloud Player, which has tiered pricing based on storage.
How Will This Stack Up Against Spotify, Rdio and the Rest?
Since iTunes Match is not a streaming service per se, it doesn't go directly up against the likes of Spotify, Rdio, MOG and Grooveshark. Still, it's worth looking at the ways in which this iTunes upgrade may change how Apple's offering stacks up against these other services.
Grooveshark doesn't offer an entirely fair comparison, since it's still wrestling with legal issues that are preventing it from launching a proper iOS app. Like iTunes Match, Grooveshark lets you upload your own music, but for now it only works on desktops, Android, Blackberry and Palm devices and costs $9 per month for mobile access.
Rdio's premium service, which costs $10 per month, enables offline access like iTunes, but the similarities end there. Rdio is, first and foremost, a service that streams music, something iTunes Match explictly will not do. And while Rdio lets you download a copy of each song for offline listening, that copy is not yours to keep. If you leave Rdio, you behind all that music. With iTunes, its yours forever, whether you acquired it legally or not. One of the disadvantages of Rdio is that you can't augment it with music from your own existing library, unlike with iTunes Match.
Another service that lets you include your previously-acquired music is Spotify. Like Rdio, Spotify is primarily a music streaming service, but it scans your hard drive for locally-stored music and seamlessly adds it to your online music collection. Paying subscribers can get access to it all from their mobile device for $10 per month.
MOG is essentially the same deal as Rdio, but with about 10 million songs available, as opposed to 11 million.
Of all the streaming services, Spotify probably comes the closest to competing with iTunes' cloud-based service. Both services let you listen to whatever music you want, but there are a few crucial differences. For one thing, Spotify streams, whereas iTunes requires offline listening. And again, with Spotify, you don't own that music. If you cancel your subscription, you've got to purchase those songs elsewhere. Finally, there's the pricing model.
Rdio, MOG and Spotify are available for about $120 per year, compared to $25 for iTunes Match. Of course, with iTunes you still need to purchase music individually or acquire it through less legal means. If you're somebody who wants to access a lot of new music in a given year, iTunes' cloud offerings might not be the way to go. Instead, one of the all-you-can-eat services may prove to be a better fit.