The cloud music wars are heating up this week with Apple and Google both releasing their long-awaited, competing services. So far, the latest battle's been messy. Apple quietly released iTunes Match on Monday, a full two weeks after it was supposed to go live, but it was instantly oversubscribed "due to overwhelming demand," leaving Apple no choice but to turn people away and ask them to return an hour later. By Monday afternoon, the servers appeared to be back online, but Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt recommends waiting a day or two. Meanwhile, Google is poised to push Google Music Beta out to the public, but a blogger spoiled with company's biggest surprise, an iTunes-like a music store, with a set of leaked screenshots. But would you honestly expect the upending of the music industry as we know it to go smoothly?
Once iTunes Match is actually up-and-running, it's supposed to be awesome. iTunes Match is the cornerstone in the world-changing iCloud infrastructure that Steve Jobs helped to architect. VentureBeat calls iCloud "the last puzzle piece" needed for Jobs's "futurist vision of device and content unification" to be complete. When you sign up and pay the annual $24.99 subscription, iTunes scans your hard drive and adds potentially higher quality copies of up to 25,000 tracks to your iTunes Match account. That means that even if your hard drive is full of glitchy pirated copies of old Beatles albums, for the price of a date at the movies, you can listen to the same songs in CD-quality with your iTunes Match account, regardless of whether of not you bought the music from Apple.
Now for the bad news. Nobody has any idea how Apple talked the record companies into agreeing to this, as it effectively turns illegal pirated music into legal iTunes-friendly music. However, a (high) limit on the number of songs that you can sync to the iTunes Match servers might've been part of the deal. "Any songs purchased directly from iTunes don't count toward this limit, but if you have more than 25,000 tracks not purchased from iTunes in your library, the service simply refuses to let you sign up," Chris Foresman at Ars Technica reports. "Apple has yet to make any allowance for users with massive libraries to choose a subset of their music to upload — an unfortunate limitation in our view, since such avid listeners are among the most likely to consider paying the yearly $24.99 fee."
Disgruntled geeks may be tempted to try another service. On November 16, Google is expected to reveal the final version of the long-awaited Google Music cloud service. We hadn't expected too many surprises there, as the beta version has been available for months, but screenshots of a purported Google Music store showed up online Monday morning, around the same time iTunes addicts were probably pulling out their hair trying to download the iTunes Match update. Though final pricing hasn't been announced yet, the Google Music beta offered storage of up to 20,000 songs for free, though many expect the company to charge for subscriptions and extra storage. As we mentioned above, however, full use of the Google Music service will require you to buy an Android phone.
So do any of these cloud-music services just work? You know, one that doesn't require a particular brand of phone or software update or $25? We hear great things about Spotify. But seriously, the complaints deserve some context. Remember when you had to drive to a record store and dig through crates of acetate to find new music?