A shift to iTunes Match model: Is Apple Music about to improve?

Apple Music's matching feature will now use audio fingerprinting rather than metadata, potentially resolving one of the service's biggest problems.

Jeff Chiu/AP/File
Apple CEO Tim Cook (r.) hugs Beats by Dre co-founder and Apple employee Jimmy Iovine at the 2015 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco when Apple announced Apple Music, an app that combines a 24-hour, seven-day live radio station called 'Beats 1' with an on-demand music streaming service.

One of users' biggest gripes with Apple Music may soon be resolved.

When Apple's streaming service launched in June 2015, Apple Music included a matching feature that let users include their personal music collections in streaming by storing them in the cloud. But there were some frustrating glitches.

Users found that their music wasn't properly matched by Apple Music, and when they attempted to re-download their tracks to another device from iCloud, digital rights management (DRM), or copy protection, had been applied to the files, preventing them from listening to the tracks if their Apple Music subscription had expired.

But Apple says they are now fixing both problems, using acoustic fingerprinting to match songs more accurately and not applying DRM to re-downloaded tracks.

Apple Music's matching feature initially used metadata. A song in a user's personal library was identified by the track name, artist, and album. Then a song with matching metadata in Apple's library of music would be selected to save time on syncing. If there was no match, the track would be uploaded.

But problems arose when live recordings were replaced with studio recordings, for example, as the metadata didn't always precisely identify the particular track, according to Apple Insider.

Audio fingerprinting should resolve that problem, as this method directly analyzes the music. A digital summary (a fingerprint) of the larger audio file is used to identify the track. As with metadata, if the track isn't found among Apple's vast collection, it will be uploaded.

Interestingly, Apple had already employed that technology in its iTunes Match service, which launched in 2011. 

This caused some confusion for users who had both services. But iTunes Match trumped Apple Music's matching feature, according to Macworld.

Apple began to roll out the acoustic fingerprinting to Apple Music subscribers on Monday, but it won't happen all at once. About 1 to 2 percent of users will be switched over each day, according to The Loop.

Subscribers don't need to download anything themselves, as the update is automated. 

Newly matched tracks will be marked as "Matched" in the iCloud Status in iTunes rather than "Apple Music", so that's how users can know the technology has been updated for them. 

But, Macworld's Kirk McElhearn notes, previous mismatches won't be automatically corrected:

You can force older downloaded tracks to change their status by deleting the local copies and re-downloading them; iTunes won’t automatically do this for you. And you can play these matched tracks on any device, even one that doesn’t have an Apple Music subscription or isn’t signed into Apple Music. Note that tracks you add from Apple Music to your library still have DRM; this change only affects tracks that are matched from music you own."

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