iTunes Match, Play Counts and Last Played Dates: It’s a Jungle Out There!

how_it_works.jpgOne of the promises of iTunes Match is that you can access your iTunes library from the cloud, and listen to all of your music on any computer or iOS device that’s linked to your iTunes account. For many users, this works fine, because they simply want to play random songs, or choose specific albums to listen to. But for those who create playlists – especially smart playlists – this can be a huge headache.

It’s very common to create smart playlists based on criteria such as how many times one has listened to specific tracks (play counts), or how recently (last played dates). iTunes Match should sync this information across devices, but it is unreliable.

I can create a contact on my Mac and see it appear on my iPhone in seconds, but when I play a track on my iPod Touch (using iTunes Match), the play count and last played date aren’t synced to my iTunes library. It doesn’t seem that hard to do, yet this feature is fraught with problems. There are many long threads on Apple’s support forums — here’s one that’s currently 31 pages long – about users trying to get this to work.

Some users see this information sync; for others it rarely works. Some see it sync in 12 hours, for others it may take days. For some people, it worked reliably for a while, then stopped at a certain time, often on a date when an iTunes or iOS update was released. I’ve seen this metadata sync sometimes, and be totally ignored other times.

One suggestion on the Apple forum is:

The last time we dissected this here, it looked like it was taking playing a song to completion 12 hours after the start of the last listening session, and then all songs played in that 12 hour window would be updated.

Users shouldn’t have to mess with something like this; it should be transparent, and, ideally, automatic. We shouldn’t have to set reminders to play a full song to get this to work.

I’ve written how I feel that Apple has neglected iTunes Match. In that article, I concluded:

For a service that should “just work,” iTunes Match has disappointed many who hoped that their music would be transparently matched and synced. iTunes Match seems like another neglected Apple service. While it’s only $25 a year, iTunes Match should work a lot better than it does.

Perhaps the company has given up on it, now that an Apple streaming service may be in the cards. It’s a shame that something as simple as recording what you’ve listened to and when is too difficult for Apple to get right.