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iTunes Match vs. Google Play Music on the iPhone

Okay, so we already had a look at both services on the desktop. It's now time to get to the iPhone for a mobile app comparison. Why the iPhone? Because on Android, you cannot use iTunes Match. It's that simple.

On the Apple's front, the default music app is doing all the heavy lifting. In the settings you need to fill in your iTunes Match credentials and activate iTunes Match. Being the built-in app, it enjoys an in depth integration with the phone. For example, any music in your default music app can become a ringtone or can wake you up. You can also search your music from the home screen. It's an unfair advantage (I don't think Google could do it even if they wanted to), i'll grant you that, but it's there. The app is otherwise pretty easy and nicely done. Here, again, you can choose to stream or download songs and/or albums. They'll download in the background and if anything fails (because you suddenly go offline for example) it'll pop you a dialog so that you know. Same as in the desktop app, you can choose to view only your local collection or to see the whole iTunes Match library. The songs can be controlled through the lock screen, the headphones and while playing, your lock screen shows the album cover art and the song name, album, artist etc. It's pretty neat and works well.

One thing that annoys me is that whenever you recycle the app (restarting the phone for example) the playlist is lost. iTunes fares better on the desktop on that front. That said, whenever you launch the app it will get back to where you were, most often on the album you last listened to.

On Google's front, the app is called "Google Play Music" and is free. Once installed, you enter your Google credentials and all your music shows up. From there, you can download the music you want to listen to offline. But only albums, not individual songs. And if you leave the App (of turn off your phone) the download stops and doesn't resume automatically whenever you turn it on again. That makes the process of downloading songs a little hit and miss or painful as you have to keep the phone turned on and the app running until it finishes.

As in the default music app, you can search artists/tracks/albums but for some reason, it doesn't work. And it's not as if it kinda worked, no, on most searches I get nothing even though I know I have an album of that name. I can only think it is a bug and will be fixed, but I could not avoid mentioning it.

Another drawback of Google's music app is that it does not remember your playlist, just like the website and the default music app. So you're listening to an album then do other stuff on your phone. When you launch the app again, if it has been recycled it will show up your home screen and there is no way to resume your album - that is, unless you know which album and which track you were listening to. Pretty painful for me.

There is also the artist art, just like on the website, which is a little maddening when many artists don't have any picture and some others bewildering things in there.

One note about some annoying thing. When I tried to update tags in already-imported MP3 files, well, the files would not update as we've seen in the previous article. However, I quickly ended up with albums that showed up two or three times, as well as albums where each song would appear twice. Duplicated tracks also showed up on the website, but duplicated albums only appeared on the iOS app. And from there, the only solution I found to fix the issue was to uninstall and reinstall the app. Quite painful.

Other than that, the app works fine and my music plays just fine as well. The controls also works from the lock screen and headphones, and the album art is also displayed on the lock screen with all other infos.

The wrap up

In Apple's favor:
  • Better integration to iOS (unfair advantage, but advantage nonetheless)
  • Download are much more likely to actually get downloaded.
  • Ability to view only the music you have offline.

There's really nothing where the play music app surpasses Apple's.

And the winner is Apple, just like on the desktop. That said, just like on the desktop, both apps actually work and are solid music players, but Google's version is notably lacking some pretty useful features and some maturity. I'm just back from holidays in a place where I didn't have free cellular access, and to sum it up, I didn't listen to music at all since most of my albums were not downloaded and I had no simple way of finding out which ones were anyways. Google's music player is, in this regard, barely useable.

Re: iTunes Match vs. Google Play Music on the iPhone

The only problem is - iTunes Match is garbage. There are endless threads on the Apple support problems about all kinds of problems with iTunes Match. Many revolve around metadata syncing - one of the big benefits of the Mac music ecosystem has long been the ability to create "Smart Playlist" based on play counts, last played, etc. etc. Big problems with that on iTunes Match. My personal problem is that enabling iTunes Match on my Mac basically causes iTunes to blow up. Just flat out locks up the entire machine and I have to kill the power. So - while Google Music has issues, at least it more or less works (except for the whole duplicate thing - and the fact that it you want to listen to your own music offline (on a computer) - you have to redownload it.
Avatar: pieroxy

Re: iTunes Match vs. Google Play Music on the iPhone

Well, I can't comment on your experience. I haven't had any problem with iTunes on a MacBook Air and several PCs. Nor with any metadata. It's good to have other points of view though.