Today Apple introduced iCloud and their Scan and Match music syncing system. It’s a mechanism for multiple devices to synchronize file contents by transmitting all files to cloud based storage. Then when a new iPhone/iPad/Macbook Pro/iEtc is added to the account it downloads the files from the cloud. Apple makes the process considerably more efficient with Scan and Match, which will take locally created songs (ripped from CD, downloads off the internet, etc) and credits the users account with an equivalent iTunes song. This limits the amount of data the user has to upload, and since modern high-speed internet connections are unidirectional (upload bandwidth is much lower than download bandwidth in most cases), it makes the initial sync considerably more efficient. It also minimizes the amount of storage infrastructure Apple had to invest in to get this system operational, as duplicate content storage is eliminated.
It does bring up some interesting questions though. If I download a crappy 64 Kbps copy of Britney Spears’ latest album, Apple will automatically match my iCloud account with a 256 kbps AAC copy of the album. In effect Apple is laundering pirated music (though I fully expect they’ll be keeping tabs on the source of the original file through checksums or some other means). It will be interesting to see if Apple makes any efforts to ensure the scanned music was legally obtained.
This brings me to my one gripe with Scan and Match, the download requirement. The design does imply that all music on secondary devices will be downloaded via an internet connection. So for example, if a user had say 40 GB of music on his primary iTunes computer and he had two MacBook Pros, two iPhones, and one iPad (six devices total), the music would have be downloaded five times (200 GB of download). This seems pretty reckless considering all six devices are connected to the same WiFi network. Why can’t the music get synchronized between devices on a peer-to-peer basis?