Update: Trying to turn on iTunes Match but can't find it on the iTunes software? You can go to Apple's iTunes Match webpage and click the on the Subscribe button. This will launch your iTunes software, and bring you to the iTunes Match page for your country.
The iTunes Store - an online digital media store that’s been operated by Apple since 2003 - boosts a catalog of over 28 million songs, 3,000 TV shows, and 4,500 movies, alongside boat-loads of other content such as podcasts, music videos, and audio books. It’s also home to more than 650,000 App Store apps that can be installed on the 315 million iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches out there.
However, all these resources aren’t readily available to Apple users outside the U.S. Take the book store in the Singapore iTunes Store for example, it only contains free ebooks. While Apple has been rolling out the iTunes Store to countries outside the U.S. since 2004, its music and movie stores have continued to elude Singapore users. Tired of waiting, many enterprising users have resorted to setting up a U.S. iTunes Store account, and using gift cards to pay for their purchases. The latter is to circumvent the requirement of a U.S. credit card. For those whose sole interest is in apps for their iOS device, there’s no need to go to such length, as the App Store is available here since July 2008.
In the last few months, there are signs that Apple is going to bring music and movies on the iTunes Store to a number of countries in Asia. One of which is the inclusion of new countries (and Singapore is one of them) under the Parental Preferences pane in the iTunes 10.6 software. This is particularly noteworthy because this pane contains the content restriction settings for movies and TV shows, among others. Especially in the movie age ratings, the options given are specific to each country. In Singapore’s case, you’ve G, PG, PG–13, NC16, M18, and R21. TV shows ratings on the other hand are grayed out. In addition, since a few days ago, prices in the Singapore iOS App Store are showing up in Singapore dollars. Before this, payments could only be made in U.S. dollars. Is this part of Apple’s preparation to bring more content to the local store?
Well, the answer is yes. Apple has just brought the iTunes Store to 12 Asian countries. They are: Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
The music store launched with more than 20 million songs, with music from renowned Asian artists including Jay Chou, Girls Generation, and Andy Lau; international artists including Adele, The Beatles, and Jason Mraz; and classical musicians including Lang Lang, Yo Yo Ma, and Yuja Wang.
Most full albums are priced between S$9.98 and S$18.98, with tracks standardized at S$1.28 each. As usual, these are iTunes Plus, DRM-free, 256kbps AAC tracks, which you can burn to CD as many times as you want. They also work with any AAC-enabled devices, and can played on any Mac or Windows computers.
But music isn’t the only thing coming to the Singapore iTunes Store. Movies from all major studios (including 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. Pictures) are also made available for rental or purchase, with many of the titles in high definition (up to 1080p).
For a standard definition movie, the typical rental fee is between S$3.98 and S$4.98, and the cost of buying it is between S$12.98 and S$19.98. For the HD version (if available), the prices for renting and buying are typically between S$4.98 and 5.98, and S$19.98 and S$24.98 respectively. In general, newer releases will cost more. A 2-hour SD movie is about 1.5GB, and a 2-hour HD movie is about 4GB in size.
For a rented movie, you’ve 30 days from the time of rental to watch it, and you must finish within 48 hours after you’ve started viewing it. The movie will disappear from your iTunes library when the rental period expires. During that 48-hour window, you can watch the movie as many times as you want.
Regarding the rights for the purchased movies, you can transfer them to up to five computers, and five Apple TVs (does this mean Apple is going to bring Apple TV to Singapore next?), as well as sync with all the iOS devices you own. You can also burn them for archival purposes.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that TV shows are not part of the launch. This isn't exactly a surprise to us - out of the 63 iTunes Stores Apple now has worldwide, TV shows are present in only a handful of them, such as the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Canada, and Australia.
For many, perhaps the most significant part of the announcement is the release of iTunes Match (S$31.98 per year), Apple’s cloud music service. This gives you complete cloud-based access to all of your music (even those not purchased from the iTunes Store) on your Apple devices. And with iTunes in the Cloud, you can download your previously purchased iTunes music to all your iOS devices at no additional cost, and new music purchases can be downloaded automatically to all your devices.
Certainly, this announcement is music to the ears of local iOS and Mac users. At the same time, it spells trouble for other local online music vendors such as Rara.com. Powered by Omnifone, the 10-million-song-strong, unlimited music streaming service was launched in Singapore at the beginning of the year.
Another digital music provider that’s bound to feel the pressure is 7digital, who late last year expanded its service into the Asia-Pacific region, including Singapore. A strong asset 7digital has is its 19 million plus track catalog of DRM-free MP3 music. Local BlackBerry Playbook owners will be familiar with 7digital, as the company is the one powering the music store on the RIM tablet.
SingTel also has cause for concern following Apple’s move. The telco’s AMPed 2 service currently offers unlimited music streaming and 20 songs for download at a fee of S$5.90 per month. For a slightly higher fee of S$7.90 per month (with a 12-month contract), subscribers get to stream and download unlimited number of songs. The AMPed library currently has over three million songs.
Both StarHub and M1 have their own music stores too. The StarHub Music Store’s DRM-free content (ringtones, songs, albums, and connecting tones) and bundles are available to all StarHub Mobile postpaid and prepaid customers. The M1 Music Store offers songs, ringtones, and videos to the company’s postpaid, mobile and home broadband customers. However, not all content on the store is free of DRM.