iTunes Match Doesn't Actually Stream Music, It Just Works [Report] | Cult of Mac

iTunes Match Doesn’t Actually Stream Music, It Just Works [Report]

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Apple released iTunes Match to registered developers last night, and many have been playing with the cloud service since then to figure out how it really works. We then showed you a video that demoed how Apple lets you “stream” music.

As it turns out, iTunes Match doesn’t actually ‘stream’ music in the purest sense of the word. Instead, Apple lets you download music on the fly, which basically means that you’re still locally storing songs on your device.

Apple confirmed the news with AllThingsD:

“An Apple spokesperson confirms that any music you want to access from your cloud-based “locker” will still need to be stored on your iPad, or iPhone, or whatever device you’re using to listen to the song.

This applies both to music you’ve purchased from Apple’s iTunes store, and, when Apple’s iTunes Match service starts up this fall, with music you’ve acquired some other way and then stored on Apple’s servers.”

One would think that Apple wants to avoid the ‘streaming’ label because of the associated licensing nightmare with the record labels. That’s not actually the case. A high level record label executive spoke with AllThingsD and told the publication that Apple has actually obtained streaming rights. It’s not about legality, it’s about the Apple philosophy.

“Apple’ platform is all about these files on their devices, that have incredibly great playback experience for the consumer. The other cloud version, the Google version, of playback on any device on the cloud – they’re not interested in that. Apple is using the cloud to fix and advance their ecosystem.”

Apple is calling iTunes Match a “cloud-based locker” for your music. The best way to think of iTunes Match is that it’s the optimal streaming experience; you can instantly access your songs anywhere from any device and play without interruption. Apple makes this magic happen through a temporary cache. And that’s where things get tricky.

A real streaming service plays content steadily and only buffers slightly ahead of the track. The positive of this method is that it requires little to no storage on the streamer’s end. The downside is that real streaming requires a constant internet connection.

iTunes Match is essentially the best of both worlds, because Apple stores a temporary cache of the songs you’ve ‘streamed’ on your device. This means that users on 3G won’t have intermittent dropouts when streaming music, but it also means that iTunes Match can’t work on a device that’s totally cloud based. (That particular tidbit doesn’t lend well to the rumor of an iCloud iPhone, does it?)

It’s important to note that users have the ability to download a song in full buy clicking the iCloud icon next to each track.

A video from Jeff of iDownloadBlog explains this concept. Jeff shows how putting the iPhone in Airplane mode after streaming a song will eventually remove the cached track from the iPhone when another stream attempt is made.

Airplane Mode With iTunes Match & iCloud from Jeff on Vimeo.

So, is Apple streaming or downloading? You can split hairs all you want, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

MG Siegler sums it up:

“You can argue semantics, but if you hit a button and a song instantly starts playing before it’s fully downloaded to your machine, that’s streaming.”

iTunes Match is a personification of the Apple mentality. It just works.