When iOS 5 finally hits the Internet this fall, it’ll include a number of cool new services from Apple. The biggest, clearly, is iTunes in the Cloud, which takes the entirety of Apple’s iTunes software and turns it into a cloud service. One portion of that – Apple’s cloud music service – is called iTunes Match.
Apple is looking to break into the cloud music business to stand against its major competitors: both Google and Amazon have music streaming services that allow users to upload the tracks they own to a server on the Internet, and then stream those tracks down to multiple devices. Amazon and Google both support streaming to PCs, through Mobile Safari on iOS devices, and on mobile devices running Google’s Android operating system as well. Effectively, it’s like having your entire music library with you anywhere you have an Internet connection, and you don’t need to crowd up space on your devices’ hard drives.
However, while iTunes Match is meant to be a competing service, it’s not really the same as what’s being offered by Google and Amazon or other cloud streaming services. That’s because, as All Things D points out, iTunes Match doesn’t stream at all.
First off, iTunes Match doesn’t require users to upload their tracks to the cloud to be streamed later. Instead, iTunes scans your music library, figures out what you own, and then lets you play it later on a different device. All the tracks available are tracks you already own, but there’s no long uploading – unless you’re talking about tracks you haven’t bought through iTunes. Those are scanned and then located on Apple’s iTunes servers (the “Match” part of the name) and then can be accessed later over the cloud, which is what pay for when you shell out the yearly subscription fee of $24.99. The matching part of the service is free to all iTunes users.
But you’re not actually streaming a track when you play it on a different device. In fact, iTunes is actually downloading it to that device, according to All Things D’s report. Apple uses a technology that allows you to listen to the track simultaneously as you download it, but in the end, you’re digitally transferring a track from the Internet to a device. You don’t have to pay for it, generally, because you already bought the music; you’re just moving it around.
Apple hasn’t been too forthcoming about just how iTunes Match or iTunes in the Cloud will work with this download/streaming business, although Apple did confirm to All Things D that there won’t be real streaming. Here’s a quote from that story, speculating on how the service works:
My best hunch: If you don’t “download” a music file to your library, it will sit in a more temporary cache, on a different part of your machine. Depending on the size of your machine’s cache — it will presumably differ from, say, an iPhone to a MacBook — that file may occasionally be cleared out.
We won’t get the real dirt on how iTunes Match works until it finally becomes available to all of us with iOS 5. When that happens, it’ll be interesting to see how iTunes Match stacks up against the competition, since it offers both positives and negatives compared to other services.