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Tuesday, August 30, 2011, 10:47 am PT (01:47 pm ET)

Apple's iTunes Match beta doesn't technically stream music

The new iTunes Match beta still downloads songs and saves them locally on a user's device, rather than providing an absolute true streaming service.

Despite evidence that appears to show streaming playback through iTunes Match, an Apple spokesperson confirmed to Peter Kafka of All Things D that content played from the service must first be "stored" on an iPhone or iPad. The service appears to be streaming because it begins playback instantly, but instead of true streaming it is downloading and storing the file while beginning simultaneous playback.

"Apple's system, as it's currently constructed, still requires users to keep stuff on their machine in order to play with it," the report said. Kafka speculated that files that are not "downloaded" through iCloud but still played will sit in a "temporary cache" on the machine.

It's unknown whether the files stored locally are of full quality or reduced bitrate, or how large the cache of content can grow, making it unclear whether the lack of true streaming is essentially a matter of semantics for the end user. Apple has been "deliberately vague" about how the iTunes Match service works.

The lack of true streaming is not a result of licensing hold-ups with record labels. Those licenses were said to have been acquired in April.

Sources in the industry reportedly confirmed to Kafka that although Apple does have the rights to streaming music, the decision to require files to be downloaded, albeit to a temporary cache, is a "philosophical/design" decision made by Apple.

"Part of it is that Apple doesn't trust the current telecom ecosystem to handle on-demand streaming of library files every time someone wants to use them — look how much trouble AT&T has had with the iPhone to date," the report said.



"But the other part is that Apple wants its users to think of entertainment as something they consume on an Apple device — as opposed to the Google and Amazon approach, which is supposed to let consumers grab anything they want on any device, using a browser."

Apple's approach has apparently been used to provide users with "great playback experience." The source reportedly said that Apple is "not interested" in replicating versions of cloud music that are offered by Google and Amazon.

The iTunes Match beta was issued to developers on Monday, and it allows users to replicate their music library in the cloud, matching it with content available from iTunes. When it launches this fall, iTunes Match will cost $24.99 per year.