Despite Apple's Denial, iTunes Match is Streaming


macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001

Yesterday, we reported that the developer beta of Apple's iTunes Match appeared to show options for both streaming and downloading content from the cloud to a user's device. But some questions have arisen about just how the service functions, as a new report from AllThingsD shares word from an Apple spokesperson that the service is not actually a streaming one.
While a video making the rounds today makes it seem as if Apple's upcoming iTunes Match service will stream music from Apple's servers to a user's device, that's not the case. 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.
The difference appears to be one of semantics, however, with Apple's claims of the service requiring tracks to be downloaded actually related to local caching of streamed tracks.

Traditional streaming services maintain constant connections, buffering only a small amount of the currently-playing track at any given time. Apple's streaming solution, in contrast, appears to download each track in its entirety once streaming begins. Upon tapping on the track to begin playing without initiating the full iCloud download process, the track begins playing immediately just as with other streaming services. But in reality, the full track appears to be downloaded to a local cache on the user's device, allowing for fast access to any portion of the track.

Once the track has been fully played, it remains available in that cache and can be re-accessed without needing to re-stream, but it is not considered permanently downloaded and is not counted as being in the device's music library. A video from Jeff of iDownloadBlog demonstrates a streamed track being replayed after the device is put into Airplane Mode.

As shown in the video, switching away from the cached track while in Airplane Mode appears to empty the cache, and the device is unable to replay the track if the user returns to it.

The result is a service that acts just like a traditional streaming service, but one which may provide a better experience for users, especially in areas of unstable network coverage for those on the go. As noted by AllThingsD, the reason for Apple's implementation appears to not be due to any lack of a license for full-fledged streaming.
Instead, says music executive X, this is a philosophical/design issue on Apple's part.

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. But the other part is that Apple wants its users to think of entertainment as something they consume on Apple device -- as opposed to the Google and Amazon approach, which lets consumers grab anything they want on any device with a browser.
Apple has officially remained vague about just how the service works, but it certainly appears that the company has employed a streaming service with expanded caching capabilities allowing for storage of an entire track. Users also have the option to download tracks directly by tapping on the iCloud icon associated with each track.

Thanks to @insanely_great for assistance and clarification.

Article Link: Despite Apple's Denial, iTunes Match is Streaming
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macrumors 68000
Feb 19, 2006
Dearborn (Detroit), MI, USA
It's Beta

I expect their buffering (or whatever they call it) will work well, I always liked the way the original AppleTV handled it (even when streaming locally via iTunes), it aways worked great.


macrumors 603
Jun 19, 2009
oh noes

i want streaming, downloading and listening offline is so ancient and low tech


macrumors member
Jan 27, 2009
No it doesn't (yet), from what you're saying the Beta offers streaming. The final product may or may not offer this option.
agreed, someone banned it from the final product today by insisting on the fact that iOS 5 beta does actually stream content.


(Music labels won't let Apple do this, I assume. That's why Apple said it does not stream)

Perhaps that's what they're aiming for:
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Editor emeritus
Jul 10, 2003
Falls Church, VA
Apple is probably denying it because true streaming probably requires some sort of additional royalties from the music industry.

I like Apple's solution from both a technical and user experience point of view.


macrumors member
Jul 17, 2011
Apple TV

I hope they figure out something similar to this for the Apple TV... I'll watch the movie Tron from my iPad through the Apple TV (on my sweet new Plasma!!)(with a great WiFi connection btw) and at times the movie will pause to allow time for more downloading (buffering). That's crazy annoying btw. And then, when I want to watch maybe a scene from 20 min ago to show my friends, it takes 30 seconds for the scene to redownload... It's annoying. Shouldn't it have already been downloaded?

So, if this new match things works as read above, I believe my problems will be solved...!!


macrumors 601
Jul 1, 2004
Wasn't there a post on MacRumors a few months ago (like before the iOS 5 preview) that detailed this? It's not a new thing.

EDIT: Here is what I was talking about. It's not exactly the same thing as I remembered, but I'm sure that it's related.
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macrumors 6502a
Jan 12, 2006
this is more I think of Apple's way of saying it's streaming...but not really.

"Oh, it's not streaming, it's simply downloading the track from your iCloud...but you can play the track as it's streaming...I mean...downloading. Wink wink". ;)


Editor emeritus
Jul 10, 2003
Falls Church, VA
I'm still confused. :confused:
Apple is arguing semantics. The article from earlier today stands: you can either stream or download your music using iCloud, with streaming meaning the content you will not permanently take up space on your device and downloading meaning it will permanently take up space on your device (unless you specifically delete it).


macrumors G5
May 2, 2002
At least Apple’s not playing semantics to their own benefit!

Strictly speaking, I agree with Apple’s usage: I’d call it streaming if only a bit of the file is cached/buffered. I wouldn’t call it streaming if the entire file is cached for re-use. (But informally, I think it’s reasonable to call it streaming since the distinction makes little difference to the end user.)

Either way works great for users. (Caching the whole file is probably better, in fact, for the sake of re-plays; and still doesn’t take up permanent storage since it can be overwritten by newer songs you’re receiving.)
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macrumors 6502a
Mar 9, 2010
My experience so far with iTunes match..

..has been sorta mixed. First off it only matched 30 of my 700 songs and then uploaded the rest. I'm not exactly sure how you are supposed to download your music to your device without going through each artist individually. I don't want all my past purchases downloaded either, just the music that's on my Mac. I've noticed that on my iPhone, if I try to "stream" a song and avoid hitting the cloud button, it works just fine. However every song that I have played has been put into my "songs" list, so when I flip the switch that says "show all music", the songs I went and played earlier were actually now on my device storage. Could this be what apple means? I'm still rather confused on how iTunes Match is gonna work out, still seems rather cumbersome to use.


macrumors 68040
Nov 26, 2003


This streaming approach sounds very, very similar to what Spotify does.


macrumors 68040
Mar 3, 2008
You need to learn to read the entire article. :rolleyes:
You are streaming and downloading. Whenever I stream, I occasionally come across congestion and my music is interrupted. This solution keeps your music from being interrupted too much. I think this is a better solution.
If you don't want the song on your device, it looks as though you can delete it from the local player. Unless you have limited use of your fingers, you can delete the song.
oh noes

i want streaming, downloading and listening offline is so ancient and low tech


macrumors regular
Oct 29, 2008
So will you have to manually delete the song after you are done listening to it???


macrumors 6502
Apr 27, 2005
So with iTunes Match you can listen to music that is on your iPod. How nice is that.


macrumors regular
Sep 9, 2010
It is fast progressive download, not technically streaming

You kind of allude to it in the article, but technically Apple is correct and is wrong. With slower internet connections in the past, the difference was more pronounced, but it is almost invisible to the user now. As a web developer, I've had to explain this to clients many times over the years.

True streaming breaks the file up into smaller pieces and only caches portions after where you start playing. If you could start in the middle of the song, the beginning of the song would not exist in the cache. The music app doesn't appear to allow that though, and given the nature of mobile connections, it's probably for the better. This still feels and behaves very similar to real streaming, but Apple is correct to point out that it is not actually streaming.


Mar 26, 2008
still see no point in the whole thing besides making legal files out of your pirated tunes. i dont think i can be bothered downloading a song/whole album while i'm outside, i might as well just put it on while i'm still at home. people sure can't be that lazy? the fact that u can now even sync wireless makes it even less exciting imo. and dont start the whole "but it saves space" well it doesnt as u apparently have to download it anyway. such a weird idea

i only find it useful for when i want to hear a single random song i want to hear desperately thats not on my iPhone/iPad ... oh wait i cant bc i dont own it and therefore cant listen to it anyway ...