Apple: iTunes In The Cloud Doesn’t Stream Music

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Apple: iTunes In The Cloud Doesn’t Stream Music


When Apple released iTunes Match beta yesterday, some developers discovered that iTunes in the Cloud also supports music streaming on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.


The blogosphere was excited with the news as until yesterday, iTunes in iCloud was perceived as a download only service. It looks like we were wrong about iCloud supporting music streaming (technically speaking).
AllThingsD reports that iTunes in the Cloud is a download only service and they've received a confirmation from Apple's spokesperson, who told them that songs need to be downloaded locally on the iOS device or computer to listen to them. According to Apple, what appears to be streaming is actually a simultaneous listen and download.
But if you've seen the video walkthrough of iTunes Match by InsanelyMac, it seems to clearly show that users could download or stream a song on their iOS device or computer. One possible explanation is that when a user selects to play the song instead of tapping on the iCloud icon to download it to music library on the device, the song doesn't get downloaded to the music library and instead it gets downloaded to a temporary cache on the device.
AllThingsD reports that Apple may have implemented it this way for philosophical/design reasons rather than a legal issues as it already acquired streaming rights:
And why is Apple doing that? My gut instinct was that this is about legal and licensing issues with the big music labels and publishers — because that’s almost always the answer when it comes to digital music.
But that’s not the case here, says an executive at a major music label, who tells me that Apple has already acquired streaming rights. Instead, says music executive X, this is a philosophical/design issue on Apple’s part.
AllThingsD speculates that the reason could be that Apple doesn't trust carriers to provide a seamless music streaming experience and felt that the simultaneous listen and download was a better approach.
But if this is not due to a legal issue, couple of things don't make sense:
  1. Shouldn't Apple have similar concerns with carriers with the way they have implemented the feature as it also involves downloading the song.
  2. Don't music streaming services or apps like Spotify also cache snippets of the song as they play them; so what's so different about the way Apple has implemented the feature.
A comment by AllThingsD reader - vatdoro provides an interesting perspective of why Apple may have used this approach:
This method of streaming and caching is far superior than a pure streaming option. To think about a pure streaming service, think of Netflix. It works well, but when you want to skip ahead (or fast forward/rewind) it is not a smooth thing at all. Netflix has to start buffering again and stream the video at the new point.
Compare that to renting a movie from iTunes on your Apple TV. The device starts downloading the movie, and stores it locally temporarily, but allows you to start watching it immediately. This is essentially the same thing the iPhone is doing with iCloud music in this demo video. It is MUCH better than pure streaming. It allows you to skip backwards and forward smoothly. If it were streaming the music and you wanted to restart the song it would essentially start the stream all over again, using bandwidth to download what you just downloaded moments ago. Very wasteful.
Your unnamed source summed it up pretty nicely. “Apple’s platform is all about ... [having] incredibly great playback experience for the consumer,”
Almost all the end users of iOS devices don't know (or care) that this isn't strictly "streaming", but the experience is far superior to a pure streaming service.
vatdoro believes that Apple may have revolutionized music streaming. We are puzzled why Apple hasn't come out and said it, if that was indeed the case.
What do you think? Please share your views in the comments below.
[via AllThingsD]