With this week’s release of iOS 5 beta 7 for Apple’s mobile devices, the company has turned off streaming features in iTunes Match. In the last build, beta 6, iTunes Match users could play music from Apple’s servers while only downloading it to a temporary cache. Now, music played in this way remains in the device’s local library of downloaded tracks. In other words, it’s still technically “streaming,” but since it remains in local storage it isn’t streaming in the sense that most people understand it.
That said, people can still listen to music from iTunes Match immediately, rather than waiting for it to download completely on their phones. The only downside is that since it’s stored locally, you’ll only have access to as much music as your phone has storage space: once you fill that up, you’ll have to go through the process of deleting music you don’t want anymore instead of just streaming directly, the way you could using competing services from Google, Spotify or Amazon.
It’s a small distinction, and one that likely won’t affect the majority of iTunes Match users. However, those with massive libraries and a frequent desire to change up the selection of music available to them might find it somewhat aggravating. So why would Apple turn off what many viewed as a welcome feature?
First, there’s the bandwidth requirements of pure streaming vs. play-as-you-download. Streaming content continually, every time you want to access it again (after it’s been purged from the local cache) is extremely data-intensive. That means it’s demanding for Apple’s servers, but more importantly, it asks a lot of user data plans, which are often limited. A service that could lead to Apple customers getting hit with unexpectedly high monthly bills thanks to streaming media data usage probably won’t benefit either Apple customers or the company itself, even if people do get used to it after an adjustment period.
Second, there’s Apple’s emphasis on general usability standards. A service that provides easy access to all of a user’s existing music via simple download is less of a conceptual leap than an all-streaming solution. Once downloaded, music is there on the device. There’s less confusion about when you can and can’t access your content.
For me, it’s far more important that iTunes Match can scan and provide copies of tracks in my library without my needing to upload them first, as opposed to any streaming functions. I like having music locally stored, and I just want it to be easier to get music on and off of my device on the fly, so the removal of streaming (which Apple never promised in the first place) is no big deal. Will this change affect your decision to buy into the service when it goes live this fall?