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8/30/2011
04:25 PM
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Apple iTunes Match Enters Beta

Developers can start playing with the iTunes Match component of Apple's forthcoming iCloud file storage service.

Apple has granted developers based in the U.S. access to a beta version of iTunes Match, a component of the company's forthcoming iCloud service.

The company is providing iCloud testers with access to iTunes Match during the beta period--which should last until either September or October, when iOS 5 and the iPhone 5 are expected--and for three additional months at no charge. Thereafter, the service costs $25 annually. The service is limited to 25,000 songs.

iTunes Match aims to accelerate adoption of Apple's iCloud, by eliminating the need to upload large music libraries to Apple's servers. Uploading thousands of music files can take hours or days if the user has a slow Internet connection or requires Internet bandwidth for other tasks while uploading is in progress.

Apple is trying to limit this potentially burdensome process by providing users with copies of songs from its servers if the company recognizes the songs in users' local iTunes music libraries.

When a match is found in Apple's 18 million song library, the company treats its 256kbps AAC DRM-free iTunes track in the cloud as the master copy. The user can upgrade to a better sounding file if his or her local copy was sampled with a lower bit rate. This should effectively launder files downloaded without authorization and may even encourage music acquisition through legal channels like iTunes.

Apple's iCloud will not stream music for playback, at least initially. The company's acquisition of Lala in late 2009 provided it with streaming technology and raised hopes that Apple would support iCloud streaming.

On Tuesday, the website, Insanely Great Mac posted a video suggesting that streaming had been enabled. But Apple told AllThingsD that iTunes Match is actually downloading the file and playing the locally stored music data as it is assembled into a complete file.

This may seem like an inconsequential distinction--Apple's method will sound like streaming given a sufficiently fast network connection--but it's really a legal one and a technical one. Streaming licenses are different from other music licenses. On the technical side, streaming requires infrastructure tuned for real-time content delivery. Offering only downloaded content means Apple has to invest less in network infrastructure.

The fact that Apple is not actually streaming music files may only become apparent if the user's network cannot deliver song data at the pace required to sustain local playback, or if the user runs out of space to store downloaded files. Streamed files aren't subject to this limitation.

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