New iTunes Match Feature Revealed (UPDATE)

See update below

Apple is just full of surprises this month, aren't they?

iTunes Match, the recently announced cloud-based music service from Apple, just went a little farther toward justifying that $24.99 annual price tag. Apple has released a beta version to developers, and Insanely Great Mac is reporting that, in an unannounced move, all music that you own that corresponds to music in the iTunes store will be available to stream from the cloud on up to 5 computers.

The previous assumption had been that if you wanted to listen to music you had uploaded into the cloud, you would have to download it onto your devices; now, it looks like you'll be able to listen to that music from any device that has an Internet connection, without the need to download the tunes onto that gadget.

HOW IT WORKS 1. You have music on your computer. I won't ask where you got it; you just have it in iTunes.

2. You link up all the music on your computer to the music in iTunes using iTunes Match. Apple looks for a corresponding track in its database to "match" to your track.

3. If Apple finds a match, you can stream that song, as a high-quality 256kbps AAC file, from anywhere in the world, on up to 5 computers you register with Apple, plus your phones and tablets running iOS (Insanely Great Mac says 5 devices; This Is My Next says 10).

4. If Apple does not find a match, you can upload that song into the new iCloud so that it can be listened to from anywhere.

Here's a video overview from Insanely Great Mac that shows and explains, in very simple language, exactly how the cloud streaming service works:

On first glance, it is kind of shocking that record companies agreed to this, as this just might encourage illegal downloading of music at home--rather than buying the song from iTunes, users could potentially download it illegally, find its iTunes match using iTunes Match, then listen to that song anywhere via Apple's iCloud streaming service. So, good news for pirates, and also good news for audiophiles, who may have quickly ripped music from CDs or LPs, or who have music saved at lower bit rates in order to save hard drive space, and want to listen to higher quality recordings of their music.

TechCrunch points out the superiority of iTunes Match to the also recently announced Google Music, which requires users to upload all of their music into the cloud. Cloud streaming means that listeners must only upload the music not in the iTunes database for later enjoyment.

HuffPost Tech favorite Spotify has a service akin to iTunes Match that matches all the music in your library to the music in Spotify's database, then makes those songs available to stream. However, it lacks what appears to be the robust uploading capability of the iCloud, and has a slightly smaller music selection than iTunes.

iTunes Match will cost $24.99 per year and should be available some time this fall, perhaps at the same time as the release of iOS 5.

UPDATE: According to All Things D, an Apple spokesperson has said that the new service isn't technically streaming; rather, the service will play the song as it downloads to your device.

"Apple says that what looks like a 'stream' is really a simultaneous listen and download — users can hear the song while their machine ingests it," All Things D's Peter Kafka writes.

Still, it's a surprising (and fun) feature of iTunes Match. Read more from All Things D here.


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