August 31, 2011 at 9:48 am

Another Surprise: iTunes, iOS Save Music Streamed from iCloud

icloud apple streaming downloading itunes iosLet this be a lesson to the technology press, present company included. Just because Apple usually declines to comment when we approach them, it’s still worth checking with the company to verify the speculation of others.

Yesterday, we and many others took Insanely Great Mac’s video depiction of iCloud music “streaming” at face value. However, contrary to our follow-up story and others, iCloud does not in fact stream music in the usual sense, an Apple spokesperson confirmed to AllThingsD.

Instead, iCloud offers streams and downloads with the same click or tap. Once it mirrors your iTunes collection to the cloud, the service (still in developer-only beta) sends downloads to your iOS and iTunes-running devices, as originally reported. The thing is, those downloads play as they download, which looks just like streaming over a fast-enough connection — thus the confusion.

Apple has filed a patent for the idea of playing music as it downloads, and several other services do the same thing. After all, the difference between streaming and downloading isn’t as strict as it might seem on the user side. In both cases, data travels from a remote server (in this case an iCloud account) to a device. When you stream, that data gets discarded after you listen to it. When you download, that data gets saved. And when it comes to music, Apple iCloud does both.

We’ve seen another music locker streaming service, mSpot, employ a nearly-identical approach. When you stream music from your locker, mSpot stores all that stuff in a temporary cache, so that you can listen to your recently-played music anywhere — even without a data connection. Apple iCloud does the same thing, according to what Apple told AllThingsD, except it presumably stores those songs for as long as you want to keep them on your device (laptop, iPad, iPhone, etc.), or until it runs out of room.

So the real story, with verification from Apple, is that if you tap or click on a song in your iCloud account, it will play instantly within iTunes or iOS, and will also be stored for later playback without requiring a data connection. This clever combination offers users the satisfaction of being able to play any of their music whenever they want, but also encourages them to store music locally on their iOS devices and iTunes, the same way they do today with a USB cable.

And just like songs transferred in that old-school way, these downloaded songs don’t count against your limited data plan with AT&T and Verizon.

With that out of the way, our big question remains: Will Apple let developers build apps around the music stored on iCloud, the same way they can around the music stored on an iPhone?

We asked Apple about this earlier. Our contact’s response? “No comment.”

(Image courtesy of Flickr/akakumo)