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Apple's cloudy music streamer won't stream music

'Listen while you download' – with restrictions

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Apple's long-awaited iCloud music-streaming service won't actually stream your iTunes music collection. Instead, it will download tunes to your device, though you'll be able to listen to them while they are being downloaded.

That's what an unnamed Apple spokesperson told AllThingsD on Tuesday after a video appeared on the Insanely Great Mac website that demoed what appeared to be true streaming from iCloud.

But it isn't. Unlike, for example, the true music streaming that was provided by Lala, which was snapped up by Apple in December 2009 and shuttered the following April, tunes from Apple's iCloud will arrive on your iOS device, Mac, or PC, and be stored and played from there.

This non-streaming streaming calls into question why Apple went through the trouble of acquiring Lala in the first place, but more interestingly it raises the question of why Apple has chosen to enfore on-device file residence rather than true streaming, when it has been busily inking streaming deals with major music labels.

According to AllThingsD, this non-streaming streaming – aka listen-while-downloading – will apply to all three categories of music available from Apple's cloudy service: music purchased from the iTunes Store, music you own that wasn't purchased from Apple but is in Apple's cloudy collection and tagged using iTunes Match, and music neither purchased nor in Apple's collection but uploaded from your device into iCloud using iTunes Match.

From your point of view as an iCloud user, listen-while-downloading will sound like streaming, but the downloaded tunes will take up space on your Mac, PC, or iOS device – not a big deal on a Mac or PC, but an avid music junkie could fill up a low-capacity iDevice in a relatively short amount of time if it's already packed with videos, movies, fat apps – the 1.62GB TomTom Western Europe, for example – and other space-hoggers.

But it's for your own good ... and Apple's

From where we sit, it appears that one reason for listen-while-downloading is spotty network performance. With your music on your device, the only time you'd have halts and skips in a tune due to a substandard 3G connection would be the first the time you listened to it. After that, all would be copacetic. The song would be on your device, and your device would be – as Apple wants it to be – your indispensible musical companion.

What we don't know yet is how Apple plans to manage the tunes on your Mac, PC, or iOS device. Will they automatically go into the iTunes Library? Will they wait in some flushable cache that, as it fills to a predetermined – user determined? – point, will trigger an "I'm getting stuffed" alert?

We don't know. One thing seems certain, however. Steve Jobs, when announcing the iTunes-in-the-cloud service back in June, said that you'd be able to play your tunes on up to 10 different devices, and – as is true with iTunes – it's a safe bet that Apple won't make it easy for you authorize and deauthorize individual devices on the fly. That'd make it too easy for you to party-hop without your iDevice in your pocket or purse.

And you'll need Apple software to access your tunes, not merely a browser. It's not in Apple's interest for you to simply stream your tunes from any browser at any time, as you can with Amazon or Google's music service. Apple wants you to use Apple products – even if it's just iTunes running (poorly) on a PC.

Heaven forfend that you might play tunes residing on Apple's iCloud by using a browser on a mobile device running Android. ®

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