Turns out what appeared to be an iTunes streaming music service is really two functions--downloading and listening--occurring at the same time.
But AllThingsD called Apple and was told: "Any music you want to access from your cloud-based 'locker' will still need to be stored on your iPad, or iPhone, or whatever device you're using to listen to the song."
We've reached out to Apple for further information but this is what we surmised so far: Apple quietly added the option to begin playing tracks once they've started downloading and before the track is finished. It's not a true streaming-only solution, but it's a marked improvement from the prospect of having to wait until a track is fully downloaded to begin playback.
Cloud music is supposed to save valuable storage space on users' mobile devices as well as give them ubiquitous access to their music libraries. The iTunes Match costs $25 a year (and scan and match up to 25,000 songs). Match is expected to be available to the public later this year.
Apple fans have expected iTunes to offer streaming music for a long time. For over a year, music industry sources told CNET that Apple had sought and eventually obtained licenses from the four major labels to build a cloud music service that would allow the company to scan a user's hard drive, and then stream their entire music library from Apple's servers back to the user via any Web-connected device.
Apple still has those streaming licenses but has yet to do anything with them.
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When Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the coming of iTunes Match at June's Worldwide Developers Conference, there wasn't a single word about the long-awaited streaming-music feature--though Jobs said "iTunes Match," would enable users to store their "entire collection," including music ripped from CDs, on iCloud servers.
Match works by analyzing songs in your collection, comparing them against the 18 million songs in the iTunes Store, and then making those available immediately at 256Kbps, even if the originals were lower-quality.
Correction 10:59 a.m. PT: This story initially misreported the nature of the music available from iTunes Match. The developer beta of Match facilitates downloading and listening, but not actual streaming.