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iTunes Match opened to developers, but did Apple change the rules?

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(Read caption) iTunes Match is set to debut this fall. Here, a screen from the Apple iTunes platform.

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Apple this week released a developer beta of iTunes Match, a cloud-based service expected to become widely available this fall, with the launch of iOS 5. Think of Match as a giant digital locker: For $24.99 a year, you'll be able store a bunch of your music on the iCloud platform – allegedly up to 25,000 songs – and access that music from a range of devices, including the iPad, iPod, and iPhone.

If you're willing to pay the $25, iTunes Match will be helpful for all sorts of reasons, chief among that it will drastically simplify the way users transfer music from one device to another. No longer will you have to sync your iPad and then sync your iPhone and then sync your iPod, etc. Instead, your entire collection will lurk in the cloud, on Apple servers – hence the term "Match"; Apple is "matching" your music – just a mouse click away. So far, so good.

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But today comes news that iTunes Match may not actually stream your music, as had been previously reported. According to Peter Kafka of All Things D, who spoke to an Apple rep, iTunes Match requires users to actually download and store each track on their gadgets. Apple apparently "won’t go into further detail about how the service will works," although Kafka has some guesses.

"My best hunch: If you don’t 'download' a music file to your library, it will sit in a more temporary cache, on a different part of your machine," he writes. "Depending on the size of your machine’s cache — it will presumably differ from, say, an iPhone to a MacBook — that file may occasionally be cleared out." (Apple says you will be able to hear the music while your machine downloads it, which helps things a little.)

At this point, you may be shaking your head – does it really matter that iTunes Match won't really stream your music? It's still in a great big locker, after all, and you can still get it when you want it. The answer: Yes, actually, it does matter. It matters for some people because our devices have finite hard drives. We only have so much space on our iPhone, and the initial awesomeness of Match was the promise of listening to music without hogging precious GBs.

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