Apple releases ‘iTunes Match’ beta cloud music service with streaming feature

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Apple released late Monday a new version of iTunes 10.5 (v6.1) to developers that includes its upcoming cloud music subscription service, iTunes Match. The new service allows users to download their entire iTunes library to up to five different Mac or iOS devices, or to stream the music directly from their library, over Wi-Fi or 3G, without the need to download — a feature Apple kept secret when the service was first announced at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June.

To start, the iTunes Match feature automatically scans a user’s iTunes Library, and recreates that library in iCloud by matching songs on one’s computer with songs in Apple’s inventory (up to 25,000 songs). If Apple does not have the song (perhaps it’s a homemade creation), then the song is uploaded to iCloud. If Apple has a higher-quality version of the file in its inventory, then iTunes Match upgrades a user’s copy to the better version.

Once a library is completely recreated in iCloud, a user can access that music from up to five different Apple devices, either Mac or iOS. This means no longer having to transfer music from a home computer to a work computer, or having to make sacrifices for which music to load onto an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad device.

When using iTunes Mach, users can choose to either download the song to that device’s internal storage, or simply stream the music over a wireless connection without having to download anything at all. The addition of this functionality changes little in how iTunes works, on either Mac or iOS devices, and works basically the same as if the music were just stored on the device in the first place.

From what we can see here, iTunes Match is already more polished, in its beta version, than either Google Music or Amazon Cloud Player. The only possible downside is the price: $24.99 per year. But considering what it gives you — access to all your music, anytime, anywhere —maybe that’s not so much to ask.

Watch two quick iTunes Match run-through videos from Insanely Great Mac below:

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