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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: ‘Download Later’ for music

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Right after Thanksgiving this year, I went on a short car trip and naturally decided that I was in dire need of Christmas carols. So I hit up the iTunes Store on my iPhone, where I purchased Nat ‘King’ Cole’s iconic Christmas album. (If you’ve already run through our entire holiday playlist and are looking for more, you can’t go wrong.)

So far, so good.

But when I bought the album, all of the songs started downloading. Besides the fact that I was in an area with somewhat spotty reception, I simply didn’t want the tracks downloaded to my phone right then and there: I really just wanted to stream them. As an iTunes Match subscriber, that’s how I deal with most of my music: I have a central downloaded repository on my Mac mini, and then I stream everything on my other Macs and iOS devices.

All I really wanted (for Christmas) was for the Music app on iOS to register that I had in fact purchased the album, so I could stream Cole’s dulcet tones. What I got was my phone insisting that it had to download the entire album; I tried to pause the downloads and they got stuck at an eternal “Processing” stage. I killed the iTunes Store. I killed the Music app. Finally I restarted the entire phone and resentfully let it download the tracks so I could play them. What should have taken maybe 30 seconds had turned into a five-minute ordeal.

Here’s the thing: it’s not a difficult situation for Apple to accommodate. For one thing, the very feature I wanted is already available if you buy a movie or TV show via iTunes on your iOS device. When you try that—even on Wi-Fi—iOS asks you if you want to download it now or later. Even if you choose “Later,” you can immediately go into the Videos app and stream the video.

Granted, videos files are much larger than music files, so Apple probably—rightly—assumes that people may not want to eat up their iOS device’s capacity. But extending the same capabilities to music would be great. Maybe such an option will follow on a streaming service, were Apple to ever release such a thing. (iTunes Beats, anyone?)

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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