Downloading vs. streaming or maybe it’s streaming vs. downloading. What’s the difference and why should you care? We often hear this and believe it or not, there is a pretty meaningful difference. If you want to get all your music, video and photos onto your smartphone, this will help you understand how to do it properly. With a little bit of information, and the right app, you can give your iPhone unlimited storage and never think about syncing again! Here is what you need to know.
Streaming is when content you are accessing is not fully transferred to your device. Typically, this means that only the part of what you are listening to or watching is being sent to you at that very moment. The benefit to streaming is that playback of media (especially big media, like HD movies, GoPro video, etc.) is very fast – sometimes almost instant. You also get the added benefit of being able to “scrub” forward or backward to different parts of your media, like the middle of a song or to find a specific scene in a movie. Because you are only streaming the part your are watching, you can scrub to any area of a file and it will play very quickly. Another important consideration is that you don’t have to worry about a streamed movie taking up a bunch of space on your device, like your precious smartphone storage. Streaming is an ideal way to get content onto your smartphone while on the go. Even mediocre Internet connections allow you to have a near instant user experience, especially if the service that is streaming your content is able to optimize the quality of the stream for the bandwidth you have. Pandora and younity are both good examples of such a streaming service.
- Allows scrubbing (fast forward/rewind)
- Does not take up storage on device
- Does not allow offline access
Downloading is very different. It takes the entire file (e.g. a song or a movie) and stores it on your device. The most obvious benefit of downloading is that you can access a downloaded file even when you don’t have an Internet connection, like when you are on a flight or in some rural area with little or no Internet service. The downside is that it not only takes up storage on your device, which means you better have that much storage available to begin with, but it can also take a long while for the file to be fully downloaded if you have either a slow Internet connection or if the file is extremely large, like an HD movie. These days, most downloads are what is called a “progressive download”. Progressive downloading means that you can access (i.e. watch or listen to) the file while the download is taking place. This is a big improvement, but keep in mind you still can’t scrub (fast forward) to a scene in a movie if it has not downloaded yet. Furthermore, if you switch networks or have some sort of hiccup you might have to start the process all over again. Apple’s Home Sharing (in-home access to your iTunes libraries) uses progressive downloads, as does iTunes movie rentals and iTunes Match.
- Allows offline access
- Much slower
- Can’t scrub beyond what is downloaded (if progressive)
- Takes up storage
It’s not a competition
Of course, these are not competing technologies. They are simply methods to get our content. If you know you will be offline and not able to stream, you want to download your content to access/use it during that time. However, if you know you have Internet (WiFi or cellular), streaming is a fast, efficient and convenient option for getting your content.
Some services use both techniques, like Spotify and younity. In both our cases, we default to streaming content but allow you to download content for offline access.
PLEASE NOTE: This is simply meant to be a crude primer on understanding the basic differences between these technologies. Keep in mind that there are the inevitable nuances to how different products apply them. Thanks.