Once a trendsetter in the digital music space, Apple is late to the streaming music party that has been raging across the Internet for years. But with the release of iOS 7, Apple users were finally given a taste of iTunes Radio. The service was teased at Apple’s annual developers conference in June, and now it’s live and pretty much what everyone expected.
iTunes Radio vs Pandora
If you are familiar with other streaming music services, iTunes Radio is much closer to the lean-back approach of Pandora than to Spotify where listeners create their own playlists or play specific tracks or albums on demand.
Where Apple has an advantage over the competition is that the software will come built in to Apple products. Whether you use iTunes on your desktop or on your iPhone or iPad, iTunes radio is right there with the rest of your music collection, and it’s completely free to tune in.
Like Pandora, listeners need only enter a song or artist, and Apple will prepopulate a station that compliments your selection. For example, Apple has the rights to The Beatles catalog, but entering The Beatles won’t get you all-Beatles radio. Instead you get a mix of their recordings and those of their contemporaries, influencers and band members’ later work. Like Pandora, iTunes Radio grows to know your tastes. If you like a song you can ask for more like it, and if you don’t you can ban it. You can even add additional seed tracks or bands to fine-tune your station.
There are also prepopulated genre stations. Some only iTunes can offer like those focusing on the iTunes Music Festival, or top iTunes charts, but for the most part the selection of genres and subgenres stations isn’t as well developed as other services like Songza or those compiled by many Spotify apps.
iTunes Radio Gaining Traction
The pundits aren’t impressed, but according to Apple, the service has taken off like gangbusters. Pandora’s 72 million and Spotify’s 24 million listeners still take the lion’s share of the market, but those services have been around for years now. In only four days Apple reported more than 11 million unique listeners had already tuned in. Nissan must be impressed as it has teamed with Apple to include the music streaming service in its vehicles—another move from Pandora’s playbook.
One thing listeners like a lot is that not only is the service free, the commercial interruptions are few and far between, especially compared with the free tiers of Pandora or Slacker Radio. And if you already use iTunes Match, you don’t have to do anything; you’ve already paid to have the ads removed when you subscribed. If you don’t already use the cloud-music service, iTunes Match costs $25 a year compared to Pandora One at $36.
Apple does exceeding well at marketing the songs you hear. A “buy” option is always prominently featured, and of course it leads to only one source. The other thing it’s great at is mixing your current music catalog with its library to create stations that are likely to appeal to you. They may be overly familiar tunes, but they are songs Apple knows you listen to and like. Pandora, on the other hand, has been developing its music genome project over a decade to match songs by a multitude of factors, which can ultimately yield more nuanced stations.
Where iTunes Radio can improve
Apple seems alone and off the mark in its lack of social features. While it is hardly the most important part of any service, the other services allow you to share your stations, even every track you play, with your friends on social networks. Apple, however, offers almost nothing in that vein and has never been particularly adept in that area. (Ping anyone? No? My point.)
So what’s the upshot? Apple has a lot of work to do if it plans to be more than a copycat, but however derivative, Apple is genius at using its closed ecosystem and easy-of-use to lure and keep customers. Being able to launch iTunes Radio from the lock screen of your phone or while browsing your own music collection on your home computer certainly makes it a more convenient option for Apple enthusiasts.
For now, it’s not going to be my go-to music service, nor even a runner up. The others just offer more refinement, innovation and features that aren’t worth losing in favor of a few less taps or keystrokes.
But that’s just my opinion. We really want to know yours. If you have tried iTunes Radio or any of the other music streaming services, please leave a review of your own so our readers can benefit from your expertise, too.