For most of the last year, there has been speculation that Apple would add a streaming component to iTunes. The question was what form that would take. Most hoped it would be an all-you-can-eat subscription service like Google’s All Access or Spotify. Apple answered all questions at WWDC when iTunes Radio was unveiled. The product that emerged was more akin to to Pandora than Spotify. With the release of iOS 7 and iTunes 11.1, it’s now out in the wild. Let’s take a look, shall we?
iTunes Radio, itself, is not a stand alone service. It’s a subset of of iTunes. To have it, you need to have Apple’s iTunes jukebox software installed on your Mac/ PC, or it runs through the music app on an iOS device. It’s also on Apple TV once you update to the latest system software. There is no web interface, nor can you access it via Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, or any other device that lacks a partially eaten piece of fruit. Love it, hate, or otherwise, Apple likes to keep things in its own ecosystem. The service is free and ad supported, though you can do away with those pesky advertisements if you buy Apple’s $25 a year iTunes Match. For you international viewers, its sadly US only at launch.
If you’ve used Pandora, iTunes Radio will be very familiar, though it’s a little more feature-rich. You listen to virtual stations. There are a number of presets you can choose from or you can make your own station. You have the choice to base your station on an artist, a genre of music, or a specific song. You have the option of adding additional artists of songs you’d like to base the station around as well. Again, just like Pandora. The music selection seems to be quite good. The name of the stations can be changed by clicking on the name in iTunes and waiting a couple seconds. Very much like a desktop folder. Less than intuitive though.
Where iTunes Radio shines over the competition is the customization and history. There are 3 settings for the song variety: Hits, Variety, and Discovery. Hits will play songs you find on the radio, Variety mixes it up a little, and Discovery for when you never want to hear the same song twice. In addition to songs you like, you can also add ones you don’t care for – to avoid. This takes a little more effort than the thumps up or down on the competition, but it also yields better results. It has a switchable filter for explicit lyrics that is set to on by default. Radio also offers a full history, but this isn’t exactly altruistic. This is a part of iTunes and they would like you to buy music.
iTunes Radio isn’t a revolutionary product, but it is one that keeps iTunes relevant. I would be lying if I said my music library hadn’t fallen out of favor. I stream music that I own. In the few days since its launch, it’s become my go-to music service. However, it won’t be my only one as sometimes I want to listen to something specific and sometimes I won’t be on an iDevice or computer with iTunes. In those cases, Pandora is still your best option. If you have an Apple device, it’s completely worth a try. Especially since you didn’t pay a dime to do it.
- Free on iTunes or iOS Music
- Easy to use
- Lots of options
- Good selection of music
- Not all you can eat
- Only available in the Apple ecosystem, not even a webapp
- US only… for now