Apple’s Newly Launched iTunes Radio Streaming Lacks Innovation

With the recent iOS 7 update and the release of the iPhone 5s, Apple has launched its streaming music service, iTunes Radio. Radio stations stream stream music based on a song, artist, or album similar to the Pandora streaming service, Spotify, Radical.fm, and others. The iTunes Store boasts a larger catalog of songs than other services to source the streamed radio stations. Along with the user-created stations, iTunes Radio has over 250 curated stations from which to choose.

Similar to playlists available for sale in the iTunes store, Apple's featured stations include those curated by music experts and musicians. Katy Perry's station includes her favorite new tunes. Musician-turned actor, Jared Leto, is one of iTunes Radio's guest DJs. Listeners can also choose to create a news station of a certain music genre like Country or Jazz, and specify a sub genres. Classical music sub genres include "Chill Out Classical” and "Bach and the Baroque." In the rock genre you can pick from "Classic Jam Bands," "Glam Rock,” and “If you like...Grateful Dead." iTunes Radio will evaluate your listening history and purchases to determine songs customize stations based on your tastes--similar to the way a Genius mix might work. You can also customize stations using “play more like this” or “never play this song” (in the spirit of Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down in Pandora).

To rate the current song, press on the star in the “now playing” screen. You can rate a song without looking at the screen, by telling the Siri voice control “Play more songs like this,” or “Never play this song.” You can also ask Siri to identify the title and artist of the song that is currently playing. This is certainly convenient, particularly while driving, but it does disturb the flow of the music by pausing the song while Siri acknowledges your rating.

Further customization is available by tapping the red “i” at the top of the now playing screen on an iPhone or iPad. Here, you can find a slider that determines how much musical variety is played on the station. On one end of he slider, choose to play only hits. At the other end of the slider is discovery, that will play more obscure tunes that you don’t have in your library. In this information menu, a switch can turn off explicit tracks. This is also where you can share your station with others via airdrop (iPhone to iPhone), Twitter, text message, Facebook, or email.

A history of the songs recently played can be easily viewed in the iTunes apps on iPad and iPhone, on Apple TV, and in the computer iTunes software. Although you can see the songs that have recently played, you can’t replay the songs or go back. iTunes Radio allows you to skip only six song per hour per station.

While the ad-supported version of iTunes Radio is free, there is no question that its purpose is to sell music. It couldn’t be easier to purchase the current song or go through the history and buy a recently played song. Tap or click on the price and click again to buy in iTunes. However, buyer beware. A song that you own may be playing, but iTunes won’t recognize that you own the same song because it may be playing from a different album (e.g., a greatest hits or live album).

If you subscribe to the iTunes Match music service ($25 per year), iTunes Radio is commercial-free. For those who may not be familiar with iTunes Match, the service searches for the songs you have uploaded to your computer's iTune library, then matches them to titles in the iTunes Store. When completed, songs from your library are available to be downloaded to any mobile device from the cloud and can be accessed at any time eliminating the need of using your your iPhone or iPad's memory by downloading your whole library of songs. iTunes Radio also saves memory on your device as it streams directly from the iTunes Store.

While I’m glad that Apple offers iTunes Radio for free, I’m keeping my Google Play subscription. Google Play radio stations allow you to see and edit the songs that will be played next as well as save the song that played on the radio station so you can hear the same songs in the same order anytime. Still, Google Play is not available on iOS devices. Streaming iTunes Radio to my iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV is a good option. The music mixes are good but I’d like to see iTunes Radio step up to include some of the features of Google Play.

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