Apple took their sweet time releasing a streaming music service, but if the version of iTunes Radio found in the iOS 7 beta is anything like the finished product they didn’t take advantage of it. While the new Music app indeed looks as polished as ever, iTunes Radio itself feels like a bit of a half-hearted effort, perhaps no more than a way for Apple and record labels to squeeze out a few more iTunes sales.
It starts with the functionality. iTunes Radio is as simple a streaming service as they come. Think Pandora, only in this case I’d call it Pandora Lite. You get free, ad-supported internet radio kicked off by one of Apple’s curated stations or an artist or song of your choosing. But customizing said stations? You don’t get so many options.
You can favorite a song, but as far as informing iTunes that you’d like to hear less of a particular artist with a “Thumbs Down” or other such button…nope (unless a skip registers this inherently, but that hasn’t proven to be the case in my experience). So whereas with Pandora you can craft a highly tailored station based around an artist over time, iTunes Radio won’t give you that luxury.
Surprisingly, my other major gripe with iTunes Radio is the selection of music. Granted, I listen to a lot of smaller acts and independent artists, but I was still surprised by the number of bands that iTunes returned no results for. When I did track down an artist the stations became repetitive, often cycling the same 5 or 6 performers.
And ads. The ads aren’t bad, just about as intrusive as with any other free music stream, but there are moments when iTunes Radio will play an ad between every song. Then moments when you won’t hear an ad for prolonged periods of time. This is something that will hopefully get evened out as we approach a final release, and if ads become overwhelming there is always iTunes Match, which will now include unlimited ad-free iTunes Radio.
What I will give iTunes Radio is that it integrates seamlessly into the current music player, making it super easy to jump between your own collection of stored songs and streaming radio. If a certain song from your library strikes your fancy, you can create a station directly from the Now Play screen. That’s pretty killer.
And it keeps everything in one place. You don’t have to jump into a different app to change up the listening experience.
iTunes Radio likely would have benefited from an approach more like that of Google Play Music All Access or Spotify, but Apple wasn’t looking to release a complete subscription service. As stated earlier, their model suits their goal to sell more iTunes music, and the app sure makes it easy to purchase the currently streaming track.
Because it’s in its infancy, much could change with iTunes Radio before it debuts on a wider scale with the commercial release of iOS 7. And over the coming years Apple will surely refine the experience, add features, and continue to build from what is a very simple foundation. As it stand, though, I don’t see iTunes Radio as a true challenger to the established big dogs of music streaming, but that could change quickly.