While I like to think of myself as an early adopter, I tend to be a touch pragmatic about it. When it came to buying my first iPod, I opted for a model that fit my needs (and budget) perfectly- a first gen iPod Nano 4 gig. At the time I needed a way to carry my music while biking and jogging, and didn’t have a huge library. My first iPad was a 16 gig because I couldn’t justify paying more for memory I just knew I’d never use.
Now, my 16 gig iPhone and 32 gig iPad routinely have little memory to spare. Hordes of apps and an avalanche of media of all types have feasted on what I once thought was a surplus of storage. Even older apps take up more space thanks to the higher resolution of the new iPad. What’s an iOS addict to do for media when their device is already close to capacity? The answer is easy, my friends- rely on the Cloud.
There are numerous resources to tap when you’d like to hear your favorite tunes but don’t have much space on your device to carry them. Some are free, some are subscription; the best choice depends entirely on your personal needs and tastes. Here are a few:
The answer Apple provides is iTunes Match. This $24.99 per year service isn’t a streaming provider per se; it checks your music library for music Apple currently has in the iTunes Music Store. Those that you have purchased from Apple or files that can be positively identified as tracks they have in the store will be available for re-download on any Apple device: Mac or handheld. Files that Apple can’t positively identified are uploaded to Apple for storage, available for re-download just as officially recognized tracks are. The advantages are twofold- first, no syncing your iOS device is needed for access to your music library- just download what you’d like (or delete from your device if you need the space) and you’re ready to go. Second, the files that are recognized by iTunes, whether purchased from Apple or not, will be high bit rate AAC files with no DRM (Digital Rights Management, the pesky software protection that puts limits on how many devices your music can be played on). The biggest disadvantages are also twofold; first, you still need some space on your device to hold tracks. Secondly, you’re limited to whatever music you have in your library.
Pandora, my current personal favorite, is an elegant and clever solution. It is essentially intelligent streaming radio- enter a song title, artist or band name, or genre and Pandra will use the power of the Music Genome Project to devise a personalized radio station reflecting music similar to your request. The service is uncannily good at selecting music with a similar ‘feel’ to what you’ve chosen, often linking artists or songs that you wouldn’t have thought were similar. Pandora offers some control over your music stream; you can skip over a currently playing song or give the track a thumbs up (allowing it to further hone what you’d like to hear) or thumbs down (removing the track from play). If you can’t live without a particular song links are available to purchase it, or you can save it as a favorite and/or create a new station out of it. Pandora is available free but ad-supported (and limited to 36 hours of listening per month) and an unlimited $36/yearly service without ads or limitations.
Spotify is another hugely popular streaming audio service for a variety of devices. Spotify offers access to a large library of several major music labels: Sony, EMI, Warner, and Universal. Music can be browsed for by artist, album, record label, genre, or title search. Just as with Pandora, a free but limited version is available, and a Facebook account is required to gain free but ad-supported access. After a six month introductory period you will be limited to ten hours a month. A paid Premium account provides unlimited access and offline listening to downloaded content. Spotify stresses the social aspect of music, allowing you to see what your Facebook friends are listening to and allowing you to share your favorites with others. The Premium account allowing for unlimited mobile access is $9.99 per month (a less expensive Unlimited account is available for $4.99 per month, but only allows access via a computer). Spotify is considerably more expensive that Pandora, but it provides control over what you hear where Pandora is more like traditional radio; you have some control but an outside party picks the tracks you hear.
Of course, you can always just listen to actual radio- the iTunes App Store has several streaming radio apps available. My current favorite is TuneIn Radio Pro, allowing access to a tremendous number of streaming stations around the globe. The app supports recording or pausing streams, timed recording, new station suggestions based on your likes, a wake/sleep timer, AirPlay compatibility, and the ability to run in the background while you do other tasks on your device. Searching for stations is simple and powerful; for instance I’ve been able to find streams of college football games not available in my area in a matter of seconds.
For more specific streaming needs just search the App Store. Several of the radio stations in my area have dedicated apps, as well as larger entities like NPR- they have dedicated apps for music and news.
Lastly, don’t overlook Apple’s primary competitor in the mobile device market, Google. They provide an under appreciated streaming service named Google Play, allowing you to upload up to 20,000 songs (along with a variety of other media) that Google will host for you. Just install an app like GoMusic or GMusic or use Google’s web access at music.google.com and you’re ready to stream your library.
These are just a sampling of what’s available to you. Don’t be afraid to have fun exploring- there are over half a million apps available and counting. I’ve focused on some solutions that work well for me, but they are tailored to my needs and your mileage may vary.
When the first iPad came out, a common complaint/condemnation from pundits was “Yeah, but what is it for? What does it do?” I hope my musings have led you to my conclusion- iOS devices do pretty much anything you need them to.
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