We are winding our way through another refresh period for Apple- the new iPhones are out, iOS has been updated, but there are still new products and updates to come before the Christmas season. The reception so far has been good- Apple has sold an obscene number of new handsets (9 million after the first weekend!) and iOS 7 adoption has been just as rapid (although not without it’s issues).
One of the new yet not as heralded products I’ve been spending a lot of time with is iTunes Radio. I’ve had a Pandora One account for two years now and have been happy with the service, but still had occasional issues with the service. I tend to listen primarily at work, using Airplay to push from my Macbook Pro to a Philips DS8550/10; starting Pandora when I first get to the lab and leaving it running through the day. After a time if there has been no interaction with Pandora (thumbs up or down, skipping a track, or selecting a new station) it will pause the music and require you to click an icon to show that Pandora isn’t playing for an empty room (pleading with heavy users not to leave it unattended as they have to pay royalties for each track aired). Lately, the desktop app I installed simply loses contact with Pandora’s servers, requiring another click through to reconnect.
I have friends who prefer competing services like Spotify, but I’ve always preferred the personalized radio station approach of Pandora. iTunes Radio has done more than just offer a feasible alternative, it’s just about won me over as a paying customer. Both Pandora and iTunes Radio offer the ability to create personalized stations based off of an artist, album, song, or genre using an algorithm to find similar tunes. Both have a free ad supported version, but the ads on iTunes seem less abrasive. Pandora one offers monthly subscriptions for $3.99 and yearly for $39, iTunes Radio is bundled with iTunes Match for $24.99 a year (offering a feature Pandora can’t- cloud access to at least a portion of your library).
I’ve stuck with the ad supported version of iTunes Radio so far, but have been very impressed. The sound quality is very good, the ads (as mentioned earlier) aren’t overpowering- they seem to be more NPR and less prime time TV. The ability to find tunes matching your station criteria is equal in both, but iTunes Radio seems to have a wider range of tracks it plays. I don’t have evidence that Pandora suffers from a smaller library, but it does seem to replay tracks much more often. iTunes Radio meshes perfectly with the rest of iTunes, providing one click access to the iTunes Store if you’d like to purchase a track or album. Pandora One has a purchase link, but it’s hiding in a menu with other functions. Pandora does seem to offer more information about tracks played and has the ability to send the song to a friend via email, and is much easier to adjust via the thumbs up or down icons. iTunes Radio does have a ‘never play this track again’ selection, but it’s very effectively hidden inside an icon by the track information, and hasn’t always appeared when I’ve clicked the icon. The social and sharing functions are as equally obscure, hiding under the station icon.
It could be improved, but iTunes Radio is a sound alternative to other streaming services, whether you’d like a full paid service or prefer to stick to the free, ad supported version. It’s worked perfectly on all of my devices- iMac, Macbook, various iOS devices, and the Apple TV. Combined with iTunes Match you get a compelling service for our $25, and it’s less expensive than a year of any other paid streaming service I’ve investigated. With unlimited high quality music so freely available (and so inexpensive) it almost seems nonsensical to resort to piracy to get your auditory entertainment fix.
- iTunes Radio vs Pandora: Apple Needs Some Work To Be More Than a Copycat (viewpoints.com)
- Review: Don’t ditch Pandora yet for iTunes Radio (miamiherald.com)
- Apple’s Eddy Cue ‘very pleased’ with iTunes Radio, looks to go international ASAP; more than 100 countries targeted (macdailynews.com)
- Pandora stock plummets 10 percent on news of iTunes Radio success (electronista.com)