iTunes Radio will do nothing to dispel concerns that post-Steve Jobs Apple lacks the innovation that is essential for the company’s continued success.
With the iTunes Store losing increased market share to music streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify, Apple finally announced last June that it would be entering the music streaming business with iTunes Radio. The service officially launched in the U.S. last Wednesday alongside iOS7, Apple’s new operating system. It is available on Apple mobile devices as well as the desktop version of iTunes. It can also be streamed on Apple TV.
iTunes Radio is essentially an exact replica of the popular streaming radio service Pandora. Users are able to create radio stations based on songs, artists and genres. The music that each custom station plays can be further altered by adding additional songs, artists and genres to the station that the user either wants to hear more music like, or adding songs, artists, or genres that the user never wants to hear on that station. Additionally, like Pandora, iTunes Radio users can vote up or down on individual songs, although figuring out how to do so is far less intuitive than it is on Pandora or Spotify Radio.
In addition to custom stations, iTunes Radio (like Pandora) offers premade stations based on different genres and subgenres of music. Most of iTunes Radio’s preset genre channels correspond to ones users would find on Pandora or Spotify’s playlists, although those services offer far more variety than iTunes Radio. Apple's offering also has a couple of pre-designed stations called “If you like” followed by an artist (i.e. “If you like Drake”, “If you like the Grateful Dead”), although it’s not clear how these differ from just making a customized station based on these artists.
iTunes Radio does offer a few differences from Pandora, but these have largely been lifted from other streaming services. For example, along with the genre stations there are various kinds of special stations, such as those created by “guest DJ” celebrities like Katy Perry or Jared Leto, or those built around a special event like iTunes Festival. Although this feature is not found on Pandora, Apple has essentially lifted it from services like Spotify, which offers similar kinds of Playlists; TuneIn Radio; or SiriusXM Radio. As of now, iTunes Radio’s special stations are far more limited than the ones found on services like Spotify, which has a whole genre of playlists dedicated to special events, for example.
Similarly, a few stations like “Pepsi Pulse Pop” and the TV show “The Voice Radio” would not be found on Pandora. However, Spotify apps like “Rolling Stone Recommends” and “Now That’s What I Call Music” are the same concept as “The Voice Radio,” while “Pepsi Pulse Pop” is clearly just an advertisement of a non-musical product. While such a flagrant advertisement may turn off some users, it might constitute an innovation if it is used to keep the iTunes Radio free (see below).
As well as failing to offer many new features, iTunes Radio also lacks some of the features popular with Pandora users. Perhaps most glaring, iTunes Radio fails to integrate social media networks into the programing — in contrast to just about every other streaming service available. The most a user can do is copy the link to a station they have created and manually post it in their social media networks. There does not appear to be a way to follow acquaintances’ iTunes Radio accounts, or follow famous people’s accounts as one can do on Spotify.
Similarly, iTunes Radio doesn’t offer the lyrics, artist biography and similar artists’ list of whatever song the user is listening to.
The only real advantage iTunes Radio offers over Pandora, then, is it is freely available on mobile devices without commercials. This is likely temporary as Apple tries to lure customers away from services like Pandora. However, if Apple finds enough corporate sponsors for stations like Pepsi Pulse Pop, and sees a sizeable increase in iTunes sales through the “buy this song” feature in iTunes Radio, Apple could choose to maintain iTunes Radio as a free service.
Overall, the best one can say about iTunes Radio is that iTunes itself has long been the most static of Apple’s products, and therefore the lack of innovation found on iTunes Radio may not reflect on the innovation we can expect to see from the post-Steve Jobs era Apple.