At some point on Wednesday, Apple will release iOS 7; the most radical update yet to its mobile operating system. The software features an all new look and a bundle of features that we’ll be taking a deeper look at later but one of the most surprisingly good ones is the addition of iTunes Radio.
I should preface this by saying I use an Android phone far more often than I use my iPhone 5. And I’ve tried a number of online music services over the years, ranging from Spotify, Rdio, Xbox Music, Pandora and many more. Lately I’ve been testing a free trial of Google Play Music All Access, but since installing iOS 7 on my iPhone, it’s been iTunes Radio powering my headphones and speakers.
I’m very impressed with what Apple has put together in iTunes Radio. The app is super clean-looking and easy to use. There’s just enough in the way of settings to keep me happy and it’s a snap to create a new station from an artist or song. You can vary the station’s music by playing only hits, more variety or a wide range of music discovery. And the app will learn more about you when you click the little star icon and tell the app to play more like the current song or never play the song again. You can skip up to six songs an hour.
The new iTunes Radio is free — helping to add appeal — although there are occasional ads. They’re not very obtrusive and are often about the artists I’m listening to: New or upcoming albums and such. Note that iTunes Match service subscribers won’t hear any ads. And every single song has a purchase button, so there’s another money maker for Apple. That button doesn’t take you to the iTunes store, however. In a smart move, Apple has built the purchase process right into the app: Click the price and it turns into a “Buy” button; tap it and you’re done.
One definite feature that I think some will miss is the lack of offline listening. Then again, the product is pitched as a “radio” app so this might not bother everyone. I’m generally always on a Wi-Fi network so my offline time is minimal; perhaps I’d feel differently if that wasn’t the case. And I carry enough of my own local music that this doesn’t bother me.
So if iTunes Radio sounds like just another streaming music service, why do I like it better than I thought? It has to do with the music choice. I’m shocked that iTunes Radio is offering what I think is more music that I enjoy than Google Play Music All Access. Considering how much I use Google through my Chromebook Pixel, Android devices and Google apps, I would have thought Google would know my musical preferences better.
Based on my use of iTunes Radio, that’s not the case; at least not subjectively to my ear. I find that with Google All Access, I’m spending more time tuning the stations to my likes and dislikes of each song. For iTunes Radio I might have disliked two or three songs over the past week. Here’s a recent history of tunes played; it might not be music you like, but every song was a winner to my ear. Granted, we all have different music tastes so your experience could differ.
As a result, I’ll probably cancel my All Access trial with Google and save the $9.99 per month. I won’t be able to listen to iTunes Radio on my Chromebook or Android devices, but iTunes has found a new lease on life for the iMac on my desk. And I just might be carrying an iPhone a little more often too.