Everything you need to know about iTunes Radio for iOS, who it's suited for, and whether or not you should be using it
Apple launched iTunes Radio for both iPhone and iPad as part of the Music app in iOS 7. iTunes Radio is Apple's attempt at giving us a streaming music service that's already bundled with the Music app we already know and use every day.
Considering iTunes is one of the largest music collections in the world, it makes perfect sense. Even better, for iTunes Match subscribers, the service is completely free with not one single ad. For those that don't subscribe to iTunes Match, it's still free, just ad supported. It's a compelling option either way but does it live up to the hype?
To preface this, I'll start by saying that I'm a subscriber to not just one streaming music service, but three. I regularly listen to Songza, Rdio and DI.fm, two of which made our list of best streaming music apps for iPhone. To me, all three of these serve different purposes. Rdio is my go to streaming service when I want to dictate what I listen to or if I want to listen to things offline. There's no limit on how much music I can store for offline use. As long as I have the storage space and I'm paying my subscription fee, it's mine to listen to. Songza is my choice when I don't want to take the time to find music and create playlists. If I want one curated for me to fit my mood or the type of activity I'm doing, Songza creates great ones every single time. I couldn't have been happier when CrackBerry Kevin recommended it to me. DI.fm has been my go-to service for electronic music for years and has one of the best collections in the world. If you love electronic, I don't need to tell you what DI.fm is.
As you can see from the above preface, I'm somewhat of a streaming addict. In order for iTunes Match to replace my current music flow, it's got to bring quite a bit to the table. But does it?
For starters, iTunes Radio is bundled with the default Music app we all know and love, or hate. Either way, if you want to use iTunes Radio, you're stuck with it. To get to iTunes Radio, just launch the Music app and it's the very first tab in the Music app by default, unless of course you've moved them around. On the top you've got featured stations that are curated by the iTunes staff. You can scroll sideways through these stations to view even more. Tapping on any one of them will start streaming.
Underneath the Featured Stations section you've got the My Stations section which is where you can create your own custom stations using iTunes Radio. Just tap on the "+" sign and search for something you'd like to create a station based on. This can be an artist, genre, or a specific song or album. You can edit your My Stations section as well and delete any you aren't using or re-order them so your favorites are towards the top of your list.
In my experience, iTunes has never been very organized to begin with so I was very skeptical as to how it was pulling music from its library into curated playlists. I've always had a large bone to pick with the electronic section of iTunes where many artists appear that really should not ever be listed there, not by a long shot. I know it's a harder genre to curate but come on Apple, you could hire someone that actually listens to that kind of music to curate it. As I expected, certain playlists, especially more obscure genres, pull in songs that really shouldn't be there. iTunes Radio gives you the option to dislike songs but it's somewhat of a double edged sword. Maybe I do like that song, I just don't want it to play in the current playlist I'm listening to because it doesn't fit. What do you do then?
Now I won't say that iTunes Radio is terrible at curating playlists because it isn't. More common genres are selected and served up just fine and for the folks who listen to that kind of thing, they'll be perfectly happy. You can also tune the stations in iTunes Radio with three different modes; Hits, Variety, and Discovery. Hits will only play things that are currently hot on the charts while Variety goes just a little outside of that. The Discovery mode is what I've been using and I've found it gives a much better overall blend of a genre. Basically, if you hate the radio because you get tired of hearing the same 10 songs, Discovery mode is something you want to enable on all your iTunes Radio stations.
When it comes to training iTunes Radio about your likes and dislikes, tapping the star icon next to any song that's currently playing lets you tell iTunes Radio to play more like it, never play that song again, or add it to your Wish List. From the main menu of iTunes Radio, you can tap the History button in the upper left hand corner in order to view things you've recently listened to as well as view your Wish List and purchase music from it.
iTunes Radio ties into iTunes to allow you to easily purchase music in pretty much one to two taps. If you find a song you want to actually purchase, just tap on the price and you end up on the iTunes Store page for that particular item. Buy what you'd like and you're done. If you're the type who purchases a lot of music, iTunes Radio is a wonderful way to discover new music all the time.
If you're a subscription model type, you may take issue with iTunes Radio. For people currently using services like Rdio or Spotify that have become accustomed to being able to store music for offline use, you can't do this with iTunes Radio. You need an active internet connection in order to use it so if that's a deal breaker for you, iTunes Radio won't become your one stop streaming service any time soon.
- iTunes is one of the largest music collections in the world, there's plenty of music to listen to
- It's free as long as you're okay with ads
- iTunes Match subscribers get ad-free listening and for $24.99 a year, that's a deal that's hard to beat
- iTunes Radio is bundled with the default Music app which means less apps to install and manage
- From disappearing completely from the Music app to stopping mid-stream, I feel like iTunes Radio is still a beta, not the finished product I expected
- iTunes organization of genres has never been great, it carries through to iTunes Radio, especially in more obscure genres
- No offline listening
- Custom playlists are non-existent
The bottom line
For casual music listeners that either don't mind ads or already subscribe to iTunes Match and stream their collection, iTunes Radio is a decent offering that costs you not a penny more than what you're already paying. If your music listening needs extend past this, you're most likely going to take issue with the service. Custom built playlists are non-existent as is offline listening. If those are important to you, iTunes Radio just won't do.
Perhaps my biggest issue with iTunes Radio is that it still feels very beta. From it completely disappearing from the Music app to freezing while adding playlists, it's not a very consistent user experience. At least not right now. Hopefully these are issues Apple will address over time to make it a better option that people can actually rely on. Until then, I may use iTunes Radio occasionally but I don't plan on canceling any of the current music streaming services I've been relying on either.
If you've tried out iTunes Match already, what are your thoughts? Are you coming from another streaming music service? If so, do you plan on dropping it? Why or why not?