iTunes Radio for iOS review

iTunes Radio for iOS review

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.

The good

  • 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

The bad

  • 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.

Your thoughts?

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?

See also:

Allyson Kazmucha

Help and how to editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

More Posts

 

4
loading...
13
loading...
46
loading...
0
loading...

← Previously

VLC media player for Mac updates with new audio core, 4K video support

Next up →

Apple TV adds Major League Soccer, Disney Junior

Reader comments

iTunes Radio for iOS review

65 Comments
Sort by Rating

iTunes Radio is actually what got me to look into Match more, and it's honestly $24.99/yr well spent.

I haven't had any issues using it but I haven't used it for more than an hour at a time. That's on my 5, my mini and on iTunes on my laptop. Overall I'm extremely happy with it.

Not everyone likes to buy music, or have to be tethered to a library on a computer. 64GBs on an iPhone isn't enough to store even 1/4 of my library.

Understand that... still, one can - if they desire - load music to their iDevice for offline use...it's a viable option...

Absolutely. For me, I don't pirate music but I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a ton of music either. Streaming subs like Rdio lets me pay one monthly fee to listen to all the music I want as well as store it for offline use. It's more of a cost issue I think for me. I'm not going to steal it due to my own ethical standards so I'd rather obtain it legally :)

I agree Allyson. I also use Rdio and love the option of storing stuff that I would not buy, such as background music for a special occasion or for trip with someone. Offline mode is an absolute must for me.

I don't understand why you guys are dinging a radio product for not being an on-demand streaming product. That's like going to a sandwich shop and being irritated because they won't sell you shoes.

Not at all really. Re-watch Apple's keynote where they introduce iTunes Radio. They sell it as a 'streaming service'. Don't be fooled, they have every intention of competing with Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, etc...

Well it won't compete with Spotify until it adds on-demand access, and they won't do it for $24.99 and cannibalize iTunes store action. It does compete with Pandora and Slacker. I think for $25 it is a steal over Pandora, at least for the genre's I prefer. Pandora can't go 20 songs without repeating on me, be it a genre station they make or one of my custom stations. It costs more and still limits you to 6 skips in an hour too. Slacker is better. For me, Slacker (free) and iTunes Radio (free) are pretty much equal. Both are better than the radio component of Spotify, which doesn't let you customize your station at all.

Allyson,

I'm sure it's sold to be this way and I enjoyed having your review on iTunes Radio.

I think what iTunes Radio misses out greatly is on the use of iTunes Genius information in order to make the listener's experience more paramount. From older music, especially electronic, iTunes genius is amazing because it looks at other libraries to capture the listening style. That's what I thought this service would be. A separate article should be written about iTunes Genius lack of use. When it works, it's truly amazing. If you go on the Apple iTunes website, they are completely misleading its consumers on what iTunes can do and that's highly alarming. iMore should definitley investigate. I have over 10,000 songs from 49 different genres, songs from 2012 to currently don't genius.

For instance, the hottest song this year - Get Lucky by Daft Punk. If Apple were to use the information on how many times it's been played by people on their devices, the playlists they've made, iTunes Radio would be truly amazing and totally rock. People would notice the translucency mixed with simplicity with music blended together in higher order. The last sentence might have sounded like Jony Ive but I'm sure you get the point I'm making

If they can only fix iTunes genius to work flawless or close to it, Apple can make iTunes Radio the best streaming service on earth bar none.

Is it difficult for iMore to do an article on iTunes Genius on less the site has done it? If the site has, can you point me in the right direction? I feel this is a huge hole not filled by Apple. When it works, it's great.

We don't have anything on that yet but I think you've lit a fire under me to do one. I'd never thought of the fact that it wasn't pulling from Genius. May be a few days though. Want to look into some things :)

I look forward to reading it. iTunes genius is single handedly one of the most inventive ways to collective create music playlists of your favorite music ever. Drawing from iTunes music store and the library of other people anonymously, it tends to create a great blend of mix. In your looking, you might find that the genius mixes aren't as good, but the creation of a playlist from a single song is pretty darn good.

Good luck and look forward to reading your thoughts on iTunes Genius :)

With iTunes Radio, with that $25 per year, my entire library is available to me without having any of it on a device. I can listen to iTunes Radio for more random things, or I can stream my entire collection from the cloud. That strikes me as the best of both worlds where I can have my own collection and playlists stream or I can "random" play from the criteria of my choice. With the lesser price of iTunes Radio I can buy those songs I discover I simply must have and still come out ahead financially.

I've had some iTunes Radio issues where the station will repeat the same 5 songs, especially if I go to skip one. I can also pick up that station on my iMac and it'll play the same songs in the same order, like its a shared play list between them. Its been more prevalent as of late than at the beginning, so hopefully its a quirk that needs ironed out on the server end.
Other than the repeat of songs (on Variety mode), I've forgotten Pandora even exists.

This has been a major problem with me as well. This could be due to the fact that this is essentially a 1st gen product from Apple; there are still bugs to work out and they have a long way to go. With Pandora I could listen to it all day long and maybe hear the same song twice, but I never experienced the same songs, in the same order, like I do with iTunes Radio, albeit Pandora has been in this business for a long time. I think that over time iTunes Radio will improve, and it's not too terrible to listen to. At least the ads aren't as varied in content and length as Pandora.

I have also run in to this problem. To me, this shouldn't be an issue. I write code for a living, and it wouldn't be that difficult to do a sanity check on the next song to ensure it hasn't been played in the last 20 songs.

I was ready to hand them my money, thinking they certainly had to be at least as good as Pandora, with the bonus of getting Match as well. Unfortunately, they are significantly worse than Pandora, because of issues that shouldn't have been there in the first place.

mjsavage:

not true, as most of the time the radio station will "start over" with the first song it originally played when I selected it in the first place.

I'm having this problem too. I get less repeat songs on Pandora than I do on iTunes Radio despite Pandora's small library.

I've experienced none of your 'bad' first bullet point. Maybe your connection is bad, causing your glitches.

I've been enjoying iTunes Radio for days. iTunes Match is a deal and a half.

I've taken the same 4-mile walk just about every day for the last few years and have listened to Pandora, Spotify, Songza, Rdio and IHeartRadio with no little to no streaming issues. Two days of the same route trying to listen to iTunes radio on my cellular signal and I gave up. It was cutting out every 15-30 seconds, despite five bars - sorry, circles - on my Verizon signal. Glitchy indeed. (It's been rock solid on my MacBook and MacMini through wi-fi though.)

"stopping mid-stream" this has been an issue for me every once and awhile too. I've experienced it on LTE, "4G", and Wi-Fi.

Odd. I too have had flawless usage.. I work from home, been playing to my Airplay speakers all day.. it's been great. I pay for Match, so defiantly going to use it, as I might as well as get my extra 2 cents out of the subscription.

I think I'm hooked. I've been using it the last few days at work. My custom station is SO much better than anything I ever made on Pandora or any other service. The song selection is very broad but still what I want to hear. I also feel like the stream is of noticeably of higher quality than other services.

And...I've already bought 3 songs that have come up on impulse. Probably a genius move by Apple.

Yesterday it did have problems. It was down for several hours. Other than that the stream has been solid for me on both wifi and HSPA+.

--"And...I've already bought 3 songs that have come up on impulse. Probably a genius move by Apple."-- You figured 'em out... they're evil geniuses... :)

The selection and features are not quite up to Pandora, but it is a reasonable alternative. I enjoy having the same custom station criteria in both Pandora and iTunes radio, as their interpretations of related music differ widely, so that I have access to two separate fresh takes on thematically similar music whenever I want.

Took them awhile to bring other stores into other regions as well. Licensing is a major issue when it comes to a service like this.

Takes time. In a world where everyone wants instant everything.

This is a weird review for me. It seems like you are dinging the service for not having things it's not intended to have, which is kind of a circular argument.

First, it's not a locker service. It's a free service, that lets you eliminate ads (and subsequently store your own library online) if you pay $35 a year. Pandora costs more for a similar ad free experience. It also doesn't let you store stations offline. In fact, none of the free streaming services let you do this, so why is that a ding against the service. Slacker Radio lets you save stations for offline, but it's a pay feature, and it costs more than $25 a year. In fact, it's at least double that.

Second:

"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?"

Maybe I've interpreted the service wrong, but again I believe this behavior is just like Pandora. If you say not to play the song, it's not a global setting, it's specific to that station. Don't play this song on this station ever again. Simple enough.

Third, you ding it on not being able to make custom playlists.

What does that even mean, in the context of this being a radio streaming service? This is a radio product. You make radio stations, from artists or songs, or you choose from the existing genre stations, which you can further vet with additional artists or song to play more like (key word being "like" not "of"). You don't make "playlists" and you don't listen to playlists with it. In the broad sense, it's playing you a playlist, and it is custom--it is custom based on the artists or songs you used to generate it. No radio product that I've tried let's you make custom playlists to play music from--that's not what the service is about. To me, a "custom playlist" is a list of songs that you make custom, and then it plays those song for you. Of course iTunes Radio doesn't do this, and none of the others do either. You have to pay more than $25 for this pleasure of on-demand listening. It's still on-demand listening if you mean giving a list of artists as part of the list and then hearing a buffet of music only by that artist.

If you mean "custom playlist" in terms of custom station that should serve as a model for what you want to hear on that station, then this is exactly what iTunes Radio does, just like Pandora.

Sorry, but this review just seems kind of empty of me.

Also, you didn't mention that other functionality issue, which is the low volume on the stream. Hope you don't get a notification, especially in the car, while listening to iTunes Radio. Also, don't forget to turn your volume down when you from iTunes Radio to your regular library or another source. Ouch.

Amen on the review of their "review", felt the same way when I was reading it & you were able to put it into words (a lot better than I could've too) +100

I think its a silly notion to see this as a free service. Its only available on Apple hardware, which is not free and has a huge profit margin to cover this, and its designed to lock people even further into Apple's ecosystem, so there is a price associated with it, we just don't pay separately.

Actually the service is just as free as Spotify is. Anyone can download iTunes on a windows PC and listen to iTunes Radio, just like anyone can download Spotify on a windows PC and listen to Spotify radio.

All right I take that back then, I thought it was Apple specific. Although I still think that market-wise Apple is in a much better position than Spotify or Pandora, and could be providing a service comparable to Rdio, but chose not to. Perhaps that will be an iPhone 6 specific.

I would love for them to get an on-demand component, especially if it put all the music in the library together as part of iTunes Match, so that I can have all music in one place whether I own it or subscribe to it. This is something I LOVE about Google Music All Access. I think it would cannibalize sales in the iTunes Store though, so I'm not holding my breath.

I would drop Rdio in a heartbeat probably, if iTunes Match or iTunes Radio offered an on demand streaming and offline save option, like Spotify/Rdio/Napster/MOG. But again, you guys are dinging the service for not being something that it's...not. I'm no Apple apologist, but that's not fair. And if they ever do add this, believe it will cost more than $24.99 a year.

It's a free "radio" service, nothing more nothing less. The only products it should be compared against are Spotify's radio component, Slacker, iHeartRadio, Rdio's radio component, Last.fm, and Google All Access's radio component.

No, it is not just a "free"(ish) service, its a service designed to work with the iTunes store and iTunes Match. Unlike the other services you mentioned, Apple is in a unique position to provide such a service, and it is being reviewed in that context.

That's actually not true. It is available to non-apple users who install iTunes on their Windows PC. They don't offer a web component, but then neither does Spotify. You still have to install Spotify's software on your computer to use the free radio.

iTunes Radio is simply a conduit to entice people to pay for more songs on iTunes. I can't help but notice the prominent $1.29 on the top right portion of the screen. Heck, for an extra $6 a month I can listen to any song on demand, online or offline, create custom playlists with just the songs I want to listen to, again online or offline, and not have to worry about spending hundreds of dollars to buy the songs I like.

I play iTunes Radio through my Apple TV with the television turned off. I don't see those opportunities to buy unless I hear something I want and then turn the television on. It seems to me that over time you are going to pay for that rented music so many times over that it would be cheaper to just buy them.

Works great. Use it every day. I used Pandora on my Android phones but ITunes on the iPhone 5S is a no brainer. Why download another app when you have a great streaming radio source built into the phones applications.

I've never been a streaming music consumer, but I've been trying iTunes Radio and so far, I like it. I enjoy fine tuning my channels of choice with preferred Artists. The few commercials I've heard haven't bothered me that much... Yet. Commercials are the main reason I stopped listening the FM radio years ago.

Right now... I'm rockin' the Five Finger Death Punch Radio channel!

For ad-free streaming, two people with their own iPhones can split a Pandora One account for about $36/year. Can these two people split an iTunes Match account on their phones as long as they have the same taste in music? This would be to get the ad-free streaming only. iTunes Match would have no other use for us.

Would it cause problems elsewhere on their phone, like the App Store? I started a thread about this in the forums but I didn't get a clear answer.

I like it so far, not too bad. Just nice to have another option over Pandora. I have notice the iTunes Radio will automatically skips songs when I don't want to. If I stop a song and lock my phone. The use the control center to resume play, it'll skip the rest of the current song and even the next one then play the third song.

Does the Match go by your iTunes login or iCloud? My kids and I all sync our devices to the same iTunes account for music but then we all have different iCloud accounts so we can iMessage each other. If I pay for Match will we all be able to use ad-free iRadio on our devices at the same time?

This question seems difficult to answer. I've Googled it this week and there are claims that you can sync 10 different devices to one account but nobody wants to answer what additonal complications may arise with more than one user. I'll probably try calling Apple direct for this.

I like the obvious convenience, but the curation...no. I am using artists as stations hoping to get similar music. Billy idol yielded the Bangles. Union Station (bluegrass) was matched with typical country faire. It goes on, Bonnie Raitt has yet to play a Bonnie Raitt song.
My experience with Pandora ( in the US) has been artists that have musical threads in common. I was expecting the same.
Perhaps I being too picky, but I could this kind of mix listening to terrestrial radio.

I've been using Slacker for years now, starting on BB, and moved over to iOS a couple of years ago. I've looked at the rest of them, INCLUDING iTunes Radio, and still can't see a reason to move away. I'm a premium slacker user, which lets me download albums, create my own playlists, download their curated stations, all available in offline mode (provided I have enough storage). Slacker has been instrumental in introducing me to new artists, and I haven't had to purchase actual music on iTunes much at all. Slacker is literally the most important service I have on my device. Go Slacker!

Anyone know how to go back to a previously played song and mark it something different? I accidentally marked a song to never play again but I really wanted to choose play more like this. I know there is the history but you can't view the song and change how it was marked. That would be good to add, like in Pandora.

My issue is with the skipping of sings. If I tap the star and select 'Never play this again,' the next song that pops up might be the one I just skipped. Or, if I hit 'Play more like this,' the same thing might happen. I've also had to skip the same song 4 times in a row. Also, some of the songs/that I like on one station may pop up on another unrelated station. I mostly listen to electronic music, so when I get frustrated with iTunes Radio, I'll jump over to DI Radio, Spotify, or my own library.

Used it for the 1st time for any length of time last night, loved the variety, I was playing 90s on the Discovery setting, after an hour or so it started playing the same song I originally started with and every song in order after that. Unacceptable after only an hour to start over. Sticking with Raditaz for now I guess.

I find it horrible! I added a bunch or artist from all over the place to give plenty to chose from and all it plays is the same crap the regular radio is pushing on us. Not to mention the repeats. I DONT WANT OT HEAR THE SAME SONG 5 TIMES IN A DAY THATS WHY I DONT TURN THE RADIO ON! just as bad as every other FAKE "Random" music generator. Should have known I-tunes couldn't get it right "Genius" more like "Music Retard".

Ok the featured stations - why do they only have like 5 songs??? Am I supposed to buy to add to featured stations???