iTunes Radio vs. the competition: Which one should you use?

Yesterday at WWDC 2013 Apple announced the long rumored iTunes Radio service which will come bundled as part of the default Music app in iOS 7.

iTunes Radio will be free for all users since it's ad supported. Those who subscribe to iTunes Match will be excused from ads. This can make it a tempting option for many but how does it compare to existing streaming services such as Pandora, Slacker, and Spotify? Let's take a closer look...

iTunes Radio

We admittedly won't know everything about iTunes Radio until it officially launches with iOS 7 this fall but we have a rough idea of what it brings to the table. For iTunes Match subscribers, you'll get ad-free and uninterrupted radio from iTunes huge collection. That's obviously another bonus of iTunes Radio, iTunes has a massive collection of music. Probably one of the best selections on the planet.

Outside of that, a lot of the features you get are the same as other comparable streaming services such as Pandora. You'll have the ability to like songs, tell iTunes Radio to never play a song again, and theoretically, it should get smarter the more you use it. You can create custom playlists or choose from the ones iTunes Radio has featured.

One con that may be a deal breaker for some is that at this time, iTunes Radio seems to only stream clean versions of songs. That means anything with explicit language is going to be filtered out. This could very well change before the final launch by adding some settings but at this point, we don't know one way or the other.

The competition

Let's face it, there are some awesome streaming music streaming services already out there including Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, Rdio, Last.fm, and many more. You're really looking at what content you want and who can provide it. As far as pricing breakdowns go, most of these services offer subscription services for ad-free listening or even free ad-based versions, like iTunes Radio. Here's a quick look at the cheapest plans available that we could find that support streaming on iPhone and iPad, not just desktop clients.

  • Pandora - Free but ad supported - premium with no ads is $3.99/month or $36/year
  • Spotify - $9.99 a month for the capability of streaming to iPhone and iPad
  • Slacker Radio - Free but ad supported - upgrade to no ads plus more options for $3.99/month minimum
  • Rdio - $9.99 a month for the capability of streaming to iPhone and iPad

As you quickly notice, some of these services may offer ad-based streaming for free, actually most if not all do, but in certain cases, they aren't available for mobile without a premium subscription. That can also place you in the highest tier automatically.

Outside of pricing there are other things to consider. For instance, Slacker Radio provides custom ESPN stations that can be fine tuned to the teams you follow. This is something that's probably worth the fee if you're a hardcore sports fan. Rdio also has a tendency to have albums available as soon as they are released and way ahead of their competition. If your priority is having music available as soon as it's released, Rdio is probably the only other option besides iTunes Radio, which will have access to the iTunes Store. With that, we'd imagine albums will be available in iTunes Radio just as soon as Rdio does.

When it comes to listening offline, Spotify, Slacker, and a few of the others also allow you to download content and playlists you create for times you don't have service. This is a hot commodity for travelers and something that should be thought about before choosing any of them.

The bottom line

iTunes Radio definitely has its advantages including integration with Siri, access across all your devices including Apple TV, and an unbeatable price of free for everyone. If you're an iTunes Match subscriber, the deal gets even better since you won't have to listen to ads.

That doesn't mean competitive services don't still have their advantages. Slacker's tie in with ESPN will be huge for sports fans while downloadable playlists for offline listening will still sway other users to steer away from iTunes Radio. If you like the content you hear on iTunes Radio, you'll need to buy it, at least as it stands right now. If you listen to music a lot, it's worth weighing out how many offline songs you typically save a month for offline use and what you'd be paying to actually own them on iTunes.

Ultimately, iTunes Radio will be a great deal for casual listeners that either don't mind ads or already use iTunes Match and aren't bothered clean versions of songs. And for all we know, that may change before the final release. It's also the only option currently available if you want to stream music to an Apple TV. If those aren't your largest concerns or you already subscribe to another service, there's a lot more to think about, and that's where your listening habits will really have to be weighed in before making a final decision.

With all this being said, do you plan on using iTunes Radio when it launches and how does it compare to the streaming service you already use, if any at all?