Why iTunes Radio is not a replacement for services like Rdio, Spotify, and Beats Music

Why iTunes Radio is not a replacement for services like Rdio, Spotify, and Beats Music

Before replacing a service like Rdio, Spotify, or Beats Music with iTunes Radio, here's what you need to know!

I recently reviewed Beats Music and the feedback made me realize that a lot of people are confused about the differences between it, similar services like Spotify and Rdio, and iTunes Radio. They're really not the same, and it really matters. Here's why!

In my initial review of iTunes Radio for iOS, I found that I had a place for it in my streaming world but it wouldn't be replacing Rdio for me. Anyone who faithfully uses a service like Rdio or Spotify and values the ability to have complete control over their music should already understand where I'm coming from. These are what we call true on-demand streaming services. I hold the control in the palm of my hand. I can create custom track-by-track playlists, listen to complete albums all the way through, and much more.

When it comes to playing music I actually like, iTunes Radio does a fantastic job

iTunes Radio doesn't do any of the above, but it wasn't meant to. iTunes Radio in its current form is a music discovery tool that taps into one of the largest, most expansive music libraries on earth, iTunes. And that alone makes it worthwhile, even if it's not in the form many people want it to be in.

Up until Beats Music, I've always taken issue with how most streaming services curate music and predict what you want to hear. Most of this is because it's done by computers, not by humans. The only exception to this is Songza, which like Beats Music, has done a great job of curating music collections and recommending new artists and songs. But again, we're talking about curation done by humans, not computers.

When it comes to playing music I actually like, iTunes Radio does a fantastic job. I can customize my stations to play a group of artists and never play others. iTunes Radio always abides by this and serves up great results. Apple is known for obsessive attention to detail and iTunes curation is a great example of how that kind of behavior pays off. iTunes Radio is right up there with Songza and Beats Music when it comes to music discovery and curation.

We also can't forget Ping. Anyone remember it? Even though it never really caught on and was eventually canned, I'd bet that Apple obtained a lot of valuable data on people's listening habits. That in itself probably made it a worthwhile endeavor.

iTunes Radio as it exists today is aimed at people who prefer to own their music, not rent it

Even though iTunes Radio isn't my go to streaming service, it knows my tastes and preferences better than most. I just launch iTunes on my Mac while working and pick an artist based on my mood. I save the tracks I really like to my Wish List. Then every few days I go back and clean out my Wish List and add those saved tracks to an on-demand streaming service like Beats Music or Rdio. I can now go back and create playlists with those tracks and play them on-demand whenever I'd like. The last part is the crucial part for many of us, and something iTunes Radio doesn't allow.

iTunes Radio, at least as it exists today, is aimed at people who prefer to own their music, not rent it. iTunes serves up music it thinks you'll like and hopes you'll hit the purchase button. For those like me that have libraries as dynamic and ever changing as our wardrobes, iTunes Radio can become very costly on its own. It doesn't cater to the space currently occupied by services like Beats Music, Rdio, and Spotify — and it wasn't meant to. Perhaps in the future we'll be able to rent music from iTunes like we do movies and TV shows. Until that time comes, on-demand streaming services are still very different from what iTunes Radio has to offer.

Now it's your turn — what are you using for streaming music, what do you like about it, and what's still missing?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Allyson Kazmucha

Senior 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.

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Reader comments

Why iTunes Radio is not a replacement for services like Rdio, Spotify, and Beats Music


Beats Music is really growing on me. I'm still within the free trial but really thinking of signing up for it. It's really good at picking stuff I want to listen too. Sure wish they would add a radio function or break down music by sub genres.

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And that's perfectly fine. I buy albums by my favorite artists but I can't listen to those all day long. I also quickly tire of music so buying everything would get very expensive. A subscription suits my finicky musical personality.

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Why no love for Google Play All Access!?! Its one the best streaming services, in my opinion.

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Was thinking the same thing. Maybe because you can't explore new music or add to library yet.

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I completely agree. Sure it costs $8 but you can still download it to the device,create playlists and have ad-free music videos on youtube.

I am clearly in the "owning music" (movies, etc.) category. Before the iTunes Store started I had already collected almost 4,500 LPs and CDs plus some 800 VHS tapes and DVDs. I fully embraced iTunes in 2004, and except for some speciality stuff (like Neil Young's Archives or some uncompressed music from e.g. Robert Fripp's site), I have been all iTunes since then.

It might be an age thing (no idea), but I am not really a great supporter of these "all you can eat" concepts. I like to listen to albums back to back, and I want to pay those artists who I feel deserve my payment. I fear (rightly or wrongly, I can't say) that these all inclusive offers will in the long run decrease variety even more while increasing the laziness and ignorance of the industry. Now that they get 'money for nothing', nothing might be what we will get at some point.

I discover music mainly by attending festivals, by recommendations or by running Shazam on a track I like in the pub (scientific observation: spontaneous buys increase after the 10th Guinness; a control group on placebos did not buy nothing).

I would use something like iTunes Radio (or Pandora) simply for muzak requirements. E.g. as a backdrop while having people for dinner, as my own music is normally not to anybody's liking. So, a true "on demand" service like Spotify is not really for me, but iTunes Radio (or similar) might serve a purpose.

With $25/year iTunes Match, you're also given commercial-free iTunes Radio. Honestly, even though the services are somewhat different, it doesn't pay to add on another $120/year for Beats or Spotify if you're happy enough with iTunes stations/playlists

Can' you explain this comment,

"When it comes to playing music I actually like, iTunes Radio does a fantastic job. I can customize my stations to play a group of artists and never play others."

maybe I misunderstand what you mean but I can see the 'never play this' and 'play more like this' but I don't see a 'play only this' option, is it buried somewhere else or did you mean something else?


I find Rdio isn't the best at finding music you like, I can down vote a band 4-5 times and it still plays them.

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Yep. This is why I like the curation of iTunes Radio better. I tell rdio what I want, I don't let it tell me. I keep a service like rdio because it's on demand. The curation just isn't great.

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I think iTunes Radio is a nice beginning but apple has disable its audience with the service because if the sole intent is to buy content upon listening to tracks, then why can't you do anything with the music. You can't genius the hottest songs right now such as 'Get lucky' by Daft Punk and 'Royals' by Lorde. If Apple is so hooked on buying the music and you can't do anything with it, it's not worth listening to iTunes Radio because I know it's only for uses that disables me.

I see the streaming music world in iTunes favor only if somehow adapted Google music curation concept. Music creation is best based on the music you have. All the hits produces all hit music. All other album cuts produces discovery cuts. With Google music, music just released can be instant mixed. That's impressive. Yet Apple with the most tracks on earth can't take the information they have on music listening habits (yes, the same people who knew Drake was the favorite artist the first week of iTunes Radio USA launch) to create music.

Your thoughts on this?

I think a lot of the issue with music is licensing. They have the ok to sell it, not to rent it. That's what I'd assume anyways. I'm sure if it was that easy, we'd be able to pay an additional amount in order to subscribe. Apple also probably makes more money off of actual sales. I have no idea though, just talking out what I'd think makes sense..

Perhaps it's a model Apple will explore eventually, perhaps not. I have no idea.

I have like 2 apps that i'm obssesed with : 8tracks, ituner radio and of course itunes radio and when i'm offline i listen to my own music.

Ok, ok, ok. You all broke me down. I will try beats!


I should add, LOVE the setup process.

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I'm not a huge fan of iTunes Radio. I am sure it will get better over time but there is just not that big of a channel selection for my taste in music. I would also like to see them pick up the comedy stations like Pandora

I got iTunes Match so I could "upgrade" a lot of my older CD rips to 256k ones, and iTunes Radio was a nice side effect. We use Radio a lot, tho - usually, find an artist we like, and leave it on. So far, I guess I've bought 10 or so albums from stuff thats come on it (which is quite a lot for us, we dont buy a lot of music).

The matching is "ok" - there are a couple of artist which just don't work, mostly because the "similar artists" are not, to my taste, similar at all. But in general, it's been quite good. I'll keep iTunes Match more for Radio than I do for the match part.

Oh, and yes, I've tried Spotify and Rdio. Most of whats on there I don't like (pop crap), and what I do like, I usually own anyway - so it's not worth me paying $15/month for it (NZD)

Why no mention of Google Play Music? Surely it should be included as it provides the same services as the above, and has been around for longer than some on the list...

This was an editorial not a recommendation of specific services. I made examples out of services I personally know and use.

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I use mostly Slacker, Pandora, and iTunes Radio. iTunes Radio is really taking the place of Pandora though. The only time it gets used is when my wife turns it on over the Sonos. I didn't renew my Pandora One subscription in leu of iTunes Radio since I already have iTunes Match. The only thing that keeps me using Pandora occasionally is it seems to have a better variety of songs that it "suggests." iTunes Radio seems to be pretty repetitive so far. I wish it would at least shuffle the playlists in my stations. It seems to play the same things in pretty much the same order. I keep Slacker Premium service for on demand listening and unlimited skips and my use over the Sonos. In the car I usually use iTunes Radio.

I too have tried them all - yes all of them - Slacker, Pandora, Rdio, Songza, Spotify, iTunes Radio, Beats...the list is endless. I've determined that Slacker is the best for me, and I pay for the Premium version as well. When I look at the others, I always compare to Slacker, and truly none seem to measure up. Just seems like Slacker isn't as well known as the others, which is too bad. Love it. Cannot live without it.

I use Songza at the moment. I just stream all my music now, I really don't use the music app anymore. I like Songza's music discovery and its many different playlist selections. However the 'thumps up' and 'thumbs down' feature don't work well. It reaches the point where it takes away from the music discovery.

I've never found thumbs up and down options to work very well with many services but Songza, Beats Music, and iTunes Radio seems to be the exceptions since they're curated by people. Songza always does a pretty good job for me. Perhaps it's a genre thing? Others are stronger than others on specific services I think.

When I select the thumbs up option, that song shows up way too many times on a given playlist. Funny enough, I start to entertain the thumbs down option for that given song. I guess I will monitor it across different genres, it's worth a shot.

I use iTunes Radio and Pandora for streaming music. I plan to start trying beats music tomorrow to see what the service is about. Thanks for sharing the differences between the services.

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I'm with those who only want to own their music, not rent it. I have iTunes Match and love it, but when iTunes Radio was introduced I tried it out since my Match subscription allows ad-free Radio. iTunes Radio is a good service, and I've enjoyed it, but I don't listen to it all that often, since I have quite a large music collection. I do, however, see some value in it as a discovery tool... though I personally haven't bought anything yet that I've heard on iTR.

I'm experiencing the same thing. I was at Starbucks yesterday and when i got there i had 70%. I worked and had my headphones on with Beats Music. 90 minutes later I had 12%. :(

Noticed the same thing. I had 80%, and in no time at all, went to 20%. The battery area on the phone was slightly warm. Not sure why it is drawing that much power.

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I have taken a liking to Beats Music so far and I have used Spotify and Google Play Music. I like Spotify but I love Beats Music because you can keep an organized library. I like iTunes Radio better than Pandora for radio stations but for the past month on my iPhone all I have been getting is "iTunes Radio is unavailable, try again later." It's aggravating. I have signed out, signed back in, soft reset, hard reset, everything I can think of but it won't work at all. Any ideas?

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I use three music streaming apps on my iPad. I have a huge music library, so I use iTunes Radio once every few days to listen to new music. I also like its curated playlists. I use spotify once a week to listen to new albums and buy ones on iTunes which I like. Thirdly, I use gaana (Hindi for song) when my friends or family want to listen to Hindi music (I don't listen to Bollywood music). Works pretty well for me!

I buy my music through iTunes and use iTunes Radio occasional for discovery. I certainly don't listen to as much music as I used to so paying a monthly fee would cost more than just buying a new song or two every month.

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I don't know. I've never understood the whole streaming thing. Maybe because I'm "old". I buy my music and want to own it. At least digitally. And now after a long time in the vinyl format again. But to abandon owning music and having to stream it all the time, the cellular, or wi-fi costs would be outrageous if you listen to music a lot, as I do. I tried it as an experiment a few months ago, and although I can't remember the actual numbers, but listening to 5 or 6 songs used up a tremendous amount of data. And I could listen to music for 3 hours straight. I don't know how people can afford to stream music all the time. Or is there something that I'm missing?

I used to spend a lot of money in music some years ago. I have tons of CDs that I practically never use anymore. With Spotify I rediscovered the music I bought before and I'm discovering a lot more and a lot of new releases of many artists I used to listen to. I'm very satisfied with the service and if the amount of data is a problem, you can create playlists in a computer with WiFi and in your device you can download it to play it without connection afterwards. You will need to be a premium in order to do that, but worth it.

I'm a Pandora/iTunes Radio kind of user. I like having CDs to rip from. But I'm looking forward to Pono - Neil Young's lossless music player. Just as the iPod seems to be headed back to the barn, Pono is coming along to give us something better. Higher-quality music. I'll take that over having thousands of songs to listen to by bands I sorta like, and get better music of the artists I really like.

Pono's being released in March. So the music industry is about to be shaken up (not to mention storage manufacturers are going to love it considering how big the files will be). No streaming that stuff all day at work or when riding my bike. I'll have it on a device.

Being a classically trained musician (19 years on the violin) who likes everything but rap and hip-hop, I'm ready for some really high-quality sounds. Pono is the future, not streaming, for me.

I use iTunes radio because I was already paying for match but I find the device pretty poor for discovery. The similar artists it plays are too similar (I already know about them) even if I have that variety slider turned all the way up. And its repetitive, you listen to the same channel for too long and you start hearing the same songs over an over again (just like the real radio).

iTunes radio needs more variety and needs to be more adventurous with its musical selections.

I hate managing digital files, so I prefer music streaming services. I am currently enjoying Xbox Music and Spotify Free. I also use iTunes Radio on my Apple TV and put songs I like on a wish list and find them on my music services. Sometimes I buy music from iTunes from favorite artists.

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I have had Pandora for years to run all day at my office and the times I don't want to listen to Podcasts. It's great for background music, but not as good for discovering new music (how is Adele on EVERY station?). I have played around with Songza and their never-ending guessing game at an ad/pay model and love the music based on mood, but the playlists are hit or miss with me. I have not been the kind of person that buys music since Sirius came out years ago so I believe iTunes radio is the perfect fit - integrates with Siri, all my Apple devices, huge database of music, "first listens" of new albums, and more. Perhaps it's ADD, but iTunes radio seems to be the perfect match for me.