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,, 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?

Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • You have to mention Songza! It's free and ad-supported however there are NO annoying audio ads, just banner ads. The concierge feature is incredible, you can find a playlist tailored to just about anything. I dumped Pandora a LONG time ago for this one. Excited to see what iTunes Radio will bring.
  • I second this.
  • iTunes Radio is ad free if you're an iTunes Match subscriber...
  • Yep, it's stated in the article 2 or 3 times.
  • LOL
  • I'll be sticking with Spotify. Being able to play just about any song anytime I want is awesome. Other then podcast that i occasionally listen to i stream everything and have no need to keep music on my iphone/ipad. $9.99 isn't much to ask for either. Pandora/Slacker seem to over play songs to much. And from what i understand iTunes Match only allows you to play the music in your iTunes library on all your devices.
  • Correct iTunes Match only lets you stream the music in your library(as of today) but when iTunes Radio comes out there will be the added bonus of the it being ad-free. You pay $10/month for Spotify for a total of $120 a year just to stream their music, with iTunes match you will pay $25 for the year to be able to stream the radio music PLUS your iTunes library.
  • If you don't have an iTunes library though, is it that compelling? I haven't really bought music in over 2 years, I've lived in Spotify. Even though I can't use iTunes Radio at first anyway, I'm not really that interested either as it turns out. Twitter Music hooks into Spotify, which also has a Radio element to it, and for that £120 a year I can pick and choose from just about every album I can imagine. So i'll be sticking with what I know :)
  • Same here... I would cost me well over $120 to bring my itunes up-to-date.
  • No good music has been made in the past 5 years anyhow ;-)
  • ITunes Radio allows you to stream the entire iTunes library (~26 million songs according to an article I saw yesterday) and is not limited to the songs you've purchased or uploaded to iTunes Match. The tie between iTunes Radio and iTunes Match is the Match subscribers get commercial free iTunes Radio. At $25/year for iTunes Match, it's worth it just to go commercial free even if you don't use it for anything else.
  • You didn't mention Google Play Music. The official app is coming soon by GMusic will also work. Also both iTunes radio and Gmusic will let you store your own music plus radio stations. For iTunes Radio you also have to have iTunes Match which was already a bargain at $25 per year but now is a no brainer bargain. There are also major differences between these services which you also don't mention.
  • Spotify does offer free, ad supported "radio" in the iPhone/iPad app. Spotify premium, and its 9.99/mo price tag, are required in order to play any track of your choosing, and custom play lists and commercial free radio.
  • You didn't mention Google Play All Access! In my opinion, it's better than iTunes Radio because you get access to it on multiple devices but the only thing is the price monthly.
  • It also has several features that are missing in iTunes Radio, including the best feature of all: never having to buy a single song EVER again! It's ridiculous that it wasn't mentioned...
  • I'd like to see Google bring an All Access player through its GAPPS on iPhone.
  • Let's face it, this is really going to 'appeal' to people who haven't considered streaming music yet as it's baked into the music app. You don't have to do anything except tap a button. I'm not a huge music listener except for a couple of bands and not really keen to spend on a streaming service (although I think even $10/month is good value, really), so this will be great for me.
  • It's of interest to me and I am a longtime Pandora Premium user. Obviously it's not out yet, but appears to have all the benefits of Pandora Premium PLUS the ability to host my personal library with the iTunes Match all for LESS money. Count me in!
  • I noticed with pandora on a free subscription I heard advertisements only once like every two hours. Spotify I hear advertisements once every few songs. Hopefully on iTune radio there won't be too many audio advertisements because that is the most annoying thing ever.
  • Just subscribe to Spotify that way you can use it on your iPhone too... its only $9 a month, cant go wrong... been a subscriber since day 1!
  • you really should have compared the amount of songs for each service as that will probably be the biggest reason to choose one over the other.
  • There aren't any hard facts on how many each have. they all say "millions of songs" and they aren't going to give me exact figures.
  • the data is out there. Take a look at this article for an example: The big questions are; how many songs does itunes radio have and what is the skip limit on the free version.
  • Yes, i saw that same article. it does not state where they pulled those numbers from. As far as skip limit, it's in beta. We'll have something more definitive when the official is released. A lot can change from now until then.
  • Rhapsody also has albums and songs ghe day they are released. You also have to keep in mind that with Rhapsody, Rdio and others that for $10 per month you can download an unlimited number of songs each for playback while offline.
  • It just seems Apple always brings something innovative to the table (and I imagine I wont get all the hate bc we're obviously Apple fans) and I felt like it wasn't there. I stopped listening to Pandora with the import of Spotify. I went back to Pandora when they threatened to cap free listening and now that not the case I'm back. I usually stream at home from a PC my husband connected to the TV. I listen to the local radio when I'm in the car. I have found myself not listening to music on my phone much. I use You Tube for stuff that I dont own, which Im finding is less and less.
  • I use the XM radio app more than anything on my phone but I will try the free version and if i like it I will do the ad free with itunes match which I have been contemplating anyway. Hardest thing is waiting till the fall...
  • i'm curious to see how integrated it is with the music app and iTunes, I LIVE in ITunes so this would really appeal to me (ITunes radio)
  • MOG!
  • When I look for a music service, I think about where I can access the service. I don't want to be restricted to a certain platform, device, or a personal ID/account. That leads me to something like spotify or pandora because I can use one account that is only for that service, share it with my wife, and access the service on an iPhone, android device, roku, windows 8, or a browser.
  • I'd definitely use iTunes Radio - it makes most sense since i have iTunes music match.
  • I subscribe to Spotify, its a steal! For only $9 a month how can you not sign up? I got iOS 7 today and iTunes Radio is pretty cool, I also have iTunes Match so no ads for me which is a plus!!! Loving iOS 7 so far by the way!
  • I find it humorous (and very telling) that you didn't once mention Google Music All Access -- a service that happens to include, or expand on, the features of every single service you did mention. ridiculousness...
  • Okay, the obvious difference between Pandora and MOG/Rdio/Spottify is with Pandora you can create stations and listen to them, but you can't play specific songs. With MOG I can play the whole "Pricess and the Frog" soundtrack my daughter wants to hear without a problem. With Pandora I can't do that. Can I do that with iTunes radio or not?
  • Looks like the answer is "NO". So while its certainly a competitor to Pandora, it isn't directly comparable to MOG/Rdio/Spottify.or even Google Play All Access. Too bad, that $25/year price is compelling but not if it doesn't let me play what I want...