June 11, 2013 at 5:16 pm

What Music Will Apple iTunes Radio Have, and Will It Require Internet?

iTunes Radio (via Apple.com)The iOS 7 beta version is in developers’ hands today, following yesterday’s WorldWide Developers Conference, and with it, the beta version of iTunes Radio (once known as “iRadio”). Anyone with an Apple developer’s account or $99 to get one — and an iOS device they don’t need to rely on for important matters — can install it.

They just can’t talk much about what they see.

Due to Apple’s (understandable) policy about iOS betas, which are by definition not ready for primetime, developers who install iOS 7 must agree to a non-disclosure agreement, which is why, as Sparsebundle points out, anyone talking about their iOS 7 observations on Twitter, blogs, or elsewhere is A) not a developer, or B) possibly about to lose their Apple developer’s account.

Yes, we know: iTunes Radio is beta software, covered by an NDA. But this is Apple, which owns the biggest, most important music store in the world, launching an internet radio service at the arguably late date of 2013. We cannot resist trying to figure out what it’s all about.

What Music Will iTunes Radio Have?

We’ve already explored the iTunes Radio music catalog from the perspective of major label vs. independently-released music. We have yet to hear back from Apple about whether iTunes Radio will include independent music not covered by those deals and we might not get an answer on that until this fall, when iTunes Radio is released.

itunes radio major labels

Every song pictured in this Apple screenshot for iTunes Radio comes from a major label or a major label subsidiary... Will Apple Have Indies Onboard by the fall release of iOS 7?

Apple could include that independent music by copying Slacker’s method of licensing most music directly from the majors and possibly some indies, and then using the standard government-set rates for everything else. Or, Apple could ask independent artists and labels to “opt in” to iTunes Radio, possibly as part of their general iTunes agreement.

The third option — making iTunes Radio contain only major label music — is almost certainly off the table, because that would alienate a huge swath of music fans.

We do know one thing: TechCrunch is probably wrong in saying that iTunes Radio “can access the entire iTunes catalog, which, at this point, is well over 26 million tracks.” After we heard from a reader who has the iOS 7 beta installed, we had the reader do a simple search for a band signed to an independent label that has albums for sale in the iTunes Store, and it did not show up in iTunes Radio. Based on that, the music in the iTunes Radio Beta is not the same set of music that is available for sale in iTunes.

However, our friend did turn up at least one band that is listed as “unsigned” on MySpace, indicating that Apple could be working on some method for adding all of the independent music in the iTunes — or that it is at least experimenting with that internally during this beta. That’s all we know about what music will be on iTunes Radio, and admittedly, it’s not much.

Does iTunes Radio Need the Internet?

Another reader wondered whether iTunes Radio will include offline playback (i.e. without the internet). Sorry, but the jury is still out on this one, too.

We do know that unlike Pandora or any other service that uses the standard rates, Apple could include offline playback — at least for music from labels that have bespoke agreements with Apple for iTunes Radio, and if those deals specifically allow it, because that’s how Slacker manages to include offline playback when Pandora does not.

We have asked our contact at Apple about both of these issues (catalog and offline playback) and hope to have more on both fronts soon. And again, we probably wouldn’t be speculating about this stuff at all based on the slivers of evidence we have, if iTunes Radio weren’t potentially such a big deal.