September 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Apple’s iTunes Radio Drops on September 18 – Here’s What To Expect

Here's iTunes Radio on Apple's new "apologetically plastic" $99 iPhone 5C.

News organizations, particularly those concerned with technology, have spent much of today issuing the usual liveblogs and “what they said”-style articles about Apple’s big press event today, where it rolled out new iPhones, among other things.

You won’t need one of those new iPhones to use one of the biggest parts of this announcement, iOS 7, which will include iTunes Radio, Apple’s attempt at a streaming radio service. ITunes Radio will be among the 200 new features Apple claims are included with its new mobile operating system, slated for a September 18 release.

So, what will it be? Here’s what we know so far, based on the beta version that was released earlier plus Apple’s announcement on Tuesday:

  • iTunes Radio, accessibly on iOS devices through a Radio button in the standard Music app, will be similar to Pandora or iHeartRadio, in that it will play internet radio stations based on any artist, song, or genre, or based on any mix of those.
  • You’ll be able to see the history of everything you’ve played — all the better to remember to buy the songs later on iTunes. A wishlist feature lets you keep track of the stuff you like but don’t feel like buying.
  • The stations will change as you Star or Ban songs, or tell the app to include or exclude a certain artist, genre, or song. Yay, no more Phil Collins on the Hall & Oates channel.
  • As with other internet radio services, you’ll hear ads unless you pay. In the case of iTunes Radio, “paying” means ponying up for iTunes Match for $25 per year. (A year of ad-free Pandora costs $36 and lacks iTunes Match’s locker service.)
  • Unlike some more processor-heavy aspects of iOS 7 that only run on newer iOS devices, the iTunes Radio feature will work on iPhone 4 or later, the fifth-generation iPod Touch, iPad 2, iPad with Retina Display, and iPad Mini.
  • iTunes Radio will also run on Apple TV and iTunes for Mac and Windows (most likely also as of September 18, but we don’t know that for sure).
  • iTunes staffers built over 300 genre stations to supplement the user-created stations.
  • iTunes Radio will feature some exclusive releases — more on that here.
  • It’ll work with Siri, so you can say stuff like “Play more like this” to start a song radio station, or “What song is this?” to find out what’s playing.
  • When you share a station, that station will continue evolving to your taste, so if any of your friends are tuning in, they’ll hear those changes too.
  • True to Apple’s adherence to Steve Jobs‘ insistence that Apple’s content businesses steer clear of objectionable content when possible, all channels will have a switch for including or excluding “explicit” content.

Here’s what we’re still wondering about:

  • Multiple reports claimed that iTunes Radio would feature slider controls of some kind that would let you tilt the station towards  newer (i.e. undiscovered) music or more familiar (i.e. popular) music. Apple makes no mention of that in its iTunes Radio description, and it’s unclear whether this feature made it past the beta stage.
  • Will the stations make sense — i.e. will they play music that one wants to hear after building a station based on an artist, song, or genre? iTunes Genius has been less than impressive in this regard.
  • Will iTunes Radio stations get stored offline, so you can play them on planes, subways, and whenever you don’t feel like eating away at your limited data plan? Apple’s direct licenses could allow that feature, as Slacker’s do, at least for the direct-licensed music, but if this feature’s there, Apple makes no mention of it.
  • Are there any limits on how many song skips per hour or day one can demand using the free version? (The paid one will likely include unlimited skips.)
  • Will iTunes Radio have all of the independent music that other services have under the DMCA rules, or will its bespoke licensing deals consign the music to only those labels with which Apple has deals? Slacker gets around this problem by striking direct deals for some music and paying the DMCA rates for everything else, but we don’t know how Apple intends to handle it yet.
  • Nesly Lacroix

    Based on iOS 7 GM and iTunes 11.1 beta 2, iTunes Radio sports the slide to customize stations from Hits to Discovery. Additionally, you can add / ban an artist or song to further tailor a station to your taste.

  • Skynet

    Yeah, that picture is of an iPod Touch…