We are soon to discover whether all the speculation and apprehension over the summer was worth sweating over. Yesterday, Apple officially released its new iOS7 platform for its iPhone and iPad product lines—and integrated with it, the long-awaited and oft-talked-about iTunes Radio.
Declaring itself (perhaps a bit presumptuously) to be “radio re-imagined” on the Apple website, iTunes Radio is designed to compete directly with existing streaming services like Spotify and Pandora (hence the summer-long apprehension that the Apple juggernaut would create an unsustainable marketplace for its competitors). Apple also indicates that the service will utilize intuitive technology that will evolve according to listening and downloading history, so “the more you use iTunes Radio and iTunes, the more iTunes Radio knows what you like to listen to — and the more it can play music you’ll love.”
So let’s break this down a little. The inherent advantages iTunes Radio has over its competitors are basically two: 1) It carries the Apple name; and 2) It’s free. There is no actual paid version of the product; it will be ad-supported for the general listener, and for those who have already purchased iTunes Match, the music will be delivered ad-free.
But don’t put this into the win column for Apple just yet; there are a couple of disadvantages, as well. First—iTunes Radio is only available to iPhone, iPad and iTunes users. It is, of course, integrated into iOS7, but otherwise can only be played through iTunes on a computer. As other well-designed smartphones have recently cut into Apple’s lead in the mobile market, this means a lot of mobile users won’t have access to iTunes Radio, where they will have access to Pandora, Spotify and other services. Apple may be betting that iTunes Radio will be an incentive to sell more iPhones, but for reasons I’ll explain momentarily, I doubt this service is incentive enough to get people to switch.
Which brings us to the other disadvantage: the fact is, iTunes Radio doesn’t offer much of anything that is unique. The whole evolving playlist thing—the other guys have been doing that for years. Millions of songs available? The other guys have that, too. Perhaps it’s an added bonus that if you’re listening to a song you like, it’s easy to purchase and download if you’re already in iTunes when you’re listening to it—but that’s more of an advantage from the industry side than for the average consumer who is more likely to enjoy the song on iTunes Radio than actually buy the song from iTunes.
So…does the intrusion of iTunes Radio into the marketplace spell the doom of Pandora and their kind? Not likely. They might feel the pinch for a little while, but as streaming services continue to increase in popularity, my gut feeling is that the market will simply make room for another competitor.