Lost in new iPhone news today was the announcement that Apple’s answer to Pandora will be available when its new operating system is out for mobile devices.
Streaming music — a rare corner of growth for the otherwise beleaguered music industry — is already a field crowded by the likes of Pandora, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Rdio, Google Music All Access, et al., but Apple’s base of at least 575 million iTunes customers worldwide makes up for missing out on first-mover advantage.
Pandora, by comparison, is the current king on streaming radio with about 72 million active users as of last month, and it surpassed 200 million registered users earlier this year.
iTunes Radio is a free, ad-supported service for iPhones, iPod Touches, Apple TV and iTunes on Macs and PCs, with 200 stations built by Apple’s music team to adapt to a user’s listening history. Apple has said subscribers of its cloud-based music library product, iTunes Match, could access an ad-free version. Cloud Match costs $24.99 a year.
With Apple striking direct deals with the three major music labels to kickstart iTunes Radio, the service holds the promise of a greater degree of user control over what is played. Pandora, the biggest online streaming music service, operates under a blanket Internet radio licensing system that saves it from the work of sealing deals with labels but limits how often users can skip songs or select precisely which song they want to hear. Apple isn’t bound by such strictures, and developer versions of iTunes Radio indicated users would be able to adjust how much playtime is given to recognizable hits versus discovery of lesser-known tracks.