The days when the big players of the tech industry could prosper by specializing in just one business are long gone. Apple might have started as a computer company, but with the passage of time, it has grown into something much more universal. The iPhone revolutionized smartphone technology, and now it looks like the company is looking to reach out even further. iTunes Radio is not strictly a hardware or mobile venture, but it has the potential to beat Pandora and become the next big online radio service. Of course, there is stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft and Google in form of Xbox Music and Google Play Music All Access, but anyone who is already in the iOS fold is sure to prefer Apple’s offering. iTunes Radio doesn’t have many flaws to speak of, and its seamless integration with the iPhone makes the service close to perfect. It offers unlimited song skipping, custom radio stations, intelligent suggestions, and playback control via Siri.
For now, iTunes Radio is available only in the U.S., but Apple has promised to make the service international in the future. So, if you have a US-based iTunes account, launch the Music app and the ‘Radio’ tab should be there. To help newcomers, iTunes Radio displays a few ‘Featured’ stations, which consist of tracks and artists that are currently popular among the masses. To create a personalized station, hit the ‘+’ tile under the ‘My Stations’ section. It is possible to pick one of the suggested categories, and let Radio work from there, or directly use the search bar to find what you’re looking for. You can search for a particular song, artist or genre, and the service creates a whole new station based on that.
You can stream all the songs in iTunes Radio for free without any restrictions, but there are ads mixed in with the songs. iTunes Match users get a premium, ad-free experience though. In order to save a song for offline playback, you have to shell out $1.29 and purchase it from the iTunes Store as usual.
Once a station starts playing, you can skip any song you are not interested in by using the arrow icon. As is the case with most online radio services, you can’t forward or rewind songs, though there is a pause/play button. To help iTunes Radio understand your preferences, hit the star icon. Similarly, if the song is not to your taste, hit the ‘Never Play This Song’ option. For songs you like, there are the ‘Play More Like This’ and ‘Add to iTunes Wish List’ choices as well. These options are all accessible from the lock screen, or from within the Control Center.
To tinker with a station’s properties, tap the info icon above the album art. From here, it is possible to add a new station to your collection, based on the current track or artist. You can also choose whether you want to listen to explicit tracks or not. Under the ‘Tune This Station’ section, there are three choices. You can make iTunes Radio play only hit songs, tracks that might be new for you (Discovery), or the ‘Variety’ option that can mix things up a bit.
One of the great things about iTunes Radio is that you can control almost all its features via Siri commands. This includes starting playback, skipping tracks, or telling Siri about your likes and dislikes.
iTunes Radio might not be too different from some of its competitors for now (minus the Siri-integration), and once launched globally, the service could go really big.
Update: iTunes 11.1 for Windows and Mac with iOS 7 support and iTunes Radio is now available for download.
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For more info, read our hands-on post on the new features in iTunes 11.1.
This post is one part of a compilation. For info on other major new features and changes introduced in the latest iteration of Apple’s mobile OS, check out our complete iOS 7 guide.