iTunes Radio is too little, too late

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While Apple pretty much delivered on everything else I was hoping for at its WWDC 2013 keynote, last night, there was one thing that left me cold: iTunes Radio.

Among the excitement of a bloody beautiful new iOS 7 interface, a slight update to Mac OS X (with a new name I’m not quite decided on; Mavericks is a strip club in Cape Town), the new Airs with amazing battery life, and the jaw-dropping new Mac Pro, sat this horrible wart of an announcement. Apple didn’t even see fit to give iTunes Radio its own little bit of time on stage: instead, it was lumped with the announcement of a new Music app for iOS 7. That’s right, iTunes Radio, you’re so shameful you’re being shown as a sub-feature of a feature, of a new app for an operating system iteration.

Despite that, Apple has a new page explaining how its music discovery tool will work. Nowhere there does it mention that all this has been done already. Apple’s too proud to admit that. But let me lay it bare: iTunes Radio has already been done. In fact, it’s been around for 10 years. Americans know it as Pandora. The rest of the world also knew it as Pandora, until archaic record company rules restricted the music discovery service to the North American continent, like iTunes Radio will be when it first hits the internet airwaves.

Ironically, iTunes Radio exists at all for the same reasons that reeled in Pandora’s reach: the record companies. Those gluttons of copyright have resisted Apple’s advances since talk of an iTunes-powered streaming service was first bandied about. Granted, Apple did try and use its dominance as the biggest music store in the world to try and force lower prices for a streaming service. While Apple and the recording industry were hammering out the specifics – the kind that would maximise income and restrict users – the rest of the world was enjoying progress.

Spotify, the most prominent streaming service, has been around since 2008. It offers unlimited music streaming for $10 a month. While its free, for a limited number of hours per month, the Premium subscription gives you the ability to store music offline, listen to music on your mobile device (and store it there), enjoy ad-free radio stations, and listen to as much music as you want. In its wake follow other services with similar functionality: Deezer, Simfy, Rara, and more. Each of them will take your monthly subscription and let you listen to albums and singles on demand. If I felt like playing the new Beady Eye, Daft Punk, or Nine Inch Nails on repeat for three weeks, I could do just that with those services, and it’ll cost me R80 a month (the going rate for a Deezer subscription; Spotify isn’t available in South Africa). Sure, I don’t own the music – as soon as I stop paying my subscription I will no longer be able to enjoy the songs that are stored offline.

The point stands, though. There’s a service available to me, in my country. I can pay it money. It delivers me the content I want. Sometimes I even like albums so much, I buy them. This is something the record companies don’t get: people want to spend money, just give them a means. Instead, we’re stuck with hamstrung services that only play hits. And won’t be available to us because we were born somewhere else.

Apple’s iTunes Radio could  have been something better were it not for concerns about profits and copyright. But mostly profits. Instead, before its even launched, it’s now as outdated as the device it’s named after.

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Christo van Gemert

Christo van Gemert

Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.

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