Why iTunes Radio Is Disappointing [Opinion]

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With last week’s iOS 7 launch, Apple also released iTunes Radio, its long-awaited internet radio service that’s available for free on all iOS devices and iTunes on the desktop. While iTunes Radio was thought to be a Spotify-killer before Apple’s Eddy Cue unveiled it at WWDC in June, how it works is more similar to Pandora. You listen to stations based on artists or genres you like, and more importantly to Apple, you can quickly buy played songs through iTunes.

I’ve had access to iTunes Radio all summer through the iOS 7 beta, and I maybe used it for a total of 10 minutes. Since everyone got access last week, I’ve tried using it more to see how well it works post beta. My experience was largely one of frustration. It’s obvious that iTunes Radio still has a lot of growing up to do.

In case you haven’t tried it yet, iTunes Radio is nestled in the iOS 7 Music app and in the iTunes section of the same name. Apple is good at making straightforward, easy-to-understand user interfaces, and iTunes Radio is no exception. No qualms there. It looks really good… most of the time.

Actually using the darn thing is a different story entirely.

iTunes Radio is free, but ads are played every few tracks. If you have a $25/year iTunes Match subscription (a chance to finally put that thing to use, right?), there are supposed to be no ads. I say “supposed” because I had to re-enter my iTunes Match information multiple times into my iPhone’s Settings app to make the ads actually go away. And even when they did, Apple still told me what station I was listening to over and over. I know I’m listening to the “Pure Pop” station, Apple. You don’t need to play a 9-second clip in between songs telling me so. What purpose does that serve the listener when they already know what station they chose?

Certain tracks are being promoted over others in iTunes Radio, and I’m not sure if it’s a sponsorship thing or just an attempt at more curation on Apple’s end. When Katy Perry’s new “Dark Horse” single (which isn’t that good, by the way) came on for the first time, a 3-second chime played telling me that it was an official iTunes Radio “pick.” Okay. Why not just put that information in text form next to the album artwork? Do I really need my listening experience interrupted with that audio blurb?

It’s incredibly buggy and unpredictable

If I’m being told that I’m getting a premium experience for paying with iTunes Match, then I expect to hear no ads or radio-like segues between tracks. I’ve been a Spotify Premium subscriber for over a year now, and I love it because it I hear nothing but the music I want playing. Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora are also reliable, which brings me to the biggest problem I’ve had with iTunes Radio.

It’s incredibly buggy and unpredictable.

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There have been multiple times when I tried to open iTunes Radio and it just didn’t work at all. Then sometimes album artwork doesn’t load. You’re supposed to be able to star tracks to play more similar stuff, but that and the “never play this song” option hardly ever work for me.

When I play a station in Pandora, I have faith that it is going to play without problems. That hasn’t been the case with iTunes Radio.

Uuuhh...

Uuuhh…

Apple still hasn’t been able to quite figure out cloud services

And if I’m paying for this with iTunes Match, why am I limited to a only 8 skips per station? Apple should let people skip as much as they want so more music is played and, by extension, bought. I can’t scrub through a track, which is also annoying. Apple has basically modernized the traditional concept of radio, but services like Spotify and Rdio are already catering to what people want when listening to music: complete control. iTunes Radio offers hardly any, and the only advantage it has over Pandora is iOS-level integration.

It also highlights how Apple still hasn’t been able to quite figure out cloud services. If you subscribe to iTunes Match, you won’t get ads in iTunes Radio, which is a good thing. The problem is that iTunes Radio can’t recognize that your Apple ID has a Match subscription tied to it; you have to manually log into iTunes Match in Settings on the device you’re using to play iTunes Radio.

That’s not a big deal by itself, but when I enable iTunes Match on my iPhone, then iTunes on the desktop won’t let me manually manage songs from my Mac, which I like to do. So I’m forced between choosing to sync my music the way I want or not having ads in iTunes Radio. That’s a ridiculous decision to have to make.

I don’t think iTunes Radio is all bad. Some of the stations I’ve tried are actually pretty good in terms of music selection. But it’s buggy, unreliable, and the most recent example of Apple’s struggle to make a software service that works as well as its hardware.

  • bdkennedy

    Same here. I listened to 4 songs and was like, meh and went back to my satellite radio.

  • intrepidrj

    I have had none of this issues you’ve described. Not questioning that you actually had them, but for me personally it’s worked flawlessly. Loads up right away everytime. Never had to put in my itunes match password and have never heard anything but music on any of the stations I was on.

  • MarkStruczewski

    Personally, I love iTunes Radio. So much so that I cancelled my Pandora One account. I hate ads so I subscribed to iTunes Match. I have created a station and have heard no ads since launching iTunes Radio last Wednesday. I believe that Pandora is issuing a lot of refunds because of iTunes Radio. Is it perfect? No. But it is better than Pandora One. But, to each his own…

  • Gavin Blur

    ITunes Radio was FANTASTIC – Pandora just played songs over and over and over and this new iTunes service works GREAT – has worked seamless on the ipad and iphone and my computer without a flaw – you do have to have one shut down before you open it on another device but thats okay with me! I love it so far and as it learns what I like and don’t like its getting better all the time!

  • Floyd Style

    waiting impatiently on the service to be released in Canada

  • NinerNikki

    I have to agree, stopped using Pandora (as much) but still use Spotify to hear that specific song I want to hear now. I was hoping this would be a Spotify killer but it’s just not looking that way.

  • jjones

    Why is no one mentioning the biggest issue with Itunes Radio?! YOU CAN’T SHUFFLE STATIONS! Right? Who wants to listen to the same genre all of the time. Pandora allows you to shuffle stations.

  • Timothy Williamson

    It’s strange because I haven’t run into any of those problems either.

    Additionally, I’m getting an ad-free experience on my iPhone, but I don’t subscribe to iTunes Match.

  • Atienne

    I agree with ONE thing you said. That Katy Perry Song Sucks!

  • thomsonr

    To Floyd Style: This can be done in Canada, just do a search. Basically an iTunes a account registered as being US. Kinda a nuisance though having to switch iTunes accounts to listen.

  • Adrayven

    I’ve hot heard any of the issues you’ve had. I have match, no blips, nothing. no ads.. been fairly good so far actually. Except for the occasional repeat issue where it would repeat the something 2 or 3 times. Otherwise smooth.

  • Gregory Wright

    Well, the station is new….give it a little time.

  • MrJulioManuel

    With my iOS 7 update, iTunes Radio has worked flawlessly. I honestly have not encountered ANY of the issues you mentioned. I think you inherited some bugs from your Beta days.

  • rubiconreader

    Yep. It’s OK, but far from great. With all the music they have access too it drives me crazy that the same song plays within a two hour period. It’ll get better but for now it’s just OK.

  • ElSaborAsiatico

    I hate it when I complain about a bug and everyone says “What bug? It’s working great for me!” But yeah, Radio has been working flawlessly for me for the most part. The only time I had any kind of issues was the first weekend when it had trouble connecting — I’m assuming it was because of millions of people trying to use Radio on their mobile and desktop devices simultaneously.

    I’ve used music streaming apps, but for some reason iTunes Radio has caught on with me while the others haven’t. I think a major part of it is the fact that it’s bundled into the Music app, so it’s just more convenient. The interface is simple and easy to navigate. The song selections and genres are terrific. I’m not crazy about the limit on song-skipping, but I believe that’s a licensing issue and not really Apple’s fault (I don’t know of any similar service that doesn’t limit skipping). It’s too bad though that there isn’t some way to exempt songs that you actually own (or that are at least in your iTunes library).

  • jimmyzwheelz

    I don’t think it was ever implied by Apple that iRadio was going to be a “Spotify killer”! Their service is not a match to Spotify, and the reason I’ll continue to be a Spotify Premium member. Listen to any song/album you choose when you want, skip all you want, etc. I do see it as being a potential Pandora killer, however. I have enjoyed iRadio for it’s intended purpose and not noticed any of the bugs mentioned. I’m not a “match” user and have not been annoyed by the very few “ads”. Having the ability to purchase songs directly from the app is very convenient also!

  • chriscossen

    Okay I simply COULD NOT STOP MYSELF from commenting on this article – I love it when people write articles complaining about a “bug” that is actually an intentional thing, they just don’t understand it so it must be “bad” or “wrong”. In the article he says “You’re supposed to be able to star tracks to play more similar stuff, but that and the “never play this song” option hardly ever work for me.” – THIS FEATURE ONLY WORKS ON A STATION YOU’VE CREATED, under “My Stations”… it will NEVER work when you’re listening to a “Featured Station” because those stations were usually created by a guest DJ & have a specific playlist that CAN’T, by design, be edited and/or adjusted. The song he took a screenshot of as an example, “Right There ft Big Sean” is DIRECTLY from the “iTunes Pure Pop” Featured Station. Now, to be fair, Apple didn’t really make this that obvious, I simply encountered it with trial and error, however if I were going to post an article online with my name stamped alongside it, I’d be sure to do more thorough research than simply “it doesn’t work for me, must be a bug & it’s not working correctly” haha. I’ll be looking for more articles from this guy in the future to provide me with a good laugh

  • tide9

    iTunes Radio is disappointing me because the Apple poobahs decided I should not be able to install it on my iPod Touch 4.

  • everythingsteve

    A) Works great. B) No issues — dead simple and attractive UX, high sound quality, minimal latency, no problems with ads appearing — you do have to make sure iTunes Match is turned on…on your iOS devices. C) Select stations are a bit “immature,” but they’ll get better over time. D) They’re missing certain obvious genres, like ADULT ALTERNATIVE. This will get better over time. E) Reviewer’s tone is immature. Please don’t tell us what Apple SHOULD do. There’s this little thing called agreements with record companies that leads to limitations like # of song skips per hour.

  • DumazVizion

    Ok.. So I agree with some of this article but honestly. I am too a itunes match subscriber and I haven’t heard 1 ad in iTunes radio. There have been times where i’ve heard the same song 3 times and thats annoying. I have had issues opening iTunes radio at times. Overall I think iTunes radio is good but not great.. The song selection is still a little off. I added the jamiroquai station and I got all kinds of stuff that had no relation. I switched to pandora and the selection was perfect. So, over time i’m confident that iTunes radio will get better but right now it seems a bit rough.. overall i’m happy.

  • glennthughes

    I think it’s lame that you need to listen through iTunes. Why doesn’t Apple have a web interface to the service? I detest iTunes 11, because it broke some operations I perform all the time, and I like cover flow (Isn’t it odd we now have cover flow in other places, but not in the one place that is actually representing album covers. Why?) So, even though I’ve been feeling like checking out the service, I can’t. I guess its purpose is to try to drive iTunes music sales, so Apple doesn’t have any interest in putting it on the web.

  • SomeODatLogic

    Woah, woah, woah, now. That 9 second clip thing? I fucking love it, especially when I’m looking for a specific sound. That’s one of the features that make me use iTunes Radio more than any other radio service.

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a senior writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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