There has been a lot of speculation about iTunes Radio since word first broke last year that Apple had started discussions with record labels. Although opinions won’t come until people get actual hands-on experience with the product on Tuesday — the expected launch date — we know of numerous features thanks to an iTunes Radio page at Apple.com and a leaked licensing contract.
The short version: iTunes Radio appears to be an attractive, well-designed service with all the features one would expect from an Internet radio service. The integration with iTunes Match, Apple’s cloud-based music storage service, gives iTunes Radio an added dimension competitors cannot match.
Below is the long version of what to expect from iTunes Radio and how certain features compare to those of its competitors.
— iTunes Radio will initially be available only in the United States. Countries in Western Europe are expected to follow. There is certainly potential for a much wider release. After all, iTunes Music Store is available in 119 countries. However, advertising is central to iTunes Radio’s business model and will prevent Apple from simply rolling out the radio service wherever Apple sells music Apple has been lining up advertisers for a September launch in the United States, according to sources familiar with its plans. These advertisers include blue chip sponsors, such as McDonald’s, Nissan, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble. Sources confirm that Apple plans to run around one advert every 15 minutes-much less than traditional radio, but seen as a good way to boost the new service’s popularity.
— iTunes Radio can be accessed via a “radio” tab in the iTunes mobile app and desktop client. It will also be available via Apple TV. Judging from images online, it appears the iOS 7 version of iTunes will have five sections: Radio, Genius, Playlists, Artists and the catch-all “More” category.
— The top of the iOS app will have featured stations. One online image shows three featured stations: “If You Like Bruce Springsteen…,” “Country Summer Songs” and “Trending on Twitter.”
— It will have “more than 200 genre-focused stations.” It will also have branded stations paid for by sponsors, according to one report , although it’s unknown if such branded stations will be offered at launch.
— iTunes Radio will learn about the listener and become more personalized over time. This is a basic feature to Internet radio found in iTunes Radio’s competitors. Unlike Pandora, however, iTunes Radio will not have thumbs for voting up or down. Instead, the service has a “star” icon that appears to function similar to a “thumb up” on Pandora.
— Listener feedback on iTunes Radio is similar to that on Pandora and other services. iTunes Radio will allow listeners to provide feedback by selecting “Play More Like This” and “Never Play This Song.”
— One feature not found in Pandora is fine-tuning the amount of discovery on a particular station. iTunes Radio will allow a listener to choose between “Top Hits,” “Discovery” and a mix of the two using a horizontal slider. The slider approach is similar to the way Slacker and SiriusXM allow for fine-tuning of discovery.
— Apple allows for voice commands via Siri. A listener can tell Siri to “Play more like this” or ask “Who sings this?”
— iTunes Radio will have exclusive tracks by both established and up-and-coming bands. As we know from the publicly available iTunes contract found online, promotional plays will integral to iTunes Radio. Apple is allowed to stream up to two non-royalty-bearing performances per listener hour. One type of royalty-free performance is called a “Heat-Seeker Play,” a performance that stems from iTunes’s “editorial discretion for special promotion,” according to the contract.
— A “Wish List” feature will make buying tracks easier. iTunes Radio will also let listeners view songs they’ve heard on various channels.
— iTunes Match plays an important role with iTunes Radio. The iTunes Match cloud service will store songs purchased from iTunes Radio along with the rest of a listener’s music collection. But the biggest part of iTunes Match is it will provide subscribers — $24.99 a year — an ad-free version of iTunes Radio. Competitors can’t match that deal. Pandora One, the ad-free version of Pandora, costs $36 a year and doesn’t provide seamless integration with a cloud-based service like iTunes Match.