Apple's iTunes Radio -- free streaming radio stations that can learn from your existing iTunes music purchasing habits -- launched in Australia earlier this week. It's a clever idea, but despite Apple's reputation for obsessing over detail, there are some rough edges which could be smoothed off to make iTunes Radio a more pleasant experience.
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These are the issues that have struck me while playing with iTunes Radio since its launch. None of them makes the service unusable, but some of them would be fairly easy to fix.
1. You Have To Use iTunes On The Desktop
On Windows particularly, iTunes is a bloated, slow and painful piece of software. I don't want that running in the background just so I can get my streaming audio fix. A single-purpose app would be more useful.
Likelihood Apple will fix this: Under 10 per cent. iTunes is fairly central to how Apple runs media services, and the company wants you to have the option of clicking on songs you hear and buying them (ka-ching). That said, on iOS Music and the iTunes Store are separate apps. And Apple does have a separate Podcasts app, so the notion of breaking stuff out of iTunes isn't completely foreign.
2. Customisation Is Too Fiddly
iTunes Radio is meant to learn from what you like, but telling it what you like isn't a smooth experience. There are actually two separate locations where you can indicate your preferences: the big star on the player control (which makes sense), and the small 'i' information button (which makes less sense). The former lets you save favourites, say you don't like the song or that you want to hear more songs like it. The latter allows you to specify whether you want 'hits', 'variety' or 'discovery' as the driver for additional tracks being played.
More annoyingly, these functions work completely differently depending on whether you're listening to an Apple-curated station or a self-generated station based on a particular artist or genre. With curated stations, your only option is to add songs you like to an iTunes wishlist. The options to 'play more like this' or 'never play this song' aren't available.
To access these options, you need to select 'New station from song' option under the 'i' button -- and you're not going to do that with a song you don't like, are you?
Bottom line: Placing all the customisation options under the star (and not showing the ones you can't access, rather than greying them out on iOS) would make for a much smoother experience.
Likelihood Apple will fix this: 30 per cent. Interface tweaks aren't unknown in native iOS apps. Whether Apple cares will depend on whether people are listening mostly to curated stations or personal stations.
3. Lazy Curation
One of the first curated stations I checked out was '1984', playing, as you might expect, songs that were hits in that year. (Apple changes curated stations regularly, so I expect next week we'll have '2001' on offer.)
The lists for these stations are assembled by hands, but the curators have missed an obvious trick. When displaying album art, it almost invariably shows a greatest hits compilation, not the album the track actually comes from. This is lazy research and also poor business. The nostalgia kick is going to be a lot more profound if you see the cover of an album you owned back in the day rather than a cash-in compilation with generic artwork.
Likelihood Apple will fix this: 10 per cent. Search on iTunes is generally really poor, so it might seem like too much effort to actually locate the correct albums.
4. Shameless Self-Promotion
So I'm already running iTunes Radio on an iPad, and I dive into the iTunes Store to check something. The very first thing that happens is a pop-up appears suggesting I check out iTunes Radio. How hard would it be to not pop that message up given I'm already running it?
Likelihood Apple will fix this: 2 per cent. Promotional needs generally win out over user convenience.
5. No Support For Android
Spotify's streaming music rivals -- Pandora, Spotify, Rdio and so on -- offer clients for both iOS and Android (and often for Windows Phone and BlackBerry as well). If you want iTunes radio on a portable device, that device has to be manufactured by Apple. Not everyone wants to be that locked in, even if they regularly use iTunes on their desktop.
Likelihood Apple will fix this: Big fat zero.
How have you found iTunes Radio? Which features do you like, and which ones would you like improved? Tell us in the comments.
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