If persistent rumors are true, Apple will announce a streaming music service next week called iRadio. Apple has a reputation for making a splash with new products, and everyone’s waiting to be wowed with iRadio. But in a crowded streaming-music scene, what can Apple offer that the others don't?
Over the past few years, streaming-music services have proliferated. Options like Pandora, Slacker and Songza focus on creating personalized "stations," which generate a playlist of songs related to an artist, song or mood. Others — like Spotify, Rdio and Google Play Music All Access — are mainly on-demand, meaning you pick the specific song you'd like to hear (though they offer radio functions, too).
With so many choices, it's hard to see what new thing Apple can bring to the party. Russ Crupnick, an analyst with research firm NPD, said that most serious music fans have already found their preferred tools for listening to and discovering digital music. [See also: New Apps Make Finding Music Easier ]
That means Apple is likely to target the casual listener with its service — people who like to press play and let the service take care of the rest — just as a radio station does, Crupnick said.
Given that expectation, iRadio will likely be more like Pandora than Spotify, but with millions more songs than Pandora can offer, thanks to all the deals Apple has made through iTunes over the years. And even within the streaming personalized radio genre, there's still room for improvement.
Apple's biggest advantage could be in iOS. If Apple's new music service takes advantage of the tools in its devices and mobile operating system, iRadio could be the service everyone wants.
Here are some prime areas where Apple could improve the digital-music experience:
iTunes improvement: Apple will likely bake iRadio into its iTunes software, which means that hundreds of millions of people will have access to it after updating their software. Because it will live beside your existing music collection, it couldn’t be easier to make iRadio a part of your listening habits.
iTunes Match upgrade: While Apple may offer a free version of iRadio with ads to support it, the company could make an ad-free version part of its paid iTunes Match service, which serves as a digital locker for your own music collection. At $25 a year, it would be one of the cheaper music subscriptions.
Better recommendations: iTunes already knows the music you like, based on the tracks you've bought or loaded on your iOS device. It shouldn't be a stretch, then, for iRadio to customize your stations without additional input from you.
Siri integration: Mobile music apps on iOS require a lot of touching and typing. If Apple integrates iRadio with Siri, its virtual assistant, you could largely control the app by voice (very handy in the car).
Location settings: Some apps already adjust the music selection based on the time of day. But Apple could take context-based music further by also using location-based functions of iOS to cue up different stations based on where you are. When you get in the car, and it could start playing some classic rock through the car stereo using Bluetooth. When you’re at your desk, it could switch to classical.
No matter which features iRadio includes, you can count on it being a major contender for your ears.
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