iTunes Radio is a new service by Apple that allows you to play any song in the iTunes library, even if you don't own it. Those in the US have had iTunes Radio for a while now, but we're still wondering when iTunes Radio will launch in the UK. It didn't arrive in the UK with iOS 7.1, but for those in the US and in Australia, the service got a bit of a tweak with the update, with a new search field and the ability to buy albums with the tap of a button.

In addition to the update, the launch of iTunes Radio in Australia on 10 February is a good sign for those of us still waiting for the service. It's the first time the service has been expanded beyond the US, and we expect this means Apple is working hard behind the scenes to take the service to additional countries.

However, there have been some recent rumours that suggest Apple is working on a complete overhaul of its iTunes Music Store, which could include the introduction of a standalone iTunes Radio app, so we could be in for a longer wait while Apple makes changes to the service.

Read on to find out more about iTunes Radio and when you can expect to see it arrive in the UK.

iTunes Radio UK launch

Has Apple said when iTunes Radio will come out in the UK?

Apple itself has neither confirmed nor denied the imminent launch of iTunes Radio, although we are expecting it in the first half of this year. What is interesting is that iTunes Radio doesn’t require a software update to work in the UK, it seems to be that Apple can turn it on at any time.

We believe that Apple is still negotiating the rights for iTunes Radio with the music industry in the UK.

How does iTunes Radio work?

iTunes Radio enables you to create a radio station using tracks from the iTunes Store. You simply enter a song or artist name into iTunes Radio and it starts playing, it then plays songs related to that Song.

So in some ways iTunes Radio is a bit like iTunes Genius, only instead of being limited to songs in your library you can play any track from the iTunes Store.

It’s a great idea and best of all iTunes Radio is completely free. Apple plans to occasionally place ads between tracks, just like a commercial radio station. However, if you purchase iTunes Match (£21.99 per year) then you can use iTunes Radio ad-free.

The problem is that iTunes Radio is only available to customers in the US and Australia at the moment, leaving those of us in the UK out in the cold. This is a shame although it’s not surprising. As a general rule we tend to see staggered launches for new music and movie services around the globe, so Spotify took a while to get to the US, and the iTunes Store took over a year to move from the US to the UK (it only opened in Hong Kong last year).

What apps are like iTunes Radio?

If you can’t wait to create a custom radio station like the ones in iTunes Radio there are other similar apps available. One of the biggest radio services is Rdio, which enables you to listen to custom radio stations. Although it costs £9.99 per month for an account.

TuneIn Radio is a free ad-supported app that works more like regular radio, but enables you to listen to internet-based stations. Meanwhile the BBC iPlayer Radio is a good app for catching up on BBC radio shows. Probably the closest competitor to iTunes Radio is Spotify, which enables you to create a playlist of tracks from a song (just like iCloud). Spotify no longer requires a premium subscription to play on the iPhone, although if you use the free service you have a more limited selection of songs. Another app worth checking out is MB by MixerBox. This enables you to create playlists of tracks from YouTube music.

Current estimates still suggest that iTunes Radio will be out this year. Bloomberg claims to have talked to people “in the know” and that iTunes Radio will launch in early 2014 in Canada, the UK and other European countries, though we'd say we're nearly out of the 'early 2014' timeframe already.

Spotify Radio

Why is iTunes Radio taking so long to come to the UK?

This isn’t because Apple is tardy, or because of technical challenges. But it’s more to do with licensing deals, these are generally negotiated with the major record labels and Apple has to negotiate with each label for each continent and country. Apple typically starts with the US because it is a US company and that’s where its primary market is. The UK, along with Germany and France typically come shortly afterwards.

The iTunes Store launched in April 28, 2003 in the US and June 15, 2004 in the United Kingdom. So that took just over a year to negotiate. iTunes Radio launched in the US in September this year, so we’d expect it to launch in the UK before the end of 2014.

There are already services available that perform similar function to iTunes Radio in the US and the UK, as mentioned above. While these are popular services, the integration of iTunes Radio directly into iTunes on the Mac, and especially into the Music app on the iPhone and iPad, must surely be compelling to the music industry. After all, Apple is the leading music store and iTunes Radio aims to encourage people to purchase music that they’re listening to.

Apple has a pretty good, if somewhat fractious, relationship with the music industry so we think they’ll be able to bring iTunes Radio to the UK pretty quickly.

That said, rumour has it that Apple might be planning a complete overhaul of its iTunes Music Store following significant declines in digital music sales. There are even rumours that the company will launch iTunes Radio as a standalone app, which will also be available on Android. This might sound crazy, but back in 2003 Apple decided against the odds to introduce iTunes for Windows, so it's not completely outside the realms of possibility.

According to a Billboard report, Apple executives had hoped to see a boost in song sales after launching iTunes Radio in the US, but so far only 1-2 per cent of listeners are making purchases.

iTunes Radio's success has been described as "underwhelming," according to the report, so it's possible that Apple will wait until the service has seen significant updates before releasing it to additional countries. 

However iTunes Radio is allegedly already bigger than Spotify.