iTunes Radio UK preview

Our iTunes Radio Preview looks at the available iTunes Radio service in the US, and reviews iTunes Radio prior  to the UK service we expect Apple to launch this year (Apple has said that it hopes to launch iTunes Radio in the UK early in 2014).

iTunes Radio is Apple’s music streaming service for iOS and Mac OS X devices. Currently, iTunes Radio is not available in the UK, we believe that Apple has yet to sort out some music licensing. However, iTunes Radio is available in the US, and if you have an iTunes Account from the US you can use it to access iTunes Radio from the UK.

Our iTunes Radio preview looks at the US iTunes Radio service, and what it will be like when Apple releases iTunes Radio in the UK.

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How does iTunes Radio work?

With iTunes Radio, you can pick a track, artist or genre to create a custom station. This customised iTunes Radio station then plays music tracks from the whole iTunes catalogue. iTunes Radio also has offers Featured Stations: these are DJ-curated, editorial or hybrid stations. The Featured Stations change on a regular basis, and many are time sensitive (such as the current Top 50 on iTunes).

iTunes Radio Mac OS X

How to access iTunes Radio on an iPhone (or iPad)

To start iTunes Radio on an iOS device you open the Music app. With the iTunes Radio update to iTunes in Mac OS X, or the Music app in iOS; a new Radio tab appears at the bottom of the screen. Tap this to view Featured Stations and New Station. During our test we could see the iTunes Weekly Top 50, Pure Pop and First Play stations in Featured.

To start playing music simply tap a Featured Station and it’ll play tracks from the iTunes Store. If you don’t like a track you can tap the Next icon, although you can only skip six tracks before the Next icon is faded out.

When the Station is playing you will see the Previous button in Music replaced by a Star icon. Tapping this enables you to add a track to an iTunes wish list, or options for Play More Like This and Never Play This Song. You also get a direct link to purchase the track from iTunes in the top-right.

iTunes Radio My Stations

Creating your own Stations in iTunes Radio

The Featured Stations are a great alternative to traditional radio. iTunes Radio becomes more personal when you click New Station. You can then enter the name of an Artist, Genre or Song, and it will appear in your My Stations area. Tap it to start playing that radio station.

There is also a comprehensive list of genres, each leading to sub-genres. Tap Metal to get Black Metal, Death Metal, Grindcore and other types, for example.

Using iTunes Radio in Mac OS X

iTunes Radio is also found within the iTunes app on Mac OS X. A new Radio tab appears in the Music area of iTunes (to the left of Songs) and you can create your own Stations (as well as access the Featured Stations). The My Stations section is synced between iOS and Mac OS X so you can take any radio stations you've created with you.

Fine-tuning My Stations in iTunes Radio

You can fine-tune the My Stations in iTunes Radio by clicking the Details (‘i’) icon in iOS (or by clicking on the album cover of the station in My Stations. A slider lets you move between Hits, Variety and Discover for each Station. You also have an option here for Allow Explicit Tracks (set to Off by default) and you can Share Stations using AirDrop, Messages or other services.

What is the advertising like in iTunes Radio?

Every so often iTunes throws up a radio advert (we didn’t find any particular pattern related to time or tracks, but it wasn’t intrusive: a very short advert every four or five songs). You can’t skip the adverts in iTunes Radio but if you have a paid-for iTunes Match account you get an ad-free version.

There’s a range of different adverts, and many look just like music tracks (until they start talking). We didn’t find the adverts particularly intrusive, and they’re certainly better than the adverts for local shops and services that you find on most non-BBC radio stations. However, it’s worth noting that Apple intends to provide more local adverts with iTunes Radio so this may change over time.

iTunes Radio adverts

An iTunes Radio track playing (left) and iTunes Radio advert (right).

What is iTunes Radio UK going to be like?

From the amount of time that it’s taking Apple to bring iTunes Radio to the UK we suspect that there are issues over the licensing of music.

The library size for iTunes Radio in the US is unknown, although we found little problem setting up tracks for older or more leftfield bands like Falco, Slade or Bentley Rhythm Ace.

Whether all of these tracks will make it over to the UK is unknown, although with Spotify offering 20 million tracks on its rival radio service we imagine Apple will want a complete music offering of its own. Much of the curated music is slightly Americanised, especially the latest charts (which remain startlingly different between the US and UK) and there is a focus on country music that we might not get in the UK. We expect the curated music to be more UK-focussed when it arrives in the UK.

OUR VERDICT

We like iTunes Radio, but it’s still a shame that we haven’t got an official iTunes Radio UK version to review. Still, the iTunes Radio from the US gives us enough of an idea as to what service we can look forward to when Apple sorts out the licensing issues. Being able to mix up any track from the iTunes Store is fantastic, but it's the curated channels that make iTunes Radio a great alternative to rival services.

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