Opening the music app on an iOS 7 device, I was greeted by iTunes Radio asking if I was ready to try it out. As someone who listens to a lot of music and primarily uses streaming music services, radio has lost its appeal, but my initial intrigue gave way to some overwhelmingly positive first impressions.
[Editor's Note: You'll need to download and install the iOS 7 beta to try this at home.]
Pushing buttons and navigating through the radio section of the former "iPod" app, everything isn't just smooth and responsive, it’s also pleasant to use. While this is partly due to iOS 7's redesigned music player, everything about Radio is intuitive from the layout of featured stations to digging into a current song and seeing what other music the band has to offer. The design and goal is clearly focused on listeners purchasing music—but even so, iTunes Radio feels like the first truly modern take on what terrestrial radio wishes it could be. Radio was always meant to be a promotion tool, a way to sell more music, but without being built directly on top of the world's biggest music retailer, it was always too distant from the marketplace to be more effectual. Now a "buy" button lives next to every song, or a wish list one for those hesitant, and it feels like this is how modern radio should function.
Clicking on the featured "Artists On Tour" station provided a good selection of songs you'd expect to hear on any Alt/Rock station in any city. Starting with Capital Cities mega hit "Safe And Sound" followed by the likes of The Killers, Tegan and Sara, Fun., and Paramore, the results didn't leave me shocked or disappointed. One of the most interesting featured stations you’ll currently find in Radio is "Trending on Twitter." The station is exactly the type of thing you'd hope for and expect from Twitter's recent leveraging of music on their platform with Twitter #music. Starting with Gold Fields, moving to Elephant Stone, the station provides a random and wild collection of songs users somewhere are currently talking about.
You can start a new station with pretty much any song or band, however, starting stations with smaller bands like Paper Route or Kodaline provided songs that were a stretch, but not beyond belief. This is the same thing you run into with Pandora or any other radio service—variety suffers when the bands aren't well known.
Some of the more interesting aspects of Apple’s Radio service include the History list, which showed more than a few dozen songs back to when I first started listening (as seen above). The ability to look back, click on a song to hear a clip, and then buy it is the service's crown feature. If you’re currently listening to a station and click on a song in the history, it pauses the music, plays the clip, and then fades back to the stream when the clip is done. Exactly what you’d hope for and expect. Though I wouldn't call them lacking features, the ability to scroll forward in a song is sorely missed, as well as the ability to go back to a previous song. It's doubtful the future versions will be including those features, as licensing restrictions will likely keep them away.
After using and putting the service through some tests, my hopes for it are simple. Rather than running into another Ping situation where Apple tried to artificially create social around music, Radio has the potential to organically provide a water cooler with which sharing and social will naturally occur. As is, I found myself wanting a way to see what others people are listening to, and a way to share my own current tracks. This is Apple's chance to slowly build in social features that make sense. Maybe radio ain’t dead after all.
Tyler Hayes contributes to Hypebot.com and does interviews for NoiseTrade's blog. He often writes about music and the impact of tech is having on that industry, which can be often be found on his personal blog, Liisten.com. Tyler also runs the site Next Big Thing which ranks user submitted links for an interesting hub of music related content.
[Image: Flickr user Sergio Enciso]