Apple turns on iTunes Radio

Launches free ad-supported music streaming service with upgrades to iTunes, iOS

Apple today launched iTunes Radio, the company's first foray into streaming music, as it upgraded iTunes to version 11.1 and its mobile operating system to iOS 7.

The Cupertino, Calif. consumer electronics giant unveiled iTunes Radio in June at its annual developers conference, where CEO Tim Cook and other executives highlighted the visual overhaul of iOS 7 and trumpeted a handful of new features, including iTunes Radio.

With the delivery of iOS 7 and iTunes 11.1 today, Apple made good on its promises.

The free ad-supported service can be played on Macs and Windows PCs through iTunes 11.1, while iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches running iOS 7 access it from the Music App. Customers who fork over $25 annually for iTunes Match -- the service that launched in 2011 which stores tracks purchased via iTunes or ripped from CDs in iCloud, then makes the library available on all of a user's iOS, OS X and Windows devices -- have an ad-free experience.

iTunes Radio is most like Pandora in that it offers pre-set and customized "stations" based on artists and genres. Computerworld tried the pre-set "Southern Rock Radio" station, among others. Apple said iTunes Radio launched with 250 ready-to-play stations.

Users can tweak existing stations by including or excluding artists or songs that have played, or move a slider that ranges from hits to discovery. All customers can skip an unlimited number of tracks when a disagreeable tune begins playing.

A prominent buy button next to each tune is intended to lure users into purchasing tracks at the regular iTunes rates.

When Apple unveiled iTunes Radio in June, analysts pointed to the purchase option as the sign of the company's business model. " "It's not about competing with Pandora, but about getting people to spend more money on iTunes," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi at the time.

Apple wrapped up negotiations with music labels just days before the June introduction of iTunes Radio, but only after agreeing to pay a higher percentage of advertising revenue than it had originally offered.

iTunes 11.1 can be downloaded for OS X and Windows from Apple's website. iOS 7 can be downloaded over the air from iPhones, iPads, iPad Minis and iPod Touches, or through iTunes. From an iPhone, for instance, users must tap the "Settings" icon, then the "General" button on the resulting screen. Tapping "Software Update" will kick off the update process.

iTunes Radio
iTunes Radio plays through iTunes 11.1 (shown here) or the Music app in iOS 7. Users can tweak a pre-set 'station' with the tools on the left side of the panel.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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