Now that iTunes Radio has shipped to millions of iPhone and iPad owners, does that mean you should delete Pandora? Not so fast, I say.
Apple's new music service, which comes with new iPhones and the free iOS 7 update, lacks some of the mojo that has helped Pandora become the leader in Internet radio. Mainly, it doesn't have the intelligence that Pandora has gained from tens of billions of interactions with listeners who have given a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to a song.
Providing an Internet radio service -- in other words, making randomized playlists based on genres, songs or artists -- is more difficult than it seems. Over several days of playing with iTunes Radio, I found the app frequently misjudged my tastes, and I ran out of skips more than once. (You can skip a song only six times per station per hour, the same as Pandora).
It could be my own fault: iTunes Radio takes a big cue from your song collection in picking what to play, and what I do own is mostly a patchwork of gifts and other songs that don't reflect my preferences. That said, I found iTunes Radio's song selection more miss than hit.
For instance, when I created a custom station based on Adele, instead of hearing soaring, yet up-tempo tunes sung with a huge vocal range, I got a bunch of what I consider mushy rock ballads over and over. I love Bruno Mars, but I didn't want to hear "Talking to the Moon" in Adele Radio. And it ignored my tap to "never play this song" again, as it was repeated three songs later. ITunes Radio also played artists that, to me, bear little resemblance to Adele: Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson and Maroon 5.
With Adele Radio in Pandora, I got artists that I closely associate with Adele, including Kate Nash, Feist, Norah Jones and Regina Spektor. But then again, I had already given a "thumbs up" in previous Pandora sessions to three of the first seven songs that played, so the app knew that I liked them. That shows the time I've invested in Pandora deserves to not be wasted.
Meanwhile, Pandora lets you see song lyrics and the artist's biography. It also lists some of each song's hundreds of musical qualities, such as "acoustic sonority" and "major key tonality." That helps explain why Pandora considers it similar to other songs in a station. (continued...)
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