iTunes Radio may be late to the party, but it's still better than Pandora when it comes to streaming programmed radio on iOS. Like its competitor, iTunes Radio lets you create personalized stations based on one or more artists, songs, or genres of your choice, which makes it an attractive alternative to your personal iTunes library and a nice vehicle for discovering new music. Beyond that, though, it offers seamless purchases through iTunes, a curated selection of Featured Stations, and a music library that easily dwarfs Pandora's.
If you're already using the built-in Music app as your mobile media player of choice, then jumping onto the built-in iTunes Radio (new in iOS 7) is almost a no-brainer. And if you're using something else at the moment, you still might want to consider the switch. For a first attempt at a streaming-radio product, iTunes Radio definitely deserves kudos. It is worth mentioning, though, that as of now, it's only available in the US.
Content and controls
One thing that clearly sets iTunes Radio apart from competitor Pandora is its Featured Stations. These blend the personal touch of a curated list with the scale and smarts of an underlying algorithm. So far, I've found Apple's Featured offerings to be exceptional, as they range from simpler stations themed around popular genres to more nuanced mixes that combine the styles of a handful of hot artists. There are even stations dedicated to live events and music that's currently trending on Twitter. Altogether, I find Apple's Featured Stations to be more interesting and relevant than those of other services offering hand-picked streams.
Because Apple was able to strike deals with all the major record labels, iTunes Radio already has a sizable music catalog that audiophiles should find attractive. In fact, as of today, Apple's radio service has approximately 27 million tracks in its library, while Pandora has a comparatively miniscule 1 million tracks. Of course, the folks at Pandora might argue that their library carries only the songs people want to hear, but I actually think it's nice to know that Apple's offering caters to niche listeners as well.
The Now Playing screen is where most of the magic happens. It's got a big piece of album art front and center, with all of the basic playback controls nicely laid out along the bottom. If you're driving or otherwise unable to use these onscreen controls, you can also call on Siri to do things like pause and play a track. Conveniently, you can even ask Siri to give you a song title or skip a song. And in case you're wondering, just like its competitors, iTunes Radio allows you up to six skips per hour, per station.
One thing I love about iTunes Radio is its minimally intrusive ads. Every so often between songs, it will give you an audio ad accompanied by an image in the album art box. Meanwhile, Pandora seems to bombard you with not only audio ads, but also pop-ups and full-screen interstitials that all inevitably get annoying. Of course, you can upgrade to an ad-free experience on either service (via iTunes Match and Pandora One), but for those who don't want to shell out the cash, iTunes Radio will undoubtedly offer a less intrusive experience.