Samsung's answer to Apple's iTunes Radio: Milk Music

Samsung debuts Milk Music, a streaming radio service that's free to download and listen to, without ads -- but it's only available on Galaxy devices.

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Joan E. Solsman/CNET
Samsung is taking on Apple's iTunes Radio, as well as Pandora, Spotify, and a host of other companies in the competitive streaming music business, but it picked an innocuous name to do it.

Milk Music, launched Friday and available now in the Google Play store, is Samsung's latest foray into a music service, this time a streaming radio offering.

It's free to download and free to listen to, and importantly, unlike iTunes Radio, it doesn't have ads.

But the company is entering a competitive field. Streaming is the music industry's area of greatest growth, but it's full of players, with new ones cropping up regularly. Milk will be going up against companies that have already achieved broad global reach like Spotify, those that have reached a huge audience like Pandora, and those that have a powerful marketing machine like Beats Music -- all of which, by the way, you can use regardless of the device you're using.

Milk, at least for now, is only for Samsung Galaxy customers.

And for now it's only available in the US, which was how Apple rolled out iTunes Radio too. "Knowing Samsung, the chances are very high" it will be expanded internationally, said Daren Tsui, vice president of music for Samsung's Media Solutions Center America. Though Samsung is a Korean company, starting the service in the US -- the world's biggest music market -- makes sense.

Milk is a clear followup to iTunes Radio, which launched in September after years of speculation about an Apple radio product. Milk also is a new incarnation of Music Hub, the Samsung app that functioned as its own player and store that Samsung just shut down, an example of the company's checkered past with services.

Milk, however, doesn't include the option to purchase tracks you like, though Tsui said that's on the road map.

It does have the option of listening offline. You cache some music for uninterrupted listening when you head down to the subway or get stuck in a building with no signal or Wi-Fi.

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Milk users can customize the stations on their dial. Samsung
Milk's interface was Samsung's design, something it has been working on for a year. The interface harkens back to the analog FM dial of old, based around a circular dial that lists channels around its circumference. Powered by Slacker Radio, the service is meant to start playing immediately, and to play music as you swing around the dial, catching snippets of songs just as you would if you were tuning through an FM band.

Tsui liked that as he was toggling from the pop station to alt, he swung through country and heard a snippet of, of all things, "Dueling Banjos." For somebody who doesn't typically like country, he liked that the service surprised him with something he had no idea he would enjoy, he said.

The radio service itself is powered by Slacker Radio, which combines algorithms with curation by radio vets to stock its genre-based stations with tracks. On Milk, stations -- both those that are ready-made and those you make yourself based on an artist or a song -- can be customized to hear songs that are more or less popular, songs that are newer or older, and songs that include more of your favorites. Marking song favorites will also help personalize the music you hear.

People with Galaxy S 4, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Mega, and Galaxy S 4 Mini can download and try it now. It will be available for the coming Galaxy S5 in April.

The company isn't certain if Milk will be preloaded on its devices yet, and Tsui said Samsung is even open to expanding the service to other platforms.

"It comes down to whether it's a hit or not," he said.

But with no ads and no sales for Samsung to enjoy through Milk for now, it's hard to think of a reason why Samsung would make it available to all.

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Milk Music is a streaming radio service from Samsung. Samsung

 

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