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Apple's streaming music service could debut in 2013 -- analyst

The company's new service, which could be known as "iRadio," was rumored to be close to launching earlier this year, if not a snag with a music publisher.

A view of iTunes 11.
A view of iTunes 11.

Apple could soon take on Pandora and Spotify directly, market-research firm BTIG Research writes in a new report.

The firm today predicts that Apple will launch a streaming-music service at some point in 2013. The research outfit, which says that it came to the conclusion after holding interviews with industry executives, said Apple's iTunes 11 launch yesterday is only further proof the service is coming.

BTIG pointed to the addition of a "Radio" option in the horizontal bar in iTunes 11, saying that while the current offering of stations "is unappealing to most consumers today, we believe the radio service can easily be updated...."

BTIG has been saying for months that a music-streaming service it calls "iRadio" is in the works. In a blog post last month, the research firm said that it's possible Apple's offering will trump that of Pandora's.

We expect Apple's iRadio to be vastly superior to Pandora because Apple is unwilling to settle for compulsory music licenses. Instead, expect iRadio to seek direct deals with labels at premium rates enabling iRadio to offer a superior feature set including a global solution (sites like Pandora are limited to the US), increased skips (compulsory licenses limit skips to six/hour) and maybe most importantly, extended caching so that wireless dead-zones are no longer a problem whether driving, flying or underground.

It's been about three years since Apple acquired Lala, a streaming-music site. Soon after, the company closed that operation, leading many to wonder if Apple would ever get into the streaming business. Last year, speculation started up again after Apple filed for a patent on streaming music. Once again, the company remained tight-lipped on the topic and the rumors died down.

Despite that, Apple has reportedly continued working on a streaming service. In September, it was reportedly planning to unveil the streaming service at the company's iPhone 5 launch event. But according to a report at that time, Apple's negotiations with Sony/ATV hit a snag, forcing the iPhone maker to push back its debut.

BTIG doesn't know exactly when Apple might finally launch its music service, but the research firm says that it's likely that the service will be available in the first half of next year.

CNET has contacted Apple for comment on "iRadio." We will update this story when we have more information.