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iTunes Radio: Poor reception

Christopher Breen | March 6, 2014
While iTunes Radio satisfies the need of a casual listener, it seems like a half-baked service to listeners who really care about music.

With the approach of iTunes Radio's six-month anniversary, now seems as good a time as any to take a second look at the service. When it first launched I was quite enthusiastic about it for a variety of reasons. To begin with, Apple has a solid relationship with countless record labels and has taken pains to place purchase buttons on Now Playing screens, thus driving more sales to those labels. These two factors should encourage labels to open up their catalogs to a greater extent than they might with a service such as Pandora and provide listeners with a greater variety of music to listen to. And it supports both generated and curated content into iTunes Radio. Plus, it's available not only within iTunes but also to iOS devices, Apple TV, and in-car iOS scheme, CarPlay.

Limited for your frustration
With all this, why do I find iTunes Radio so disappointing? Let me count the ways:

Large library limitation: Ask anyone who has an iTunes Library that contains more than 25,000 tracks how they like iTunes Match and you're likely to hear angry grumbles. With a library that exceeds that size, you can't match your music.

This limitation has hardly been hidden by Apple. However, one thing that hasn't been widely broadcast is that if you have one of these large music libraries you're going to have a problem with iTunes Radio. As in:

Me:Turn on iTunes Match.

iTunes:I can't, you have too many tracks.

Me:OK, fine. Play my Patty Griffin iTunes Radio Station.


Me:But... but... I have an iTunes Match subscription, which is supposed to stop these ads!

iTunes:All you have to do is turn on iTunes Match.

Me:OK, turn on iTunes Match.

iTunes:I can't, you have too many tracks....

You can work around this by creating a new library (hold down Option while launching iTunes and choose Create Library) and then turning on iTunes Match, but it's a frustrating hoop to leap through.

Poor station generation: My first night with iTunes Radio I took to Twitter to list an hour's worth of music generated after creating a J.S. Bach station. In that hour I heard the same tired Bach cello piece played three times along with tracks spanning 250 years of classical music (plus some New Age piano noodling). As I noted at the time, it was like ganging together Frank Sinatra and The Sex Pistols because they played in the same century.

A few months later I created a station based on Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." Rather than jingle out a jolly collection of holiday music, the station played standards from the '40s and '50s. More recently I clicked the Play button on my Brian Eno station, which should have generated ambient music. An initial Eno/Byrne track was followed by a few electro-pop tracks (which, to be fair, Eno has done). The fifth was a modern bit of latin music that had no business being on the station (though I liked it).


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