There's a new iTunes in town, and it means business.
The catchily named "11.1" update was rolled out by Apple today, just hours before we're officially introduced to the revolutionized iOS 7. Don't let the ".1" fool you: this a serious update, and includes a brand-spanking-new music-streaming service, iTunes Radio; a marriage between the Genius and Shuffle functions; Podcast Stations; and iOS 7 support (bor-ing).
The much-hyped iTunes Radio has been rumored for over a year now. Music streaming is officially one of the most popular smartphone activities, and until now you had to either listen to your existing Apple music portfolio, or use an third-party app to stream your tunes. This grievously first-world-problem is no longer an issue: the iTunes Radio is essentially a Pandora built into iTunes, meaning that it'll develop an ear for your tastes, make playlists for you, and not charge you a cent. (Well, that's if you don't think consistent ads cost you time and patience — but, still, no dollar bills changing hands, technically.)
Pandora initially blanched at the news, its shareholders got skittish, and the company's stock price fell. Pandora dominates Internet radio, so of course it didn't take kindly to the threat by a certain, much bigger, world-dominating fish. But analysts are predicting that the iTunes Radio won't pose as much of a risk to Pandora as we all thought, mostly because Pandora is gigantic. It's one of the top apps of all time, boasts more than 70 million users, and gets a huge chunk of mobile advertising revenue. "It's tough to see it getting killed," said one expert. The elephant in the room is that the same was once said for BlackBerry, which just announced today it will be slashing its workforce by 40 percent.
The newest edition of iTunes also boasts Genius Shuffle, which does exactly what you'd think: plays you random songs, but ensures they work well together. (No more K$sha swiftly followed by Bob Dylan!) Then there's Podcast Stations, which lets you create playlists of the podcasts you're most interested in, and auto-updates the list with new podcasts as they come out. A desktop support function will sync all of the above with iOS 7.
The Android-esque operating system is expected sometime Wednesday afternoon, though it looks like there won't be many iPhones 5S's to go with it: carriers are reporting a "grotesque" shortage of the model, meaning that buyers could wait days and, quite likely, weeks to get their phones. The news, which could see Apple's "exclusive" image given a boost — conspiracy theorists? Us? — comes out alongside reviews of the iPhone 5S, which are actually better than expected. The fingerprint scanner, say initial reports, is smooth and effective: that, plus security features of iOS 7, have upped the secure factor for the company. TechCrunch and WSJ have already named the phone the best on the market.
Somewhere, Apple is rubbing its hands together in delirious anticipation and roaring a movie-villain laugh.