iTunes Radio Joins Forces With Pepsi, Twitter, Katy Perry, Music Labels. Pandora Groans
Ahead of rolling out the revolutionized iOS 7, Apple pulled out the big guns with the brand-new iTunes 11.1 Wedenesday, which includes — finally — iTunes Radio. (It also casually includes an AirDrop service that allows doctors to instantly send patient information to patient's iDevices, which is pretty cool.) The new iTunes Radio service is essentially Pandora in-built into your iTunes: it develops an ear for your tastes, presents the newest and hottest music for your chosen genre/s, is free (but peppered with ads), and aims to be a one-stop-shop for all your music needs. Fortunately for Pandora, initial reviews are a little sketchy ("a middling student with great unfulfilled potential," said Billboard's report).
That's not stopping Twitter, Katy Perry, and Jared Leto and others from setting up playlists immediately. (The Twitter station, if you wondered, is not a bunch of 140-second songs, but a list of songs trending on Twitter.) Twitter has pulled out all the stops for this one, giving iTunes a special Twitter account for the purpose of the playlists. The world's biggest brands — Pepsi, Nissan, McDonald's — have all bought what is reportedly a one-year, multi-million contract to run specially-commissioned ads on the platform. If you don't pay for iTunes Match, you'll probably be hearing up to 13 ads each hour.
Is that it? No, of course not. Apple wants to outdo Pandora, not just imitate it: to that end, Apple is reportedly working closely with record labels for access to their "heat seekers" lists, which is a top-secret run-through of the artists and songs that industry analysts think are about to break. They've been poaching specific genre experts, according to CNet, like alternative music fiends who have intense music-nerd knowledge and are contracted to major labels. These new staff will select and carefully promote the biggest songs of the thousands and thousands that come out each month. (Sounds like our taste in music is about to be monopolized even more insidiously.)
In a valiant effort to try to compete, Pandora has recently put $10 million of its shares up for sale, leading to a stock-market jump. They've also unveiled a brand-new look, telling Billboard that since they offer an almost-identical service to iTunes Radio, the key is to present themselves better. (Cue Apple laughing patronizingly.) Pandora told Billboard:
We’ve never wanted for competition. Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL were dominant in the early years when we launched. Over the years, it’s been iMeem, MySpace, Last.fm. More recently, there's Clear Channel's iHeartRadio and Spotify, which added a radio feature. So being faced with competition is not a new experience for us. As radio gets redefined by technology, I’m not surprised that Apple, Clear Channel and others now see the same opportunity that we saw so many years ago.
Pandora is trying to conceal their nerves, hence that razor-sharp dig about "so many years ago," but everyone in the industry knows the company is under threat. Also ... comparing Apple to MySpace?
Steve Jobs said often that Apple situated itself at the intersection of technology and the humanities. (At presentations, he'd subtly illustrate this point with a PowerPoint of a road map featuring a literal intersection of two roads reading "Technology" and "Humanities.") Pandora predominantly uses algorithms, meaning that they're firmly situated on the Technology route. But by Apple enlisting music experts, "heat seekers," and a plethora of staff to their Radio endeavor, the company is trying to give music-streaming a more "human" feel.
And in other iOS news, initial reports suggest that almost a third of iPhone uses have already upgraded. The figure is up from next-day update rates of Apple's last couple of operating systems, perhaps because of the blaze of press surrounding iOS 7. And from Saturday, you can get BlackBerry Messenger on any of your Apple (or Android) devices, which BlackBerry is desperately hoping will solidify some sort of future for the ailing company.