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Cyber Culture: Apple aims to knock the spots off its online music-streaming foes


Apple has had five years to address "the Spotify question" – namely how to keep us paying the iTunes Store for à la carte digital downloads when we can listen to whatever we want on Spotify for free.

The answer to that question was revealed on Monday evening in the shape of iTunes Radio, a service offering personalised radio stations based on your various likes and dislikes – very similar, in fact, to Pandora, right down to its geographical restriction (iTunes Radio is initially only available in the USA.)

As consumers we're probably far too demanding when it comes to online music, but for a streaming service that's felt on the brink of launching for years, iTunes Radio seems a little underwhelming. Not least because the idea of an "if you like that then you might like this" algorithm seems to date from a time before social media existed.

Admittedly, if you're already subscribed to iTunes Match – Apple's cloud-based service that stores your MP3s and syncs them between devices – you'll get an advertisement-free iTunes Radio as a freebie. But the service seems hamstrung in various ways. It's so similar to Pandora that you wonder why people anyone would switch (bearing in mind that Pandora has a 70 per cent listener share of the top 20 internet radio stations in the USA). The iTunes Radio channel devoted to music trending on Twitter seems like a half-hearted attempt to steal a march on Twitter's new #music app.

Apparently, we ought to be grateful, in a Spotify era, for the ability to skip tracks we don't like (reportedly a major sticking point in record company negotiations.) And the focus is still very much trying to sell individual tracks; at the top right of every play screen is a price tag, beckoning us to click and buy. The record labels have fought their corner admirably, but as a result iTunes Radio feels like an offering that's five years out of date.