Apple is looking to reconquer the world of digital music with iTunes Radio, which was announced at WWDC 2013 today, but can the company regain the same cool factor it used to sell so many iPods? And if not can the new music streaming service still succeed?
Apple has changed (matured even), trading edgy ads for emotional ones. When the iPhone first launched, the company quickly switched gears, promoting connectivity and the promise of human interaction through iDevices instead of teenage silhouettes dancing to indie rock in their own digitally walled-off worlds. If Apple can't bring back its old image, then how can the company convince consumers to pick iTunes Radio over Pandora, Spotify, Google Play Music All Access, Rdio, SoundCloud and the horde of smaller but popular online services?
The strongest weapon in Apple's assault on the music streaming industry is made clear in the new service's name: iTunes. Despite complaints over the iTunes 11 refresh and the continuing exodus to streaming services, the company's music playing application is still one of the most-used around. And don't forget the iTunes Store, which boasts over 26 million tracks. That massive selection will serve as the backbone for iTunes Radio, but it won't be enough to make the new service a success on its own.
Now the iPod wasn't the first device of its kind (no one's claiming Steve Jobs invented the MP3 player), but when Apple introduced the digital music player it was in a class of it own. That fact, combined with an aggressive marketing push, helped Apple dominate the MP3 player market. The same is true for iTunes Radio; it's not a new or innovative concept by a longshot, and its success depends entirely on two things: design and marketing paired with an already huge user base.
Apple's smartest move with iTunes Radio is likely the decision to avoid direct competition with Spotify and instead go after an easier target, Pandora. There's no way Apple could take on Spotify, an ad-supported music streaming giant in a tinted iTunes skin, since it offers a totally different business model. Pandora, on the other hand, is struggling (mostly thanks to the rise of Spotify).
iTunes Radio works pretty much the same way as Pandora, letting you choose a band, song or genre of music, and then constructing a playlist based on your taste and interspersed with ads. If Apple can design the better service then iTunes Radio stands a chance. That means an incredible selection of music, a well-designed program to create playlists that feature my favorite songs and introduce me to new ones, an intuitive design that doesn't constantly push me to buy each track, and (relatively) unobtrusive ads.
If iTunes Radio can do all that it will likely succeed, and might even gain enough traction to take on Spotify one day. If Apple falls short, the new app may be destined for my designated iOS folder of useless iPhone apps I can't delete.