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iTunes Radio vs Spotify

Andrew Williams


iTunes Radio vs Spotify
iTunes Radio vs Spotify

iTunes Radio is here. It’s Apple’s music streaming service, piggy-backing off the immense iTunes catalogue, and will arrive as part of iOS 7.

But how does it compare with the most popular music streaming service in the UK, Spotify?

Free Sounds Good

Look at the pure figures and iTunes Radio sounds more impressive. The iTunes library has over 35 million songs, Spotify ‘just’ 20 million according to the latest figures from the company.

It’s also cheaper. Spotify offers a free streaming plan, but how much you can listen to is limited – even though you have to listen to adverts every now and then to subsidise costs.

For the first six months, Spotify lets you play as much music as you like. After six months, you’re given 2.5 hours’ listening a week, which you can stockpile to 10 hours over a month. Spotify Free is like a drug dealer coaxing you into addiction, before whipping out unlimited music from under your feet, saying you owe him a tenner a month if you want to carry on.

And, let’s not forget, Spotify Free only works on computers, not phones or tablets.

iTunes RadioiTunes Radio has occasional ads just like Spotify Free, but there will be no curbing of how much you can listen to, and the service will be free to use for iPad and iPhone owners. It sounds like a dream come true.

Differing Approaches

However, Spotify is a much, much better solution for real music fans looking for their prime music source. It all comes down to the way these two services operate, and what they are trying to achieve.

iTunes Radio wants you to listen to music, and then buy it outright from the iTunes Store. Although it’s a streaming service, it remains wedded to ‘old fashioned’ downloads.

Spotify’s sole aim is to get people to sign up to its unlimited Premium service, which costs £9.99 a month. You can download tracks for offline listening with Spotify, but it’s little more than an insurance plan, should your internet connectivity die all of a sudden.

How iTunes Radio Works

For iTunes Radio to work as a business proposition it needs to curb the service in ways other than the number of tracks you can stream. It does so by limiting your control.

You cannot choose the exact tracks and artists that play over iTunes Radio’s virtual airwaves, as you can with Spotify – and even Spotify Free. Instead, Apple creates a playlist for you using the Genius playlists engine, or by playing music ‘similar to’ a selected artist.

iTunes Genius was introduced in 2008 with iTunes 8, and is a feature that monitors what music you listen to and uses your tastes to create playlists – so you don’t have to. A comparable behaviour monitoring tool was also implemented in the App Store, providing selections based on what you’ve downloaded in the past.

iTunes Radio is not a full music streaming service in the manner of Spotify, Rdio or Napster. It’s a glass display case, into which you can peek.

That distance between yourself and what’s playing limits how useful iTunes Radio will be for those who want to stream most or all their music. It’s more of a music discovery tool, and one to plug into when you’re bored of the streaming your own tracks over iTunes Match or directly from your phone/tablet’s internal memory.

iTunes MatchWhen used with the £21.99-a-year Match service, iTunes Radio drops its ads too – making that deal all the more attractive. Match lets you stream any music you own personally through the cloud, for libraries with up to 25,000 songs. It stops you from having to store them locally on your device.

These two services together offer a good way to go fully streamed for your music, but iTunes Radio alone just doesn’t cut it.

What well and truly puts Spotify ahead of iTunes Radio is that Apple’s streamer won’t be available in the UK at launch. It’s due to arrive around September 2013 for the US only, alongside the launch of the iPhone 5S, but in the UK we have no clue as to when – or if – it’ll launch here.


June 14, 2013, 9:08 am

I am not sure iTunes Radio is intended to be a Spotify competitor. A closer rival would be LastFM or Grooveshark, etc in the UK and Pandora in the US. The Spotify competitor is Google's All Access which also functions as a radio station. Google also appears to have an extensive catalog and support for 20,00 of your personal songs in the cloud. It is a very well rounded service.

Chris Beach

June 14, 2013, 11:32 am

Agreed, as soon as I saw the radio aspect part, I thought of Last.fm (which doesn't get the reconignition it deserves:().

Though I think last.fm's radio is now pay for on mobile, where it was free.

For Apple only peeps, sticking with Apple stuff in the first instance and only then looking at getting other apps if it isn't what you want.

Travis C

June 19, 2013, 3:37 am

Also forgot to mention that with Spotify Free, Unlimited, and Pandora Free you don't get full quality songs, whereas you do right off the bat with iTunes Radio.

I'm a little surprised that full quality songs are reserved for Spotify Premium members only...


August 21, 2013, 8:41 pm

LastFM is the worst comparison you could have ever made... "diddler".


August 21, 2013, 9:05 pm

Have a good stereo setup? Get Spotify I have DLNA on my Onkyo amplifier and it supports Spotify out of the box and plays your playlists/radio straight from the android app. Spotify plays ALL of your music LEGALLY, at $10 a month its worth every penny if you love specific artists like me. Trundling through search engines to hopefully find a low quality mp3/torrent is yesteryear. There is not a single track/artist that I have not found on Spotify yet. Basically I make my playlists on my phone/pc and stream them on my home stereo later, or bluetooth them to my headunit as I drive using my GS3. If that does not sell it to you then I suggest that you go back to CD's. :)


October 9, 2013, 6:08 pm

Odd comparison. I'd compare iTunes Radio to Pandora. Spotify is like a music store where you can take any of the CDs into a listening room.

I have iTunes Match and the paid Spotify. iTunes Radio is ad free then, and does very well with my stations created from specific tracks. If I hear a new song I like, I can go to Spotify and seek out the artist specifically, even capture the audio streams if I want (Which you can do legally- there even commercial software to do it. It's in the same legal realm as recording a TV show with a DVR)

Miyako O'Conner

December 15, 2014, 5:38 am

Andrew, Thanks for the article. For those who live outside US and want to access Spotify, you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.

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