updated 07:39 am EDT, Thu June 13, 2013
The new iOS 7 Music app looks set to continue Apple's digital music lead
Yesterday I took a first look at the iOS 7 beta following its unveiling during the Apple WWDC keynote. As we noted, the changes to the design of the iOS UI are widespread and also include all of the standard iOS apps. While iOS 7 is still a work in progress, it is certainly pointing very firmly towards a new flatter, but attractive and vibrant user experience. As a music lover the new Music app immediately piqued my interest, especially with the introduction of the long-rumored iTunes Radio streaming music service.
The headlining feature enhancement to the iOS 7 Music app is of course the new iTunes Radio, which is currently a US-only service. It is very much like the Pandora's automated music recommendation and discovery service. The beauty of the iTunes Radio service, though, is that in signing into the iTunes and App Stores, users are automatically signed into iTunes Radio. There is no requirement to set up a new account. Users can listen to unlimited full songs for free, punctuated by the occasional iAd. Better still, iTunes Match users can enjoy the service ad-free at no additional charge.
If you enjoy shuffled music you will love iTunes Radio. Having pre-curated stations in genres is also a great way to dive in and discover new artists. You can also create your own stations based on the music from a favorite artist, while the stations will gradually better learn your preferences based on tagged tracks. In addition, Apple says that iTunes Radio will be a portal through which users will get access to exclusive content, including 'first listens' including songs and the occasional pre-release album in full. Siri is also fully integrated into the app allowing users to give voice commands including "Play more like this" and "Who plays that song?" Songs can be purchased directly with one click, while they can also be added to a wish list.
For me, the biggest disappointment in iTunes Radio in its current form is the inability to download entire albums and play them offline like other services such as Spotify, Sony Music Unlimited and Xbox Live Music. However, that would have entailed additional cost and an annual ongoing subscription fee over and above the $25 iTunes Match fee - something that I would have been happy to pay for. It is, however, quite possible that Apple will eventually add such a service -- unless the terms of its agreement with the labels precludes this. As it is, iTunes Radio is an excellent extension of the Music app and its streaming AAC 256kbps audio makes for great listening experience. However, it is best enjoyed over a Wi-Fi connection unless you have a large mobile data plan as streaming high quality audio will quickly start to chew through your data allowance.
The rest of the Music app has all of the now signature minimalistic and flat design touches that are seen throughout iOS 7. Like its new red app icon, there is a red design theme running through the new Music app. Cover Flow fans may be disappointed to learn that it has been replaced by a new flat scrolling wall of album art with a black space where iTunes has not been able to match the artwork. The new look is attractive, although while it might have been the time to retire Cover Flow, it was one aspect of the iOS UI that always looked good. The rest of the app, however, functions in much the same way that iOS users have become accustomed to.
The revamped iOS 7 iTunes Store UI also looks clean and easy to navigate, rounding out a comprehensive music package. iTunes Radio is, however, where most of Apple's attention has been placed. Although much of this is powered at the backend by iCloud, its addition to the iOS 7 Music app as a standard feature helps to justify Apple's claim that the Music app in iOS 7 is their best yet.
By Sanjiv Sathiah