iTunes Radio Is Really About Buying Music, Not Streaming It

iTunes Radio
After an unpleasantly long stretch on the rumor mill--even by Apple standards--complicated by a hard-bargaining Sony Music, iTunes Radio finally exists. For the most part, the rumor mill got it right: It's a lot like Pandora, it has text and audio ads (which feel strange on an Apple product), and it's integrated with iTunes, Apple's streaming-beset music behemoth.

If they'd just ended up calling it "iRadio," which is destined to be the iTouch of garbled service names, the rumor sites would be justified in declaring themselves victorious over Apple's vaunted secret-keeping.

But the most surprising thing about iTunes Radio is something we should have guessed at all along: It's not a competitor of Pandora or Spotify so much as a backdoor attempt at keeping the iTunes Music Store relevant.

iTunes Radio vert
iRadio on an iTouch
Some of that should have been obvious at the rumor-gestation stage, given how long tech blogs have been lovingly imagining it. The iTunes app it's connected to is dominated by the music store, and a Pandora-style streaming radio station wasn't going to change that.

So it should have been easier to guess at the tight purchasing integration throughout the radio feature--one of the few features that differentiate it from Pandora is its ability to remember the songs you've listened to and enjoyed, and give you the chance to add them to your library.

It also allows you to build a station around a song from your permanent collection, which is terrible news for impulse buyers.

But Apple's attempt at cracking the nobody-pays-for-streaming question is the most important part of yesterday's announcements: The ad-free version of iTunes Radio has been rolled into Apple's $25-a-year iTunes Match program, which stores all of your downloaded and ripped music on Apple's servers for use on any Apple device.

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