If you are a user of any iOS device (if you are reading this you most likely are) then next Tuesday (9/10/13) will be a day of interest for you. That's when Apple will be holding a media event that will likely focus on Apple mobile products (iPhones, iPads, iPods) and, hopefully, the OS that runs on them.
iOS 7 is somewhat of a departure from the versions before it in that the philosophy behind the design of its user interface (its visual and audio cues, how we interact with virtual objects and how they react when we use them) has changed. Much has been said in the media about this philosophy change and how it will manifest itself in the design of the new OS and, more importantly, how it will affect current and future applications.
But that's not what I want to talk about today. I'm more interested in the inclusion of a new service in iOS 7, one that may have a profound impact on how we discover and buy music. I'm talking, of course, of Apple's new iTunes Radio.
If you're thinking that iTunes Radio is just a music streamer and a blatant ripoff of Pandora Radio then you haven't looked at it closely enough. It streams music and lets you buy what you hear from iTunes, of course, but what sets it apart is how it adjusts itself to you and your listening habits and music tastes.
According to the Apple's propaganda, iTunes Radio checks not only what you are currently listening to, but also what you have listened to in the past, including what you've played from iTunes on your devices. It uses that info to fine tune any artist or genre based stations you create.
Further, it lets you decide how much new stuff it throws in the mix. Just that simple control will make the stations you create more appealing to you and you'll listen more, and when new material is played it's more likely to be something you'll like and, more importantly, buy.
What does that mean to existing apps like Pandora? iTunes Radio will definitely have an impact on those apps, but as long as they have a way of differentiating themselves by offering unique features, they'll continue to have an audience. In fact, I took a look around recently and discovered two music apps that have such unique features that they may even benefit from the existence of iTunes Radio. Which apps? I'm glad you asked.
NPR Music [10.3 MB, all iOS devices iOS 4.3 or later, Maker: NPR]
When someone mentions Nation Public Radio and you think of stations that play sleepy classical music, news, and stories about the mating habits of three-toed sloths then you really don't know National Public Radio.
There is classical music, and news, and maybe even stories about three-toed sloths, but there is so much more. For instance, NPR does not focus only on classical music, they have feature stories and concerts from nearly every imaginable musical genre including country, jazz, rock, and hip-hop.
Well organized interface make NPR Music a joy to use
And it's good stuff too. They talk to musicians and composers, bringing them closer to you than any documentary on MTV. You hear and see concerts and studio sessions and gain a better understanding of how and what artists put into the music they offer.
And now NPR has collected all of the stories and concerts and put them in an easy to use app. NPR Music lets you find content based on genre or programs. You can keep track of music blogs. It even offers story and concert selection based on artists.
Find affiliate stations near or far that plays to genre you like
You can create playlists of stories and concerts and add them to your favorites list to hear them again. It even offers a list a affiliated stations that stream music based on genre.
And it's all free!
There's really a lot of good stuff here and listening to any of it will definitely open you to new musical experiences you likely won't get in iTunes Radio. This is a must-have app.
MusiXmatch [8.6MB, all iOS devices iOS 4.3 or later, Maker: musiXmatch srl]
musiXmatch doing its karaoke thing
Now here's something different. This app will scan your music library and automagically download the lyrics to any song you have, then play those lyrics, karaoke style, as the song plays on your iDevice. Pretty cool, right?
The app will play anything in your library by artist, song, album, even playlists you created in iTunes. It will also show a discography of the currently playing artist and offer you the option to buy the album from iTunes.
Buy tunes from iTunes
Everything isn't peaches and cream, however. musiXmatch is ad supported, annoyingly so, but they do offer a subscription to go ad-free six month or a year at a time.
I've also noticed that from time to time the syncing of the words are a bit off. This doesn't happen all the time, but enough to be a bit disconcerting.
Still, musiXmatch is a fun app and service, one you should definitely look into.
And that's a wrap for this week.
But wait, there's more!
Check out this week's free App of the Week which, oddly, is the same as last week's, Cut the Rope. It's a cute game so if you didn't get a chance to grab it, now's your chance.
Also pop over to iTunes Music and snag this week's free Single of the Week, Natalia Kills' Outta Time. She's a Brit Pop singer and the song calls to mind retro English Pop tunes, but with a modern flair. Check it out.