iTunes 11.1 introduces iTunes Radio, a charming and low-key way to listen to music, by genre, and occasionally discover a new gem to purchase. You basically build your own radio station that plays your favorites. There are built in interruptions, but they're rare and don't spoil the experience.
You start by selecting Music in your Sidebar (or the popup on the upper left, spending on how you've set View -> Hide Sidebar), then select Radio in the tab list at the top. Note that if you are not connected to the Internet, you won't see the Radio entry. Even when you do get connected, you may have to restart iTunes.
There are some featured stations at the top that you can try for starters. But the real fun starts when you define your own station with "My Stations." With the "+" symbol you can select an artist, genre or song.
Once you start, say, with a favorite artist, you can build on that and add others to flesh out a theme. You don't have to do much more for starters, and iTunes Radio will start looking for similar music. That's where the discovery comes in.
Slowly, iTunes Radio will present similar music, probably from analyzing the style you've selected and a likely inspection of your already existing music library. Then, it'll start showing you a history list. Songs that are not already in your music library will be offered for sale with a single click. You can chose between Hits, Variety and Discovery emphasis.
A history list is buit up so you can go back and re-listen.
I discovered that there are occasional popup ads. This one popped up with short audio blurb soon after I started.
Occasionally, advertisements pop up.
I haven't seen or heard another one in almost an hour. On the hour, I heard a short audio interruption: "You're listening to iTunes Radio." Occasionally, iTunes Radio will stop dead in its tracks and present you with a listing for an entire album, hoping that perhaps you'll buy all the songs. That's a bit over the top.
On the whole, however, Apple has used admirable restraint to make this an enjoyable experience, from what I've seen so far. I suspect that, in the short time I've tested the feature, I probably haven't discovered all the clever things Apple has built into iTunes Radio to get you to buy songs.
Next to the title of any of your stations is a sharing button that you've come to know in iOS. You can send an email that contains a link to your created station.
There are lots of ways to share discoveries.
You can also share your experience on Twitter, Messages and Facebook.
I think many iTunes users, like myself, may have fragmented collections. They ripped some songs from favorite CDs years ago, but didn't grab every song. As time has gone by, there have been accidental discoveries, genius recommendations or the use of Shazam. It's all rather fragmented, sporadic, and random. This new iTunes feature is a great way to better expand your collection, coherently, all the while listening to music rather than formally and painfully hunting for it.
What iTunes Radio is does is play an awesome of sequence of well chosen titles that makes for great background music. (Which I'm listening to as I type this.) And when you hear that special one that you want to add to your collection, just click the price button that appears in the progress bar.
Best of all, there's a history list (shown above), so if you want to go back, listen a second time, and then make a buying decision at that time, that works nicely too.
From my experience so far, iTunes Radio is doing a brilliant job of selecting music similar to just a few favorite artists I started with. I'd almost be tempted to buy every song presented, but I'd go broke. That's something to be careful about; it's almost too good.
Time will tell if there are additional, surprising irritations, but from what I've seen so far, Apple seems to have balanced their own interest in expanding sales with a graceful attempt to introduce the user to new music through the act of listening to music they already like.
Finally, after you upgrade to iOS 7, you'll see iTunes Radio in the Music player. Your personal stations are stored in Apple's iCloud, so no matter where you start, you can pick up right where you left off on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC and Apple TV.