Earlier this week, Apple announced its egregiously late entrance into the music-streaming business with iTunes Radio, a service that builds custom radio stations around an artist or song and refines them based on your specifications. Apple's calling it "radio re-imagined"; everyone else is calling it "pretty much the same as Pandora."
Sure, iTunes Radio will likely have a more expansive library than Pandora, thanks to direct deals with Sony, Warner Bros., and Universal. It will also allow voice navigation with Siri and quick purchases directly from iTunes if listeners decide to actually lay down money for their music. It's got an intriguing feature that allows users to request more "hits" or more undiscovered music. Still, at their core, iTunes Radio and Pandora are doing the same thing — creating highly customizable radio stations for individual users. What they don't do is allow on-demand listening, which is why Spotify will continue to be my, and many many others', choice.
The key difference between Spotify and its web-radio competitors is the ability to call up whatever music you want, whenever you want, and listen to it as many times as you want. See a good review for the new Vampire Weekend album and want to give it a whirl? Spotify will allow it. iTunes Radio won't. Spotify, of course, isn't alone in this approach. When it comes out, Google Music All Access will do the same thing. MOG and Rdio already do. Some say better. But the point stands – on demand listening is superior.
I'm willing to concede that this might be opinion rather fact. After all, according to web research firm NPD, web-radio companies like Pandora have been growing much faster than on demand services. The key to one's preference in this debate just might be how you listen to music. Passive listeners, or those more willing to allow an algorithm to choose the next song that plays, are more drawn to web radio. Active listeners, on the other hand, want to choose what plays next. And if they're anything like me, listening to a song outside of the context of the album that it's on feels like an eternal slight to the people who recorded it.