Spotify launches free, streaming radio in iOS app [Update now available]

Spotify launches free streaming radio in iOS app

Check out our comparison of the Spotify Radio and Pandora mobile apps for the latest on the two streaming services.

After months of anticipation, Spotify has finally launched its “Pandora killer.” Sometime today, the streaming music giant will release an update to its iOS app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch that allows for free streaming radio (with commercials, of course). The new feature will not require a paid Spotify subscription. Android users will reportedly receive the feature soon.

UPDATE: Spotify has released the new version of its app with the radio feature. Update your iOS app now to get it and check back with DT soon for our Spotify radio vs Pandora impressions.

Since Spotify radio for iOS isn’t available as of this writing, the only thing we really have to go on at the moment is the press release, which explains that users of the new feature — who must be in the U.S. — will be able to:

  •  Create limitless streaming radio stations from single songs, playlists, albums or artists  
  • Create an unlimited number of stations and listen as long as they like
  • Save tracks to Spotify playlists – any song that users “like” will be saved, so they can find the songs later
  • Personalize stations in real time by “liking” tracks to hear similar music
  • Browse friends’ playlists and create radio stations based on their tastes  
  • Hear great new songs from Spotify’s state-of-the-art recommendation engine, based on what millions of real people are listening to
  • Access a catalog of over 16 million tracks

Of course, to really pose a challenge to Pandora, it’s that “state-of-the-art recommendation engine” that everyone will be paying attention to. Unlike Pandora’s Music Genome Project, which is created entirely by humans listening to each song, and categorizing their musical features, Spotify relies upon machine-learning in the form of the Echo Nest “music intelligence engine.” Both use algorithms to choose which songs to play for each user. But the devil, as they say, is in the details: One has the human touch, the other has a computer’s cold precision. Further, Spotify bases many of its selections on a “social graph,” which means that you’ll be served songs based on what other people like, not just what the algorithm “thinks” you’ll like. This may be good or bad, depending on how well your taste matches with that of others.

Spotify’s iOS radio and Pandora share other traits as well. As Peter Kafka at AllThingsD reports, Spotify will limit the number of times you can skip songs. Pandora does this too: 12 songs per day for free users. (Paid users can skip endlessly.) We’ve reached out to Spotify to find out what the skip limit will be, and will update this space as soon as they get back to us. Update: A Spotify spokesperson tells us that “users will be able to skip a handful of songs, keeping in line with industry standards,” but couldn’t give anything more specific.

Spotify’s mobile radio will also serve advertising to free users, just as Pandora does. (Paid users will be spared the bombardment.) Not a big deal, of course, but something to think about if you’re on the fence about chucking over the $10 per month for Spotify Premium service (which also gives you full Spotify functionality on the mobile app).

In our early tests of Spotify Radio for desktop, Pandora remained the better option — but only just. And Spotify’s offering of free, mobile streaming radio bangs a solid nail into Pandora’s coffin. That said, many of us here at DT still use Pandora for music discovery, then move over to Spotify to permanently add our findings to our playlist repertoire.