At this week's WWDC, Apple announced iTunes Radio, its long-awaited entry into the streaming music space. The service is similar to Pandora in that it uses information gathered about a user's personal tastes (by iTunes Genius) to construct playlists, drawing music from the entire iTunes catalog. The service will be free and ad-supported, though iTunes Match subscribers won't see the ads. iTunes Radio will launch this Fall in conjunction with the rollout of iOS 7.
Some have suggested that it is terribly late for Apple to get into the streaming music game, that it indicates they are no longer innovating. While perhaps Apple is indeed going over well-trodden ground, I don't believe that it's too late. First, with Spotify's dominance in the interactive streaming space, it would make sense for Apple to enter the non-interactive space, taking on Pandora. Second, Apple has tremendous scale, and adding a service like this only helps their overall offerings. (Note too that the iPod wasn't the first mp3 player.)
An interesting side note here is that apparently Apple has obtained the streaming rights through direct licenses and not compulsory ones. As I described in a previous post, streaming services have a variety of royalties to pay, depending on whether the service is considered "interactive" or "non-interactive". Pandora has claimed that the government-mandated rates it pays are "too high", yet Apple has entered the space paying rates that are likely even higher. This is important, as it will make it more difficult for Pandora to compete.
Something to remember here is that companies compete not just for customers but also for market share. Apple's entry into this space is the result of that.
It's interesting to hear non-industry people describe their experiences with streaming services: some insist on the choice provided by interactive services and others are happy to have an algorithm choose their playlists for them. Access models are definitely the future of music consumption, but what is unclear still is what features the public will demand from their service of choice and how that will affect the overall model. The bottom line is that it is imperative for music companies (and artists) to get into this space. Apple is doing just that.