Pandora Radio: An Age-Old Classic Gets Refreshed

Pandora has all but become synonymous with Internet radio over the past decade. For those unfamiliar, Pandora is an automated music discovery service that is built on the Music Genome Project, an initiative to catalogue music using various elemental analyses with intent of being able to recommend music you might like based on music you already know you like.

Pandora has been around for quite some time, launching way back in the year 2000 and spending most of its life as an open tab on browsers everywhere. It arrived relatively early on iOS, but since then hasn’t undergone much in the way of visual or functional updates. However, Pandora recently added support for the extra screen real estate on the iPhone 5, so we think that this is a perfect opportunity to check out the changes that the app has seen. Grab your favorite pair of listening headphones and let’s dig in.

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Teaching Pandora About Your Taste

While a slew of new features for the service have been added in this recent update, Pandora still is, at it’s core, about learning your musical tastes and suggesting music you will like based on an algorithm. In order for this algorithm to perform with any sort of precision, Pandora needs to first learn about your musical tastes. This process begins when you create your first radio station.

Add and manage radio stations.

Add and manage radio stations.

When you elect to add a radio station to your Pandora account, you can do so by tapping the + button in the upper left corner of the Stations tab and entering either a genre or an artist upon which to base your first station. Pandora uses a collection of music attributes (such as “a vocal-centric aesthetic” or “major key tonality”) in order to analyze the music you like and suggest artists that you might also enjoy. When you choose Add Variety for one of your radio stations, that station will play music influenced by your original station as well as by whichever genre or artist you add.

View band and lyric information, and retroactively Thumbs Up tracks to keep that kind of music coming.

View band and lyric information, and retroactively Thumbs Up tracks to keep that kind of music coming.

The image on the left above is the main playing screen. Grab the handle on the bottom toolbar to expose track position and volume controls, or use the Play/Pause and Next buttons on the bottom right to control playback (Pandora’s music licensing prohibits revisiting previously played tracks, as well as skipping forward more than a certain number of times per hour).

The image on the right in the screenshot above illustrates the ability to revisit the artist information and lyrics of previously played tracks (even though you can’t play them again). When viewing the current track or a previously played track, you can choose to Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down any given song, and Pandora’s algorithm will take those preferences into consideration when selecting the next track for you to listen to.

Over time, this causes Pandora to gain a really firm grip on your musical tastes, and the recommendations it makes for you will most likely be increasingly appropriate and enjoyable for you as the listener.

Social

The most notable addition to Pandora Radio on iOS is an array of social features, finally bringing it up to speed with services like Last.fm, Spotify and even iTunes who have implemented at least some sort of social element to the listening experience.

If you tap the Options tab under any given radio station in your radio library, you’ll be presented with the option to share your station. You can do so via Facebook, Twitter or even email, making listening and discovery a more group-oriented activity.

Share your stations with your friends.

Share your stations with your friends.

To add to the sharing functionality, tapping the up arrow between the Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down buttons on the toolbar will let you share directly from the track playback screen. You can also choose to buy the track on iTunes, bookmark the track, or tell Pandora that you’re tired of the track, which will minimize the number of times that track will appear later in your playlist.

Pandora One

Normally, I wouldn’t include more than a passing reference to a paid service like Pandora One, particularly because it has more to do with the Pandora service overall rather than the iOS app itself. However, I feel the need to go into some sort of depth, specifically because of the way advertisements are utilized in the unpaid version of the app.

I want to make it clear that I don’t have an innate problem with advertisements. But there is definitely something to be said for ads that are implemented in a tasteful manner, and Pandora’s advertisements are, unfortunately, lacking that department.

The advertisements are getting out of hand.

The advertisements are getting out of hand.

Of course, you can pay $3.99 a month to subscribe to Pandora One, which removes the advertisements and provides a battery of other benefits including a desktop application, higher quality audio and various other things. That said, the advertisements in the free version of Pandora are obtrusive. Audio commercials between tracks is one thing, but there are banner advertisements that pop up periodically (and cover half of the screen) that can sometimes interfere with your app usage, causing you to inadvertently tap and advertisement rather than the Pause button or the Thumbs Up button. Needless to say, this can get somewhat frustrating.

Conclusion

The advertisements (and primarily, just the implementation thereof) are really my biggest gripe about the newly designed Pandora Radio app for iOS. Ultimately, it is well designed, and the expansion of the social features for what has become an almost inherently social activity is a very welcome addition to the app and the service itself.

With so many similar apps and services popping up, it’s good to see one of the originals rolling with the punches. If you haven’t already, update Pandora Radio and let us know what you think about the new design.


Summary

A music discovery engine that intelligently builds playlists of things you might like based on the music you already enjoy.

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