Pandora is a great service that uses the Music Genome Project to essentially create a dynamic radio station for you based on songs and artists that you select. iTunes decided to try the same thing with its Genius feature in iTunes 8.0 and new iPods. As a big fan of Pandora and iTunes, I decided to take Genius for a test drive and compare it to Pandora.
Genius will allow you to select a song from your library and do two things--create a playlist of similar songs and suggest new songs to purchase from the store. Pandora does not have access to your music library, but it does allow you to include multiple artists/songs in your stations to refine the selections that it makes for you.
So how smart is Genius? I selected the Zero 7 song "In the Waiting Line" which, if you are not familiar, is a very mellow electronica tune with a sultry female vocalist. Genius' suggested a playlist from my library that included Tone Loc's "Wild Thing", Fatboy Slim's "Wonderful Night", and Eric Prydz "Call on Me," all of which, while heavy on electronic instrumentals, are decidedly not mellow and none feature female vocalists. Genius did suggest some Bjork songs, but none of those were mellow either! At this point, Genius didn't seem that smart. On the other hand, it was limited to the contents of my iTunes library, which (as you can surmise by the tracks that I just listed) is not all that expansive. *** note to readers--please forget the songs that I just listed and do not use them against me in any way. I admit that my music library is lame. I was trying to illustrate a point.*** Anyway, even if I had a huge collection, it would pale in comparison to the songs that Pandora and iTunes have in their libraries.
A fairer comparison between Genius and Pandora would be to compare their suggestions based on their expansive libraries, not my piddling one. So I selected the same Zero 7 song "In the Waiting Line" to seed a Pandora station and to get iTunes Store recommendations.
Genius suggested 15 songs that I should buy from the iTunes Store, including "Lebanese Blonde" from Thievery Corporation, "Glory Box" from Portishead, "Teardrop" from Massive Attack, and "Such Great Heights" from Iron and Wine. Strangely, Genius also suggested another song called "Such Great Heights" from The Postal Service. The first few recommendations were spot on, but then the closeness of the styles of the songs declined considerably.
Pandora played for me "Don't Panic" by Coldplay, "I Know" by G Spliff, "Dirty Laundry" by Bitter:Sweet, "Final Home" by DJ Crush, and "My Friend" by Groove Armada. All of these tracks match the style of the Zero 7 tune pretty closely. Also, instead of just 15 songs, this Pandora "station" will play indefinitely and adjust itself on how I rate the songs that have been played and other artists/albums I add to the station.
In case you are not familiar with any or all of these songs, essentially the quality of the recommendations between Pandora and iTunes Genius are close, but personally I preferred the Pandora selections. Genius having two songs with the same title where one isn't a cover of the other is suspect to me. And actually, neither song was such a great match to the song that seeded the recommendation to begin with.
Overall, I think that Genius is cool to create interesting (albeit sometimes strange) playlists, and it has the benefit of being embedded on the newest iPods, but I'll keep Pandora, thank you very much. I encourage you to try the same test yourself!