The iPhone is an ideal platform for listening to online radio stations. In this article, I give you an overview of the best radio apps available and provide you with information on how you can gain access to several online radio stations.
Note that streaming media for an extended length of time can drain your iPhone's battery. To help minimize this, please try the tips in the sidebar titled, "Reduce Battery Drain Associated With Streaming Media."
Built-in streaming capabilities
All versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch using OS 3.0 or later support the streaming of some Internet radio stations via Apple's QuickTime player, which is built into the iPhone and integrated into Safari. All you need to do is use Safari to find a station and tap on the stream link. Player opens up automatically and the music starts. While it's playing, you can work in other apps to check your mail, play a game, etc. Safari doesn't have any station lists built into it, so you'll have to find them online. Fortunately, a number of sites provide lists of online radio stations that are compatible with the iPhone's player. Check out yp.ShoutCast.com, dir.xiph.org/by_format/MP3, or dir.xiph.org/by_format/MP3. In addition, I really recommend the Moodio Web site. You have to register from your desktop browser to use it; you can do so here (moodio.fm). Once registered, you can access and log on to Moodio's mobile site (m.moodio.fm) from Safari. By default, Moodio uses 24 kbps parametric stereo mode. Unfortunately, QuickTime cannot play this in stereo (only in mono). To play Moodio streams in stereo, you need to select a non-parametric stereo mode when you set up or modify your account. I've found that 52 kbps, stereo mode provides the best stereo audio quality on the iPhone.
Once you've found a specific Internet radio channel you like, you can bookmark it for easy access. However, you may need to do some manual address copying to accomplish this. For example, when you click on a radio link in ShoutCast, it immediately starts streaming the feed to the player. Since it doesn't open a new Web page, there's nothing to bookmark. A workaround for this is discussed in section 1.1.4 of my blog post, "Everything you'll ever need to know about listening to radio on the iPhone - Part I" found on the iPhone Life blogs (iphonelife.com/blog).
Streaming radio apps
The easiest way to stream radio to your iPhone or iPod touch is to use a dedicated app. Several radio apps (or "clients") exist. Of them, I recommend one of the following: FStream (free; sourcemac.com/?page=fstream), ooTunes Radio ($4.99; ootunes.com), and Pocket Tunes Radio ($6.99; normsoft.com/products/iphone/pockettunes). FStream is without doubt the best free Web radio player. The other two are excellent players for the price.
All three of these players support most stream types, including MP3, AAC, OGG/Vorbis, WMA, and others. They all also support the recording of streams without quality degradation for later playback; in this regard, they're the best of all radio players on the iPhone. And ooTunes even allows you to schedule recordings. Finally, they all contain a built-in list of radio stations. In FStream, it's under Favorites > Preset; Pocket Tunes has it in the Stations tab, a more logical placement. Most other radio players also have station lists and some even allow for listing local stations in your vicinity. But the station lists of ooTunes and Pocket Tunes are far longer than most of the other players.
A number of Internet radio stations broadcast "metadata" with their songs and ooTunes supports it, allowing the app to display the lyrics and album art of the song currently playing. Last.fm (Free; last.fm) accesses metadata to allow you to link to related tunes and even the YouTube videos. In addition, it includes a feature called "Radio RooLette" that lists tunes that have started playing on various streams. You can freely select the one you'd like to listen to. Finally, it also supports passing a stream playback to the built-in QuickTime, which means you can do something else with your iPhone while the radio continues playing. The latter functionality is also implemented in Pocket Tunes. Of course, this will only work with compatible streams (not with OGG or WMA).
Time-Shift Radio ($0.99, permeative.com) and some other radio clients offer "time-shifting," allowing you to "rewind" the stream at any time and listen to it over and over again. You can also set the duration of the stream you want to save via a memory allocator slider.
Both Pocket Tunes and ooTunes have a built-in Web browser, which allows you to browse the Web while listening to music. This comes in handy if you want to listen to radio stations that are not compatible with the "background playback" feature of these two clients. These browsers don't have multi-tab support, but they're usable for occasional Web browsing.
Night-time clocks and alarms
Some radio clients also display a huge clock. If you have a cradle (connected to a charger), you can leave them on for the night; they can make a really nice-looking night clock.
Clock Radio ($0.99, free version also available; raizlabs.com/software/apps/clockradio) is currently the best combination of Internet radio client and night clock application. One of the best features of it is the continuous backlight setting capabilities. Its built-in station directory is pretty good too.
Finally, Smart Tunes (Free; leftcoastlogic.com) allows you to set somewhat more sophisticated repeating alarms. The latest versions of ooTunes also support this kind of functionality.
Radio's new lease on life
At different times over the last 60 years, people have predicted the death of radio. When TV was introduced in the 50's, experts mourned for it. When the Walkman hit the scene, radio was declared dead again. People were sure that the iPod would put the final nail in radio's coffin. Ironically, the iPhone and Internet radio has managed to reverse the trend. Radio has a new lease on live, thanks to the Internet, the popularity of the iPhone, and the great radio apps developed for it.
Reduce Battery Drain Associated With Streaming Media
Streaming Internet radio to your iPhone does require more power and can adversely affect battery life. Here are some things you can do to minimize battery drain while streaming media:
- Wi-Fi consumes much less power than 3G or EDGE. If a hotspot is available, always use Wi-Fi for streaming.
- EDGE uses less than half the power of a 3G connection. If you have access to EDGE and 3G networks, but not Wi-Fi, disable 3G and try streaming radio over the EDGE connection. If the signal strength is sufficient and the EDGE network isn't congested, most streams will work fine with it.
- OS 3 added Bluetooth stereo audio (A2DP) support to the iPhone 3G and subsequent phones. It consumes a lot of power on the 3G and much less (but still some) on the 3GS. However, cabled headsets don't draw nearly as much power. If you can tolerate the cable, use a cabled headset to listen to music.
- If you do want to use a stereo Bluetooth headset with the iPhone 3G, you might want to use an A2DP-compatible Bluetooth dongle with the phone. (A few stereo Bluetooth headphones come with one; you can purchase it separately for others.). It will consume less power than the built-in Bluetooth radio. You may lose the remote capability of the headset, but most of the radio apps don't support it anyway.