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Pandora guns for Spotify & Apple Music with new Premium on-demand service [u]

Pandora on Monday announced that its long-promised on-demand music service —Pandora Premium —is rolling out this week, challenging rivals like Apple and Spotify with a handful of unique features, mostly focused on personalization. [Updated with more launch info]

Upgrading to Premium for instance adds a "My Thumbs Up" playlist to a listener's library, including every song liked across Pandora's regular radio stations. The library itself incorporates stations alongside playlists, songs, and albums.

Pandora is also claiming faster playlist creation through an "Add Similar Songs" option, which makes use of the company's algorithms to automatically populate a list based on a handful of tracks. Similarly, the service can automatically generate playlists based on songs liked from a specific radio station, and offer new album recommendations from a person's favorite genres, rather than just the most popular material.

Search, meanwhile, is said to be more refined, generally ignoring karaoke and cover tracks, and improving in accuracy over time.

Other features include downloads for offline listening, and a different "Now Playing" interface which changes color based on album art and inserts options for saving and downloading.

Yet to be added is AutoPlay, which like Spotify will create an endless playlist once a song, album, or playlist finishes. Pandora is also promising wider platform support beyond its iOS and Android apps, such as a Web app for desktops and laptops.

Access to Premium will expand gradually, and cost $9.99 per month for individual subscribers. It's unknown if any family or student plans are in the works.

Pandora is one of Apple's key competitors in streaming music, with some 81 million listeners, though only somewhere over 4.3 million use a paid subscription instead of the free ad-based tier. Apple Music has over 20 million paid subscribers, but no free listening past a three-month trial. Spotify recently topped 50 million paid customers with many more likely tuning in for free.

Update: Existing users of Pandora's free tier should receive invites for a free two-month trial starting on March 15 —a similar trial should at some point be available to new users. Pandora Plus subscribers will get six months free.