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Apple Music finally unveiled

By and | Published on Tuesday 9 June 2015

Apple Music

So now we know why Apple bought Beats. It saw the headphone seller launch the most overhyped underwhelming streaming service of the year and said, ‘Ha, we’ll have one of them too thank you very much Jimmy’. And so, ladies and gentleman, Apple Music.

But then with such great hype, not to mention a year of long drawn out anticipation, perhaps it was optimistic to expect a whelming. And anyway, those in the music industry with high hopes that Apple can truly take subscription music mainstream are banking more on the tech giant’s reach than its product.

As expected, freemium on Apple Music is a cheaper-to-run radio experience, though perhaps even more so than we thought. So rather than rolling out the existing iTunes Radio – a Pandora style experience – beyond the US, Apple is launching a more conventional radio station, Beats 1.

Of course, after Apple poached Zane Lowe and then some production talent from Radio 1 we expected some more conventional radio shows to be thrown into the mix, something both Spotify and Deezer are already in the process of adding too. But Beats 1, a 24/7 global radio station, will be the entirety of the freemium offer at launch, though its name suggests additional channels will be added down the line.

Record industry veteran Jimmy Iovine, who came to Apple via its Beats acquisition of course, introduced Beats1 by noting that “the truth is [that] internet radio isn’t really radio, it’s just a playlist of songs, and we wanted to do something really big: a worldwide radio station broadcasting around the globe”.

Now, Apple’s ‘internet radio’ station – ie the aforementioned iTunes Radio – never really took off, but Pandora and iHeartRadio’s combined user base of nearly 150 million, mainly in the US, suggests there is definitely an audience for “just a playlist of songs”. And you suspect the real motivation for Beats 1 may be more about licensing, because once you go beyond America its harder to license a Pandora-style experience (which US copyright law forces the labels to service).

Though Apple’s new radio station will provide a useful platform via which to instigate low-cost artist exclusives that may pull in curious consumers, who you can then try to upsell to premium with a generous three month free trial. Arguably iHeartRadio’s impressive sign-up figures (albeit for a freemium service) come from relentless promotion on the company’s traditional radio stations in the US. So there is a logic to Beats 1. Though the team behind it might discover that there’s a reason why a global one-size-fits-all radio station has never really thrived before.

But what about the premium service? Well, as Apple chiefs unveiled their new music service at the end of a long session on day one of their Worldwide Developers Conference, it felt like this was the thing they had the least to say about.

Basically it’s a standard streaming service with lots of tracks, some videos and curated playlists available at $9.99 a month beyond the free trial, with a $14.99 family package. As with all streaming services, not least Apple Music’s forerunner Beats Music, big boasts were made about the curation element, because, said Iovine, “the only song that’s as important as the one you’re listening to is the one that comes next”. Though, as with the recent revamp of Spotify, it remains to be seen if the promises of ever more sophisticated personalised track curation really amount to much.

What else? Well, the other big component of the new service is Connect, which few commentators could resist immediately dubbing Ping v2. This will allow artists – all artists – to pump bits of content – videos, photos, track snippets – into the platform, presumably to accompany their profiles in the Apple Music ecosystem, with the option to also punt things out to Facebook and Twitter.

This, it seems, is part of a bid to make Apple Music the one-stop shop for the music experience. Because, said Iovine again, “in 2015 the music experience is a fragmented mess. You want to listen to music, go over here. Video, go somewhere else. Follow an artist, somewhere else again. Which is why I came to Apple and said, ‘Can we build one complete thought around music?'”

And Apple Music is that ‘thought’, it seems. The iTunes download store is still there, but with radio, video, streams, photos, messages, extra bits, all laid on top. Now both artist and fan can do everything in one place.

Though one thought is that most fans don’t want to always experience their music in isolation – SoundCloud excels for new artists because it’s so easily embeddable wherever your fans hang out – which means rather than bringing everything together in one place, Connect is arguably yet another digital channel for artists and their teams to manage. But hey, Drake’s a fan. I think. Actually, I’m not sure what Drake was talking about at all.

But there you go. Downloads, radio, streams, video, social, all in one package. With added Zane Lowe. Some of it free, but most of it requiring a financial commitment on the part of the user, and for the music industry that remains the real test.

Can Apple user its reach, its existing user base, its control over so many devices, to persuade the more casual consumer to start paying for streaming music? Because it’s no use if Apple just nabs Spotify’s existing user base, they need to take the free users off Pandora, YouTube and SoundCloud, and make them pay.

Persuading consumers who likely spent tens of pounds on recorded music each year to sign up to a £120 a year service remains a big ask, which means that – even if Apple had overwhelmed with their new music platform – a big challenge would still be ahead. We’ll see whether they can meet that challenge when Apple Music goes live in 100 countries on 30 Jun.

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