Right at the tail end of the keynote address at their Worldwide Developer’s Conference – the annual event where Apple gets together with the people that make the apps for its devices – the company dropped in a surprise extra item that was aimed not at software developers, but at everyday users. Apple’s long been fending off rumours that they were going to start a music streaming service.
While they purchased headphone company Beats and got its streaming service as part of the package, they’ve been happy to let Beats Music run as normal, quietly chugging along and posing no threat at all to the dominant player in the field, Spotify.
All that changed with the announcement of Apple Music, which launches in just a few weeks, on June 30th. Proving all those rumours true, Apple Music leverages the vast content library of Apple’s iTunes Store and combines it with the music-fan-focussed “curation” behind Beats Music, including record producers Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre, and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. While Spotify does try to help people through their vast content library with suggestions based on what you play as well as what your friends are listening to, Apple Music’s plan is to take this one step further. Like other streaming services, the music you listen to day to day gets fed into a system that tries to guess what other music you might like, which obviously gets better at doing so the more you listen. But the difference here is that, according to Apple’s announcement, the recommendations – the connections between artists and styles – will be made by real people rather than machines. In a music world where so many genres cross over into others, this is something that could be a game-changer; if you’ve spent an evening listening to a bunch of classic ‘80s music, you probably don’t need a recommendation to listen to Taylor Swift just because her latest record’s influenced by music from that era!
Launched alongside Apple Music is a new “global 24/7 radio station” named Beats One, which will leverage the iTunes music library to power an actual proper radio station with a team of DJs operating out of three cities, led by BBC DJ Zane Lowe. Access to beats One won’t require an Apple Music subscription.
Also built in is a new platform called Connect, where artists – whether global megastars or fresh indie artists – can upload content like new songs, videos, photos and blog posts. It’s something Apple tried once before with a service called Ping (it wasn’t around long enough for most to even have heard of it) but this time it’s integrated deeply with the iTunes music player.
Apple says that the entire iTunes Store library will be there on Apple Music for streaming, which is a huge amount of content new and old – including a bunch of artists whose music isn’t available on Spotify at all. The price? $9.99 a month for people in the USA, right in line with Spotify’s monthly fee for their Premium service. We don’t know yet what the Australian price will be, but it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll see it at $11.99/month, also in line with Spotify’s pricing.
Will it be worth it? Its tight integration with iTunes could make all the difference. Your own iTunes library becomes part of the pool of music that can be drawn on and streamed anywhere, so if that favourite obscure album is nowhere to be found on the iTunes store, Apple Music will upload it to the cloud and it’ll be there when you hit the Shuffle button on your iPhone. That’s good news for those frustrated by the gaps in Spotify’s collection (especially with older music).
Probably the best news for those curious but cautious is Apple’s announcement that the service will be completely free for the first three months; no doubt they’re banking on people trying it, loving it, connecting with artists through it and wanting to keep it around.