Apple Music Is Coming but Is it All it's Cracked Up to Be?

Apple Music is coming June 30. Details of the long anticipated Apple Music were revealed at the Apple developer’s conference (WWDC) on June 8. When Apple acquired Beats last year, it appeared that a monthly subscription music streaming service was inevitable. After much anticipation, the announcement was somewhat of a disappointment, uncharacteristic of Apple’s usual breakthroughs in technology.

The offering includes three parts—the monthly subscription Apple Music streaming service, a global live radio station, and a musicians’ social media element.

At Monday’s conference, music industry record producer/entrepreneur Jimmy Iovine came onstage, announcing that Apple Music is a “revolutionary music service.” However it is clear that Apple is doing a lot of apple picking of features from other subscription plans.

The basis of Apple Music is Beats music (which evolved from its acquisition of the MOG service). One of the emphasized benefits includes the recommended music feature called “For You” (called “Just for You” in Beats Music). As in Beats, during the initial setup, users choose their music preferences, tapping once on musicians or genre bubbles that they like and twice on favorites. These choices, along with music from your play history, music you've purchased, and music in your iTunes library are combined with a magic sprinkle of human curation to create customized song suggestions. Deezer has been doing this beautifully (available in U.S. if you have Sonos or Boss music systems). And, like Deezer, all genre playlists are curated.

When Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced Apple Music, he said, “the collection you own and love is just the beginning.” After years of selling music, it sounded more like a mea culpa, as you no longer need to buy and own music if the whole iTunes library is available to stream for free. However, reports from those who attended the WWDC announcement claim that while you can buy Beatles albums and songs, the group’s music is indeed absent from the streaming Apple Music. The idea of adding your iTunes catalog to a streaming library is not exclusive to Apple Music as it has been available through Spotify.

Where Apple Music could shine is in its integration with Siri. Siri will now pull up any song, artist or album that is in the Apple music offering. Whether you want to listen to “Dare” by the Gorrillaz or “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, simply ask Siri and the music should start to play on your iPhone or iPad. Siri will also be able to respond to requests like “Play me the best songs from 1984,” or “What was the number one song in April 1965?” The onstage demonstration, however, showed us that Siri will still get it wrong at times. It took Apple exec, Eddie Cue a couple of attempts before getting Siri to understand that he wanted to “Play the music from ‘Selma.’”

A few features are missing from Apple Music that are available in Spotify and other services. There is no free, ad-based pandora-type radio option. Playlists can’t be shared socially with friends. It’s also not clear if Apple will continue the 320 Kbps streaming quality available on Beats or if it will top out at 256 Kbps (as it does in iTunes).

The service will be priced at $9.99 per month or $14.99 for a family plan of up to 6 simultaneous users with their own profiles and music preferences. Because people who create a library are more likely to stay with a service, Apple is offering a whopping 3-month free trial starting on June 30.

The other parts of the announcement actually were revolutionary. Beats 1 is a 24/7 live radio station that will be sent out worldwide (100 countries). It is led by a trio of top DJs: Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York, and Julie Adenuga in London. Along with music from “indie rock to classical and folk to funk,” there will be exclusive interviews, guest hosts and “the best of what’s going on in the world of music.” It appears that anyone will be able to access Beats 1 radio, but members will be able to skip as many songs as they like to “change the tune without changing the dial.”

The other feature is Apple Music Connect. Artists will have a place where they can share with their fans—anything from videos and backstage photos, to lyrics and new song tracks. Through Connect, unsigned musicians will be able to create a page to reach new fans—giving a new platform for artists to potentially reach millions of listeners. Fans can then share what is on an artist’s connection page using Facebook, Twitter, and email. While a benefit for wanna-be musicians, it’s unclear how much listeners care about this concept. It is similar to the Ping feature that was available from 2010 to 2012. Never heard of Ping? I rest my case.

Apple music will be available on iOS devices, Mac, and PC on June 30th, followed by an Apple TV and Android phone app in the fall. Watch for the review in July.

dommyluc's picture

Of course, as always, the media will trumpet this as THE GREATEST MUSIC STREAMING SERVICE IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND BECAUSE...APPLE! Every time Tim Cook farts, we get a detailed account of how wonderful the world is now that he was able to relieve his gas. Am I the only person who is underwhelmed by Apple and has never had a use for their products?

jnemesh's picture

Most of the media have been panning the service. It's simply not offering anything truly distinctive to differentiate it from the other, more established players...other than a radio station. Wooo. Not only that, but it runs on fewer devices than, say, Spotify, and doesn't offer a free, ad supported tier either. It doesn't offer superior sound quality, like what Tidal is offering, either. The only people who will sign up are the blindly devoted Apple fans...which may be enough for Apple. It's not, however, going to redefine the industry, nor convince millions of people to switch from Spotify, Pandora, or Google Play Music accounts just because it's from Apple.

brenro's picture

There has never been anything terribly unique about anything Apple makes but, like other marketing driven companies such as Bose or Dyson, they get scads and scads of free advertising through these endless press releases.