Nearly a year after purchasing Beats Music, the streaming music service with curated playlists by celebrity DJs started by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, we now know what Apple plans to do to unify the service with its own music streaming offering. Announced yesterday, and to be released at the end of this month, Apple Music is a new music app to be released on iPhone, iPad and Mac, as well as (eventually) Android and Windows.
After years of a music industry depression following the Napsterization of music, a time when more and more people were illegally downloading music, Apple came along and changed the game with its music service iTunes. As music moved from CD to MP3s, Apple’s iTunes moved along with it, moving music purchases from albums to singles for only 99 cents. Plus, Apple had the best music playing devices in its iPods (and later iPhones) that grabbed a lot of mainstream music listening attention.
So when services like Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Beats and others entered the game offering more music to listen to for a monthly subscription, it was extremely curious that Apple hadn’t yet entered the fray. Well, when June 30 hits, that all changes, and users get to trial the service for three months before moving to a $10 month subscription—much like all the other services out there. So what makes Apple Music different, and how can it win?
For one, Beats Music will shuttle its users from their service to Apple with playlists and songs saved carrying over. And Beats will become Beats 1 a 24/7, human deejayed radio station that lives inside Apple Music. As for iTunes, it will be upgraded to include streaming services.
From the outside, Apple Music doesn’t look much different than other services. You get all day streaming like Spotify, radio stations like Pandora or iHeartRadio, and a music publishing service for artists like YouTube or Soundcloud. Jay Z’s Tidal also offers curated playlists and an artist distribution platform, but for now Tidal promises more exclusive content than any of the other services, including Apple Music.
While Spotify remains the dominant streaming music service, and Apple won’t offer a free-tiered plan, there are still a few areas where Apple could win. Like Spotify and Pandora, Apple will offer a radio service, but it won’t simply rely on algorithms. Like terrestrial and satellite radio, there’ll be live radio programmed by DJs, as well as non-live DJ programmed stations to choose from. There’s also Apple Connect—a feature that’s a little bit like SoundCloud, Twitter, YouTube or MySpace—with artists posting audio or video content updates for fans to connect with.
Then there’s the pricing. Apple’s big pitch is a family plan that offers a $14.99/month option for up to six different listeners. Currently, both Spotify and Rdio offer family plans, but it’s $14.99 for two listeners and $29.99 for five.
One of Apple’s greatest advantages is that it’s been in bed with the music industry for so long that so many more labels are onboard for its launch than are currently accessible on other music services. And while not having a free-tiered service could be viewed as a weakness, it’ll take a lot more for Spotify to convert free uses to paid, while Apple will have three months of free trial to convert hundreds of millions of existing iPhone, iPad, and iTunes users.
And while Apple Music won’t be available on Windows PCs and Android phones until the fall, iOS, Mac, and Apple Watch users can start using the service as of June 30. At that time, the service will be available in 100 countries as compared with Spotify, which is only available in 58 countries.
Whether enough music listeners will make the switch to help Apple rise above its competitors remains to be seen. Most people just stick with the services that make the most sense for their personal listening habits. With three months of free listening available though, who wouldn’t at least try?
Lynne d Johnson has been writing about music since the early 1990s, tech since the late ’90s, and the intersection of music and technology since the early 2000s. She currently writes, teaches and consults companies on how to better engage with their audiences.