On June 8, at its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced Apple Music, its answer to existing music streaming services like Spotify, Rdio and Google Play Music. Apple Music will be available worldwide on June 30.
I'm an avid Rdio user and we have blogged about Rdio, Spotify (versus Rdio) and Google Play Music in the past. Because I am also an avid Apple device user (iPhone, iPad and Apple TV), my interest was piqued by the Apple Music announcement.The company is obviously playing catch-up as many of its loyal iTunes users (myself included) have abandoned it in favor of streaming services over past couple years.
But the question everyone is, and should be, asking is: What will differentiate Apple Music?
With so much in common with existing streaming services, what will differentiate Apple Music?
For now, it's hard to say. Apple Music will consolidate Apple's previous streaming services, Beats Music and iTunes Radio (neither of which ever came to Canada) and introduce the following new features (which you can see in greater detail in Ben Popper and Micah Singleton's Verge article):
- $9.99/month subscription, or $14.99 for a family plan (up to six members), with a three-month free trial.
- The service will launch on iOS June 30 and arrive on Android in the fall.
- 30 million audio tracks available for streaming.
- Rebuilt iTunes Radio with guest DJs including Dr. Dre, will.i.am, Pharrell and Drake.
- BeatsOne, Apple Music's initial station will be available in 100 countries and will be curated by BBC's Zane Lowe.
- Connect, a new feature that allows amateur artists upload music, photos and messages, allowing fans to access, comment and like the material.
- Siri integrations will allow users to make Apple Music requests, like "Play me the top track from the summer of 1982."
The subscription rates are essentially the same as Rdio and Spotify. So is the 30-million-track library. So is curating stations based on mood and genre (celebrity DJs notwithstanding). Connect doesn't seem much different from SoundCloud. And the Siri integration, although clever, would only save me from having to Google trivial info, which takes mere seconds and I'm happy to do without talking to my phone.
Another minor advantage I alluded to in my Spotify vs. Rdio comparison was iTunes connectivity. Apple will certainly seamlessly mirror your years-old iTunes music library in Apple Music (at least the songs that are available for streaming). Spotify already does this, but to my knowledge Rdio does not.
So yeah, Apple Music doesn't offer much that's unique. At least not for now, as I mentioned.
The opportunity for Apple, naturally, lies in artist exclusivity. Much like it arranged for U2's latest (and putrid) album to be automatically uploaded to iOS users' devices via iTunes, Apple's deep pockets should allow it to bring exclusive album releases and such to Apple Music.
The opportunity for Apple Music, as with Tidal, lies in artist exclusivity. Expect an arms race.
Fellow latecomer Jay Z's Tidal streaming service has faced its share of criticism but if its recent star-studded launch was any indication, Apple may have to bid against Tidal to compete on the basis of exclusive content. One Jay Z-affiliated artist rumored to migrate to Apple is Kanye West. "Competition, the maxim goes, is good for consumers," wrote The Atlantic's Spencer Kornhaber (April 6). "But for anyone who’s been paying to stream music for the past few years, it’s hard to see how that will turn out to be the case: To gain the edge, these companies will try to partition what used to be a utopia."
There are, of course, artists and labels opposed to the streaming business model in general. Taylor Swift, who yanked her music off Spotify last November, announced yesterday (June 18) her hit album "1989" won't be on Apple Music either. In an unrelated story, major indie labels have taken offense to Apple's proposal to pay zero royalties out during the three-month free trial it's offering users. (June 22 Update: Swift wrote a Tumblr post on June 21 explaining why she was witholding "1989" from the Apple Music launch. Apple quickly did an about face last night, via a series of tweets by SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue.)
That's about all I can tell you without having taken Apple Music for a spin. Stay tuned for a breakdown of reviews when the service finally launches.