Among the announcements at Apple’s annual developer’s conference was a potential game changer that could make the Cupertino-based company the world leader in streaming music, the latest way to get your daily dose of rock, pop, hip-hop or any genre of your choice. It's called Apple Music, a brand new streaming service from Apple.
So just how significant is it? Well, think of a BBC world service for the current generation, albeit a paid one.
Apple describes the new service as a combination of the “best ways to enjoy music” – a streaming music service, a worldwide live radio station broadcasting round-the-clock and a new way for music fans to connect with their favorite artists.
And if the company plays its cards right, Apple Music could well go on to become the dominant player in streaming music, which is growing by leaps and bounds around the world, while digital downloads are starting to decline.
Apple Music will build on the company’s acquisition of Beats Entertainment, a world leader in headphones, and offer users access to a large and diverse catalog of music that can be played on phones, tablets, desktop computers and other devices.
The company plans to roll out Apple Music in more than 100 countries on June 30 and the service will be free for the first three months. After that, there will be a monthly fee in the US of $9.99 or $14.99 for a family pack with up to six accounts.
There is no word from Apple on pricing round the world but the company has often adopted a differential pricing policy – tracks that go for a dollar or more in the US are often sold on iTunes in India for as little as 25 cents.
Streaming music isn’t entirely a new concept – it has been tried by both legal and illegal players. Pandora, available in the US, Australia and New Zealand, has 250 million registered users.
Spotify, a commercial music streaming, podcast and video service that provides content from labels and companies such as Sony, Warner Music Group and Universal, has more than 60 million active users in Europe, the US, South America and parts of Asia. Tidal, the first high fidelity streaming service, has 540,000 subscribers in Britain, the US, Europe, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Grooveshark, one of the most popular streaming services, was shut down recently because it wasn’t paying artists or record companies for the copyrighted music it provided for free to users.
On the other hand, Apple has 800 million iTunes accounts. Though not all these account holders may be interested in music, they can be used to sign up more people for the Apple Music service. And the potential of huge sums from a new subscription streaming model, whereby musicians are paid for every play of a song, will certainly keep the music labels happy.
Apple has also gone the extra mile to connect with music fans. While Pandora has an automated music recommendation service powered by the Music Genome Project, Apple Music has hired music experts from around the world to create playlists based on a user’s preferences, and it says they will “become better curators the more you listen”.
The “For You” section of Apple Music will provide a mix of albums, new releases and playlists personalised for users.
Beats 1, a live radio station dedicated to music, will be part of Apple Music Radio. It will broadcast to more than 100 countries round-the-clock and feature influential DJs such as Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London. Human curation will take the lead in Apple Music Radio, which will have other stations featuring many genres of music. Members will have the option to skip as many songs as they like or “change the tune without changing the dial”, as Apple puts it.
Another aspect of Apple Music will be Connect, which will allow musicians to connect with fans and share lyrics or even release their latest songs directly. Connect was introduced at Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, a sign of the heavy hitters that Apple has lined up behind its new service.
We won’t have to wait very long to find out if Apple Music lives up to its potential – June 30 is just weeks away.