Apple announced plenty of new products, features and upgrades during today’s keynote but what interested me the most was Apple Music, their new streaming music service. Well, it’s not entirely new as Apple did have a radio service even before buying Beats Music last year. When it bought Beats Apple said that it liked “Beats’ ability to convert free trial users of its service to paid subscribers” as well as its music industry contacts so it was clear, even before the pre-WWDC guessing game, that Apple would announce a streaming music service.
Well, as predicted, they launched one today. Rdio, which launched a streaming service almost five years ago, cheekily tweeted: welcome!
— Rdio (@Rdio) June 8, 2015
So, what does Apple Music have that the other services lack? That’s the thing, it doesn’t seem like much. Mashable put together a handy chart comparing the on-demand music services and Apple does have a few differentiators even in chart format. There’s Connect, an artist’s social network, so that fans can follow their favorite musicians “all in one place” instead of those other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Apple is also unique with its Beats 1 global radio station and has good integration with Siri, though Google also provides voice search. But maybe the product isn’t in about comparing to services already out there, maybe it’s something really new?
When Trent Reznor of Apple’s Creative team, introduced the product in a short clip during the keynote, he said that the goal was to serve both fans and artists. For fans, said Mr Reznor, Apple Music offers “a complete experience, by combining the catalog of the world’s music, with the music that isn’t in the catalog yet, direct from the artist to you.” For artists, an “ecosystem that we hope can start to provide the tools to grow, nurture and sustain careers.” Lofty product goals indeed.
Right after the video, Jimmy Iovine, Apple’s resident music exec, talked a bit about music discovery, an area that I believe could be improved. I listen to Pandora (way!) more than my digital music collection because I enjoy listening to new-to-me songs on my personal stations. Apple Music will tackle music discovery with handpicked playlists that are supposed to provide, according to Mr Iovine, the “perfect next song.” After stating that “algorithms can’t do the emotional task of choosing that next song,” he added fuel to the fire by saying that “research, genre and beat” cannot help users discover music they like. Maybe, but have Apple’s music geniuses put together perfect playlists for every listener, for every mood, at any time, anywhere in the world? Dare I use the word “scalable” to ask if such a task is even doable? Pessimistically, will Apple even consider the artists, sharing their music from “their bedroom” when creating these lists? Or will they only include music from the music labels?
After Mr Iovine, Eddy Cue came on stage to talk about features. “My Music” includes all the user’s purchased music and “For You” offers playlists based on the user’s listening history and prefered artists. It isn’t “just algorithms” but recommendations by people who “love music.” OK then. I did like the options to choose playlists by genre, and by “activity,” which I assume is somewhat similar to how Songza (now also part of Google Music) has created playlists for common activities according to the time, day of the week, and special events.
Two last points. First, why does every single music service out there (except Rdio Select) have to offer access to all the songs in their collection at exactly the same price point, $10 per month? Even the cable industry offers customers more than one tier, and they invented bundling! Isn’t it time to offer different packages of songs? The same features could work, on demand songs, handpicked or algorithmic-compiled playlists and recommendations but split, say, by genre? $3 for complete country music access, or hip-hop, or rock? Or maybe split by decades? $4 for all the 80s music your ears can handle? Take a look at satellite radio channels for inspiration. Why do all the music streaming services all offer access to all 30 millions songs?
Second, on a positive note, one thing Apple tends to do well is to simplify interfaces to appeal to a broader user base. Can that simplicity be translated to increased paid music subscriptions? Will existing streaming music subscribers of services such as Spotify abandon the music intelligence they have invested in those services and switch to Apple Music? That remains to be seen.
Update, June 10th: One thing I did not notice on Monday that aside from offering a 3 month free trial period, Apple Music is not going to offer a free tier, limited and supported by ads, like its competitors, including Spotify. This is an interesting choice which TechCrunch summarized perfectly: “The problem with free trials is that discourage people from investing in personalizing their listening experience by creating playlists and teach the service what they like. Spotify has found significant success using its limited free ad-supported tier to turn casual listeners into paying subscribers. Spotify tells me 80% of its paid subscribers started on its free tier.”