Apple took to the stage at WWDC early last week to announce Apple Music. It’s their long rumored music streaming service that is pitched as “one complete thought around music.”
Apple Music, as a service, looks quite good and I think it’ll be a real hit, but this was not a presentation that I would say Apple knocked out of the park. Tim Cook and other executives probably thought it was important to have Jimmy Iovine and Drake on stage so that the team from Beats and the community of artists were both represented. In practice, it was just shy of a train wreck. They could have cut the Apple Music presentation time in half and given themselves a better opportunity to succeed.
I’m certain they didn’t need to go over as many details as they did — leave something for the press and Apple’s webpages to reveal. And, Eddy Cue didn’t save the show like I was hoping he would. Apple’s on-stage humor tends to err on the side of hokey, but Eddy took it to the next level with that salsa dance. And that’s ignoring Iovine’s awkward prompter reading and Drake’s attempts to get himself over with the crowd by wearing a decidedly unfashionable vintage Apple jacket.
And again, we get it. You’re having karaoke night and it’s hilarious.
Revolutionary Music Service
I think Apple’s being a bit hyperbolic when they call it “revolutionary,” but ultimately it depends on how well users take to it and whether or not artists are able to make a sustainable living through it.
With Apple’s new Music app there’s five tabs along the bottom: For You, New, Radio, Connect, and My Music. Radio and Connect I’ll discuss in later parts of this article — for now I’ll focus on the three core parts of Apple’s “revolutionary music service.”
The “My Music” tab includes an “Up Next” queue, music that’s been recently added to your library, and all of the playlists and songs from iTunes. This is the area of Apple’s Music app where purchased tracks appear and where you’ll go if your music collection is still primarily made up of albums you’ve ripped to iTunes (like me). “For You” is the location of Apple’s recommended songs, albums, and playlists. These recommendations are generated by computer algorithms and human curation which Apple claims will surface more insightful suggestions. And, New is where you’ll find the latest artists and albums every week, top charts, and human curated playlists based on genre or activity.
I’m not ecstatic about this new setup. It feels like Apple is trying to hide the music you own inside of an app that’s designed to stream music from a for-pay service. I haven’t used Apple’s new Music app yet, but I’m certain I’ll miss being able to customize the tabs along the bottom to tailor it to my preferences. I suppose I might like being able to search iTunes from within the app, but I doubt that’s worth obfuscating my music collection for.
24/7 Global Radio
In Apple’s continued effort to add a human touch to the curation of content, they have introduced Beats 1 — Apple’s flagship radio station. This station will play music programmed by actual DJs rather than by computer-based algorithms and will broadcast live 24/7 from studios in London, New York City, and Los Angeles. Apple hired Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga — three successful DJs who’ve become well known for their ability to surface new and interesting music.
This, to me, will be one of the more interesting aspects of Apple Music. Beats 1 is a single radio station run by actual DJs that anyone with an Internet connection can listen to. There’s no skipping tracks or tuning the station to your preferences — Beats 1 is broadcast live and the decisions of what to play is solely in the hands of the DJs. This is very different than other online radio stations and what might set Apple apart from the crowd if it’s as entertaining as they claim it to be.
But that doesn’t mean Apple is forgoing algorithm-based stations entirely, you will still be able to create new stations based on a chosen track or artist. And, users can tune those stations just as you do today in iTunes Radio or Pandora with familiar like and dislike buttons.
Alongside Beats 1 and Pandora-style stations, users will also be able to listen to stations based on genre or activity that are generated using a combination of algorithms and human curation. I don’t expect these to be quite as popular as the other two station-types, but are an important piece to the puzzle allowing new users to quickly jump in and start listening to music they’re likely to enjoy.
Connecting Fans with Artists
The last and final section of Apple Music is “Connect” and it’s essentially a social network designed to help artists and fans communicate with one another. Artists can share photos, lyrics, notes, audio clips, and video with their fans who can like and comment on the content. And, everything posted in Connect can be easily shared to Twitter or Facebook.
There’s obvious comparisons between Connect and Ping — Apple’s defunct music-focused social network — but the key difference is Connect’s mobile presence and integration inside of iOS’s Music app. I always wanted to see Ping succeed because I wanted a place where everything was about the music. I didn’t want to see what Pete Wentz was having for dinner, but I was interested in the music he was making with Fall Out Boy (although not anymore, everything went downhill after Infinity on High).
I hope Connect can fill that gap, but Apple has a long road ahead of them if they want it to succeed. They need to convince a large percentage of musicians to buy-in to the service and actually share content on it. It certainly helps that the application is installed by default on one of the most successful mobile operating systems of all time, but those users still need to tap into the tab from time to time in order to stay engaged and make it worth the artists effort. If there’s any resistance along the way — Apple doesn’t nail the publishing tools, artists get more attention on Twitter or Facebook, etc. — it could suffer the same fate as Ping. But, I think Apple can pull this off.
Apple Music will be launching in over one hundred countries at the end of June with the release of iOS 8.4 and a new version of iTunes. But Apple isn’t leaving Android users out of the equation, they’ll be releasing Apple Music for Android this fall as well. The service will cost $9.99 for a single user or $14.99 for a family of up to six. I’ve never paid for a streaming music service, but from what I gather on Twitter, the family plan is an absolute steal.
I am a bit worried that Apple is trying to do too much with a single application. What many developers have learned over the past several years on the App Store is that simple, single purpose applications tend to be more successful than larger, sprawling apps with long feature lists. While watching the keynote, I couldn’t help but feel like Apple Music is just the Beats, iTunes, and Music apps stapled together. Again, I hope I’m wrong about this. I want Apple Music to be successful and would love to see them prove me wrong with an incredible application experience, but we’ll have to wait and see.