It’s been a painfully long time coming, partly, it is said, because of Steve Jobs’ reluctance to believe that music streaming would catch on (well, we’re allowed the occasional transgression), but, yesterday, Apple finally launched its Apple Music service.
Its lateness in bringing the battle to prime mover Spotify, which launched in 2008, is one of the most striking things about Apple’s decision. It’s all very well for Apple to position Apple Music as being as ‘revolutionary’ as the iPod and iTunes were to the music industry, but these could prove to be empty words, given how far it is behind Spotify and the many rivals it spawned, such as Pandora, and how familiar people are already with this model.
It’s all very well for Apple to position Apple Music as being as ‘revolutionary’ as the iPod and iTunes were to the music industry, but these could prove to be empty words
The question of whether it has left it too late to join the music-streaming party is one that won’t go away until we start to see subscription numbers prove otherwise. However, Apple Music does have many positives in its favour.
Apple claims that its service will be simpler to use than its rivals, and this simplicity of purpose is something that has long been the company’s strength. It promises to bring together a variety of disparate functions – music streaming, recommendations and connecting with artists – and put them in one place, your phone, which represents a clear, competitive advantage.
With Apple also developing its own Android app, the implications are greater still. Windows users having already learned how easy the Apple platform is to use through iTunes for Windows and Windows compatibility for iPod, which shows that Apple has greater penetration.
The ability to connect with artists is one that is currently available on a baffling array of platforms, including Tumblr, Instagram and Bandcamp. Apple has managed to simplify this, which will attract artists, both upcoming and established. Again, this comes down to Apple’s key principles of simplification and penetration.
Apple Music has been built by the team behind the Beats Music service, which Apple acquired as part of its $3bn purchase of Beats Electronics last year; the Beats moniker is being retained, with a Beats 1 radio station. This, too, is potentially interesting as it puts 'taste' at the centre, with Beats Music being powered by individual 'tastemakers', such as Zane Lowe, with the reach to influence a global audience.
Will cool music remain cool when the whole world will be able to access it at the same time?
For some musical purists (and hipsters) to whom the early discovery and adoption of some of the more obscure artists is sometimes part of their identity, this could be unsettling. After all, will cool music remain cool when the whole world will be able to access it at the same time? Perhaps the main contention, though, (maybe even within Apple) is a deeper philosophical one between the algorithm and the human touch, which is reflected within Apple Music.
On the one hand, Apple is saying that machine learning is great. It can serve up personalised recommendations in the new Apple News app (which looks like a cross between Flipboard and Facebook Instant Articles). It can suggest contacts or places based on your smartphone activity.
On the other hand, Apple says that those same algorithms can’t be DJs or suggest the next best track in your playlist – humans curate those playlists.
This begs the question: can machine learning be more human than us to understand what we want? Apple appears to think both are needed in this instance, as there is machine learning and man on a single platform.
Inspiring the competition
With its £10 per month price point (plus a free tier) Spotify is unlikely to be too threatened by Apple Music, which will be available at a similar price. If anything, it will push Spotify to innovate to compete and add new features, such as podcasts and original content. Spotify also has a popular social element, where users can collaborate and share playlists, whereas it’s not clear whether Apple Music will allow them to do the same.
With so many variables, our prediction is that Apple Music will become the mainstream choice for mainstream music streaming, but Spotify won’t give up without putting up a fight of its own, for which it has had plenty of time to prepare.