Apple has finally thrown its hat into the music streaming ring. Players like Rdio, Spotify and Pandora have been trying to get internet streaming and curated radio perfect for years, so what can Apple do to take your money away from the competition on day one? We went hands on with Apple Music at WWDC 2015 to find out.
The whole point of Apple Music is to bring you closer to your tunes on an iOS device, and the whole experience is broken down into a few different sections: My Music, For Me, curated Radio, and Connect.
The My Music interface shows you two columns: the stuff you have added to your library already as well as a playlists section which includes playlists you’ve created for yourself, as well as stuff curated by Apple’s people. When you’re listening to music, you can listen to the stuff in your own library, as well as press “All” to view what else is out there under the same artist or genre.
Next up, is the radio bit. Apple is calling its world-wide 24-hour radio “Beats One,” which is run by famous music DJ guy Zane Lowe. It comes to you love from NYC, LA, and London. Which doesn’t sound quite as global as they’re implying, but let’s see where they go with it down the line.
Finally, comes Apples problem to “Connect” which is basically a way for you to follow your favourite artists on Facebook and Twitter as well as through the app itself. This last bit sounds a bit like Apple’s previous social music failure, Ping. Artists will all have to be verified by Apple before they start posting, so you'll be able to make sure that posts you're seeing actually came from the right artist when you view Connect.
The most interesting feature is the For Me section. It asks you off the bat to choose a few genres you like, then choose a few artists you like. From there it recommends a few different stations to you, similar to how Rdio does. Unlike Rdio, however, Apple is using real people to pick the music and not machines.
When you listen to songs on For Me, you can synchronise them to your device to listen to offline. That's the killer feature for Apple Music, because for the price of an album every month, you don't have to buy songs anymore. You can just listen to them on your device until you either get sick of them or until they drop off the streaming service. Not all songs will have an expiry date, but some will as with any streaming service.
Apple Music doesn’t appear to have a free subscription, although starting June 30th, everyone will be offered a free three month subscription. Like everything other service out there, the premium subscription price will be $US10 per month. There’s also a $US15 per month family plan for up to 6 family members — which is a pretty sweet deal, depending on how exactly its metered. It's worth noting that if you're a current iTunes Match subscriber that you're not about to lose anything there: Match and Music are meant to sit side-by-side with each other. One is a way of keeping all your music in the cloud and matching more as you add it from your old physical library, the other is for streaming it.
Apple Music will replace the Music app on the iPhone from iOS 9 onwards. That means you're about to get it put in front of your face whether you plan on buying it or not.
People who choose not to pay for Apple Music will be given features like Connect and Your Music for free, but you'll miss out on being able to stream songs on demand, as well as all the rich media content like music video streaming. A little tip if you don't even plan on using Connect as a free user, however, would be to go into your Settings and turn off Apple Music in the app's pane. That gives you a vanilla Music experience with a few visual tweaks thanks to iOS 9.
Although, given that Apple is giving everyone three months of free Music, it might be worth leaving it on for 90 days just to get some free goodies.
So is it any good? That's an interesting question. As an iOS user who splits my cash between Spotify and iTunes Match, I think centralising my streaming can only be a good thing. On the other hand, breaking up with Spotify means I lose a few features I've come to love.
It's worth considering that Apple Music may run into the same problem that Apple Maps did when it was launched a few years ago. It's not that it sucks, it's that the rest of the industry has a massive head start on it.
When Apple launched Maps, Google was already five years into its development cycle with a catalogue of great features already delivered and more on the way. That's what's about to happen with Music. Apple is getting out of the gate with a quality bit of kit, but at the same time, Spotify, Rdio and Pandora have worked hard in the last five years to completely dominate the streaming music space.
Spotify especially has the jump on Apple. As it was pointed out earlier, Spotify has worked hard to be everywhere and work on everything. You run with it, you game with it, you ride with it: it's music for your whole life. Apple needs time to get there.
What Apple does have on its side, however, is people. Apple's killer pitch for people to switch to Music from their existing service is that it has real people and not computers figuring out what you should listen to next. I'd argue that someone in Cupertino (or Sydney for that matter) can't figure out my insane (read: terrible) taste in music, but I think that the thing with the heartbeat is going to do a better job at it in the long run than the algorithm without one.
Apple Music going to get people right out of the gate by virtue of being right there in front of you, and by giving people enough free time on the service to lock themselves in by accident, but only time will tell if it's going to be the streaming service of record after its launch.
Luke Hopewell travelled to WWDC 2015 as a guest of Apple.
Additional reporting by Mario Aguilar.