Apple released the latest build of its mobile phone software to developers Monday night, and iOS 8.4 includes one extremely important change. Buried in the updates and tweaks to the operating system is an updated music app with a new look.
An updated music app might not seem like a big deal, but it’s the first tangible sign that Apple is preparing to dramatically shake up iTunes, changing the platform to focus on streaming rather than downloads.
Apple’s warning shot
The redesigned music app places iTunes Radio in a far more prominent position. It’s not a new service, but its move suggests that Apple is preparing to make music streaming a big part of iTunes.
Here’s what the music app looks like in the latest developer build of iOS:
The developer build of the music app is likely going to be updated in the future to integrate with Apple’s relaunched streaming service. There’s a chance that it could be announced at Apple’s WWDC developer conference in early June.
Apple is planning a streaming service focused on musicians
Sources with knowledge of Apple’s streaming plans told us that the company is reaching out to well-known musicians to try to convince them to give its streaming service exclusive content, playlists, and timed exclusives.
The person reportedly heading up the plan to bring artists on board with Apple’s streaming service is former BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, who was poached by Apple in February. One source told Business Insider that Lowe is the “mastermind” behind the project.
We know that Apple had also been in talks with rapper Kanye West, as he let slip in a New York Times interview that he turned “a multimillion-dollar partnership with Apple.” And Bloomberg reports that Taylor Swift and Florence and the Machine have also been approached by Apple.
Jay Z got there first
Jay Z acquired Swedish music streaming company Aspiro, and has quickly turned it into a showcase for his famous friends and their music. A New York press conference was held to announce the service’s relaunch, and it featured a collection of the most famous names in music: Jay Z, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Jack White, J Cole, Daft Punk, Madonna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Deadmau5, Calvin Harris, Chris Martin, Jason Aldean, Usher, and Arcade Fire.
Is Jay Z worried about Apple attempting to recruit its own roster of artists to join its service instead of Tidal? If so, he isn’t letting on. Here’s what he claimed to have said to Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Beats, which was acquired by Apple last year:
Listen, Jimmy; you’re Jimmy Iovine, and you’re Apple, and truthfully, you’re great. You guys are going to do great things with Beats, but … you know, I don’t have to lose in order for you guys to win, and let’s just remember that.
Many people were shocked at how expensive Tidal is (it costs £19.99 per month for its HI-FI service). But that price comes from the company’s history as a little-known, niche streaming service catered towards well-off audiophiles. Now, Jay Z is turning Tidal mainstream, consolidating two service (WiMP and Tidal) into one, and introducing a cheaper £9.99 plan.
Can Tidal keep its users when Apple launches its own streaming site? It certainly has a chance — fans of Daft Punk, Kanye West and Jay Z’s other famous friends are fiercely loyal, and may choose to stay with Tidal. But the problem with exclusive content is that it simply doesn’t stay exclusive content for long. Minutes after Beyoncé uploaded a video of her playing a new song (filmed by her husband Jay Z), it was available to watch on YouTube. Will fans continue to pay £19.99 per month to have videos slightly earlier than everyone else? That remains to be seen.
We asked the CEO of Jay Z’s streaming company whether he was concerned by the threat of Apple’s new streaming service. He sounds confident in Tidal’s star power:
My personal philosophy is that for anybody who has run a tech business, or is in a sector that’s highly competitive, I think what you do is, you will never end up building anything if you spend too much time just identifying the fears coming from the larger competitors. Apple is Apple. Apple is huge. Apple is going to do whatever Apple wants to do … We observe and look at what they want to do.
Free vs. paid streaming
Music streaming could have gone either way. Sites like SoundCloud and Spotify let people stream music without paying, which is obviously a big draw for consumers. But the trouble with free streaming is that big artists simply aren’t interested. Taylor Swift hit out at Spotify, suggesting that it devalues her music by letting people listen to it for free. Sure enough, she even pulled her music from the service (and has brought it to Tidal).
We asked Spotify whether it’s concerned about artists leaving the service and taking their music elsewhere. Here’s what its spokesperson said:
We want all the world’s music on our service, but there has been sporadic windowing on Spotify since it was created. We know from experience that these things happen, they come and go, and we continue to grow exponentially by delivering a great product for our users and the artists they love. Recent releases by Drake, Kendrick, Madonna and others — including the Empire cast album, which hit number one because of streaming — show how critical it is for artists and labels to be on Spotify for their own success, and we’re proud to be part of that.
It’s probably not going to be price that dictates who will win the music streaming war. Instead, the decider here will be which service can attract the most high-profile musicians, and whether their fans will follow them. Jay Z has shown that he has an impressive roster of celebrities who support him, but we don’t yet know how many well-known musicians Apple can deploy. Artists who like the idea of keeping their music free may well consider Spotify to be the best option.