The biggest news out of Apple’s developers conference Monday was its new music streaming service called Apple Music.
If you’ve used services like Spotify, Rdio, or Rhapsody, you’re probably already familiar with the concept. But there are still a lot of open questions about Apple Music ahead of its June 30 launch.
I got a brief demo of Apple Music Monday following the announcement. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most important things I learned:
- Apple Music will replace the current Music app on your iPhone. You’ll still be able to listen to all the music you bought from iTunes and/or ripped from CDs.
- Beats 1, the new streaming 24/7 radio station from Apple, will be available for free for everyone. It’s supported by ads, but you won’t hear traditional commercials. Instead, sponsorships will be read by DJs, sort of like you hear on NPR or PBS. For example, a DJ might say something like, “Beats 1 is brought to by Business Insider, the best business news website in the world.”
- iTunes Radio is dead. It will be replaced by a new streaming radio service that’s curated by humans, not computer algorithms. Each station (alternative, pop, dance, etc.) has human curators picking songs they think you’ll want to hear.
- If you pay for Apple Music’s streaming service ($US10 per month), you’ll be able to save any song to your phone so you can listen if you don’t have an internet connection. Spotify, Rdio, and other paid streaming services let you do this too.
- Apple told me the streaming library will be almost exactly what you can buy today in iTunes. However, there will be some exceptions for certain artists that have negotiated with their labels to block their songs from streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.
Beyond that, I only got a few minutes to explore the app. It was an early version, not the final version that will launch on June 30. Still, I got a general idea how things will work.
Apple crammed a lot into the app. When you use it for the first time, you select the music genres you like (pop, hip-hop, alternative, whatever). Next, Apple asks you to pick a few artists in those genres that you like. Based on that data, Apple Music builds a profile of songs you’ll probably want to stream. They’re stored in a tab called “For You.” You can also stream any other song or album you want on demand and save them for offline listening.
Then there’s radio, which includes Beats 1 and all the genre-based stations. Beats 1 is similar to a traditional radio station and will have celebrity DJs guiding you through the music.
There are also a bunch of genre-based stations that will replace iTunes Radio. Like I said before, all the songs are curated by humans instead of algorithms like competing services from Spotify and Pandora. So if you select the “Dance” station, you’ll get a bunch of songs one of Apple’s expert curators thinks you’ll like to listen to. Apple emphasised that human curation will be a key differentiator between Apple Music and the rest of the competition.
The most curious part of Apple Music is called Connect. It’s sort of like a mini social network that artists can use to upload photos, videos, song lyrics, or any other supplemental media to their music.
Connect is reminiscent of Ping, the defunct social network for music artists that used to be part of iTunes. The version I saw had some extra media from Pharrell, but nothing that got me too excited. Assuming artists actually use Connect, I see it becoming a new-age version of exploring materials like album art, lyrics, photos, etc. that artists stuff in CD and record packaging. But my gut tells me most people will just want to listen to music. I’m not that excited about Connect.
Of course, it’s too early to fully judge Apple Music. The final version won’t launch until June 30. But based on what I’ve seen, I think it’s very similar Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, and the others. But Apple has a few things the competition doesn’t: Marketing muscle (other services don’t really advertise), human curation, and an app that will soon be preinstalled in tens of millions of iPhones around the world. It probably won’t be enough to get current Spotify users to switch, but there’s a lot of opportunity to snag first-time streaming music users.