Apple's biggest test will be convincing people to leave Spotify

After a decade-plus of using iTunes as my main hub for storing and managing my music, I recently switched to Spotify Premium.

My biggest takeaway? Apple will have a hard time convincing me to switch to its new streaming music service next week. Because I don’t want to go back.

Spotify Premium is the way music should be: An endless library of past and current music, stuff you’ve heard and stuff you’ve never heard before, available to you anywhere at any time for a monthly fee that’s totally affordable for most people. And from the carefully curated playlists to the effortless way you can get music on and off your devices, you really get the sense that Spotify cares about music lovers.

On Monday, Apple will aim to prove it’s still the most disruptive force at the intersection of music and technology — and try to make people forget about Spotify — with the introduction of its own streaming music service. This is the culmination of last year’s $US3 billion purchase of Beats, a subscription music service that kept Apple CEO Tim Cook sleepless the night he tried it for himself.

Apple beatsAppleBeats co-founder Jimmy Iovine, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Beats co-founder Dr. Dre, and iTunes boss Eddy Cue.

“Jimmy [Iovine] had told me how great [Beats] was,” Tim Cook said in an interview with Charlie Rose. “So one night I’m sitting playing with theirs versus some others, and all of a sudden it dawns on me that when I listen to theirs for a while, I feel completely different. And the reason is that they recognised that human curation was important in the subscription service.”

Like Spotify, Beats offered personalised playlists built by expert curators. But Apple’s new service might go one step further: The New York Post says Apple has tried going after prominent musicians like rapper Drake and singer Pharrell Williams to act as “guest DJs” for the new service, which was described as “the best of Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube.” Drake’s deal alone was rumoured to cost around $US19 million.

We won’t know if Apple’s music service is actually better than its streaming rivals until after Monday, but Apple’s reputation in this particular category is at stake.

Apple’s second renaissance as a tech company in the early 2000s — including its major transition from a computer company to a devices company — was largely made possible by the iPod and the iTunes Store. It was Steve Jobs’ love of artists, musicians like Bob Dylan and The Beatles, that motivated him to work with the music industry to save it from piracy services like Napster and Kazaa, which ate into CD sales by letting people get songs for free.

“We believe that 80% of the people stealing stuff don’t want to be, there’s just no legal alternative,” Jobs once told Andy Langer of Esquire. “So we said, ‘Let’s create a legal alternative to this.’ Everybody wins. Music companies win. The artists win. Apple wins. And the user wins, because he gets a better service and doesn’t have to be a thief.”

The iTunes Store was a simple premise: Digital songs cost $US0.99 each, and the record companies would get 70 cents from each song sold. You could also buy albums, and the record companies would get 70% of that, too. And thus, Apple managed to dethrone Sony, the biggest name in music players at the time with the Walkman, by offering a tight turnkey solution — a complete music ecosystem — in the iTunes Store and the iPod.

About a decade later, though, music is just one application on our phones and tablets — and people aren’t nearly as willing to pay 99 cents for songs. That involves taking out one’s wallet on too many occasions. And so music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify have proliferated: apps that emphasise music discovery in a radio-like experience with free and paid tiers, but don’t take up any space on your devices, and offer a flat monthly fee, if any fee at all.

In just a few short weeks, I’ve become a believer in Spotify. I’ve been listening to a wider variety of music than I’ve listened to in years, and I like all the ways Spotify changes throughout the week, and even throughout the day, as it tries to connect to people’s ever-changing palate of emotions. For example, featured playlists change depending on the day of the week, the season, the time of day, and what you personally listen to most.

Tim Cook Apple U2 Bono The EdgeJustin Sullivan/Getty ImagesApple CEO Tim Cook (L) greets the crowd with U2 singer Bono (2nd R) as The Edge (2nd L) and Larry Mullen Jr look on during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California.

But Apple, despite iTunes’ recent stagnation, has a deep connection to music, and has friends in high places. There’s a laundry list of prominent musicians with personal connections to Steve Jobs and Apple, including U2, Coldplay, John Mayer, Taylor Swift, and Bob Dylan — and don’t forget about all of those musicians you’ve seen wearing gold Apple Watches, like Kanye West, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Pharrell, and Drake. It’s possible they, too, could play a role in Apple’s forthcoming music service. And, of course, all the music experts and artists associated with Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre, and Beats.

Celebrity endorsements or not, Apple’s new music service needs to only really do one thing: It needs to convince me (and millions others) that it’s better than Spotify. Because more so than Apple, Spotify has convinced me that a carefully curated experience is key for pleasing music fans, blending familiar favourites with new tracks you’re likely to enjoy — that aspect of discovery is what keeps me coming back for more. I’ll be watching Apple’s WWDC keynote on Monday for the announcement of this streaming service, and I imagine many in the music industry will as well.

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