Apple Music takes a belated bite at streaming

Jun 30, 2015 06.26PM |

by Abraham Lee

A lot has been said about Apple Music, the company’s latest development and attempt to enter the music streaming services industry. While Taylor Swift has indeed put Apple Music on everybody’s Facebook news feeds and Twitter feeds, perhaps her recently resolved fracas and all the fanfare surrounding it has distracted everyone from what Apple Music will actually be offering – besides Tay Tay’s latest album of course. Here’s the lowdown on what’s in store for you.

Apple Music will be launching tonight at 11pm, Singapore time, with the release of iOS 8.4. Users can then start streaming the Beats 1 radio broadcast, created and put together by Zane Lowe and his hand-picked team of DJs, later at midnight.

Apple Music will not be selling songs or albums, unlike the iTunes store, and instead will run on a subscription basis, charging customers USD$9.99 (about SGD$13.50) per month. This means that you no longer have to pay USD$1.29 for an individual song on iTunes and can play all 30 million songs in Apple’s database for a flat rate. Users will get to try Apple Music in a three-month free trial, after which the service will auto-renew itself unless you opt out.

Apple Music will support all PC, Mac, Apple Watch and iOS devices that can run at least iOS 8 while a version for Android devices will be launched in the third quarter of this year. iPhone users can download Apple Music by downloading the iOS 8.4 update.

What’s so great about Apple Music?

1. Special Features

Apple Music is touted to help users listen to the best music at any time of the day with its live radio station, Beats 1, which will feature appearances by celebrities like Elton John and Pharrell, and interviews with stars like Eminem. The service will also feature Connect, a social feed through which artists can share exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and videos, and engage their fans directly.

2. A More Integrated Apple Experience

Apple has tried very hard to make the transition to Apple Music a smooth one by consolidating your music collection into one place via your Apple ID. The service will upload tracks from a user’s library that aren’t available in the Apple Music catalog, to an iCloud account. This will allow users to stream music from any device, minimising the need to use scarce phone space. Also, users will be able to store up to 25,000 songs in iCloud, even as Apple plans to raise this limit to to 100,000 in the third quarter.

Besides the Single membership, you can also subscribe for the Family membership which allows up to six people to enjoy the services for USD$14.99 (about SGD$20.20) per month. Set up iCloud Family Sharing on your iOS device or Mac, invite family members to join and you’re ready to go. This feature will also be part of the three-month free trial.

3. Exclusive Releases

Apple has lined up exclusive deals like being the first site to stream Taylor Swift’s album, 1989, along with Dr Dre’s album, The Chronic, Pharrell’s latest track, Freedom, and more.

4. Personalised music selections

Apple has previously struggled with the algorithmic limitations of iTunes Radio, which may be why Apple Music will be curated by humans. This feature, derived from the Beats Music service which Apple bought over in 2014, will better help discover the music you want to hear. The initial set up will have you choose at least three overarching genres, allowing the service to find music according to your tastes and adapt accordingly as your preferences evolve.

How does Apple Music compare with its competitors?

1. Free Services

Like Pandora, Apple Music offers a live station, Beats 1, and artist and genre-specific online radio stations for free. Streaming under the limited-time free option won’t have ads but rather announcements from sponsors at regular intervals, to minimise interruption. Other services like Google Play Music and Rdio also have free tiers with online radio channels as opposed to on-demand streaming. However, while Spotify’s free service runs ads, it remains the most comprehensive of the free services as it allows desktop users to play songs on demand and mobile users to curate playlists, to be enjoyed in random order.

2. Social Media Integration

Spotify retains pole position in social media integration as it allows for collaborative playlists and tight integration with Facebook. Apple has yet to mention collaborative playlists but has allowed you to create playlists and save them for offline listening or share them on Facebook, Twitter or Messages.

3. Sound Quality

Apple Music will stream at a maximum bitrate of 256kbps, falling short of the industry average of 320kbps offered by Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal and Rdio. This means that the sound quality from Apple Music will be slightly lower than that of its competitors. If you’re a casual listener, you might not notice the difference. You can use songs bought from iTunes as a gauge as it also offers songs at 256kbps.

So what’s the bottom-line?

Apple Music doesn’t seem to be bringing anything new to the table. Artists are already sharing their behind the scenes activity and connecting with their fans on established social media like Facebook and Twitter. Taylor Swift has hinted that her latest album won’t be exclusive to Apple Music and will be available on other sites sooner or later. Apple may want to hype up its exclusive deals but the music scene is greater than Dr Dre and Pharrell. You’re not likely to miss out on anything. And personalised music selection has been offered by incumbents Pandora and Jango for years. If Apple Music is going to impress, it better be smart enough to adapt quickly and predict what users would like to hear before they even hear it.

Compared to its main competitor, Spotify, Apple Music has a long way to go. Spotify is more comprehensive and allows you to curate playlists collaboratively. It also offers songs at a higher bitrate which can be noticed by the more serious audiophiles. You’d think that a company that prides itself in constant innovation would at least have caught up to what Spotify offers.

It appears that Apple Music’s main draw is giving Apple users a place to consolidate their music into one place, which can then be accessed from any device, via their iCloud accounts. And that’s about it. It seems like Apple is trying to sell us its brand instead of a great music streaming service.

In any case, it probably won’t hurt to enjoy your three-month free trial before coming to your own conclusions. Remember to opt-out of the auto-subscription if you aren’t won over.


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