After months of speculation, Apple today unveiled Apple Music service, a hybrid offering that combines music streaming, a 24/7 worldwide live radio station, and a platform that allows both established and indie artists to connect with fans. Apple Music, which launches on June 30, will cost $10 per month; a family plan that allows six simultaneous users will cost $15 per month.
Apple says that you can listen to the Beats 1 radio station and explore the Connect feature without subscribing. But it's betting that you'll be willing to pay to get those capabilities plus the streaming service combined in a single app, with humans—music experts, rather than algorithms—compiling curated playlists and recommendations for both the streaming and radio services.
The big question, of course, is whether those offerings will be enough to lure music fans away from Spotify, Pandora, and other established subscription services. Unlike Spotify or Pandora, Apple Music doesn't come in a free version, though there will be a three-month free trial when the service launches.
Apple Music provides access to music you already own, plus Apple's library of about 30 million songs. Showing its Beats Music pedigree, Apple Music has a "For You" section where music curators will create a personalized mix of albums, new releases, and playlists based on your preferences and listening habits. The Siri voice assistant is integrated into the service, so, for example, you could ask for last year's No. 1 song and have it playing within a few seconds.
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Like the streaming service, Beats 1 radio is being curated, this time by popular DJs in New York, Los Angeles, and London. The live, around-the-clock radio station will include exclusive interviews, guest hosts, and updates about the music world. While you can listen to Beats 1 radio without a subscription, paying for it will enable some features, such as unlimited song skips, similar to what Spotify does for free mobile users.
What's truly different about Apple Music is its Connect feature, which lets artists—both signed and unsigned—connect directly with fans. Solo artists and bands can post songs or demos, behind-the-scenes videos, tour photos, and lyrics directly from their iPhone. You can comment on the posts and share them on social media, and artists can communicate directly with you.
With Apple Music, Apple is in the unusual situation of playing catch-up with more established players. Based on several industry reports, Beats Music, which Apple acquired last year, has fewer than a half-million U.S. subscribers, while Spotify has an estimated 4.7 million paid subscribers here. Apple's advantage is clearly the number of people who already own its devices and use its other services.
—James K. Willcox
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