WWDC 2015: Apple aims to take big bite out of music-streaming market

Apple Music, announced at the Worldwide Developers Conference, was expected

The announcement that Apple was launching a streaming music service would have come as little surprise to anyone who has been keeping up with tech news. The rumours have been doing the rounds since the company bought Beats Electronics last year in a $3 billion deal.

The only surprise is that it has taken this long for Apple to enter the streaming market in a meaningful way. The company that essentially fuelled the digital music revolution with the iPad and iTunes ecosystem has allowed newcomers such as Spotify and Deezer to steal a march on it, carving out a customer base for streaming services. Starting from June 30th, Apple is hoping that will change.

The company knew it had to pull out all the stops to ensure that its announcement made the required impact. Chief executive Tim Cook waited until the end of the keynote speech at the company's annual developer conference before teeing up the announcement with his predecessor's "One more thing . . . " line.

The company also called in some heavyweight help to push the merits of the service, including Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine, who described it as "revolutionary". Rapper Drake also provided some backup.


Apple Music is hitting three fronts. Aside from the music-streaming service, there will also be a live radio station broadcasting 24 hours a day from three cities – London, New York and Los Angeles – fronted by Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London.

A third element, Connect, allows artists and fans to connect directly, sharing lyrics, backstage photos, videos and music files. Playlists will be curated by people instead of algorithms – similar to what Google Play Music offers customers – and a "For You" section offers a mix of albums, new releases and playlists personalised for users.

“Apple’s roots in the digital music industry and its history of pioneering disruptive technologies make the company a natural candidate to take music streaming to a new level,” said Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer. “However, Apple faces strong headwinds in this space, with Pandora and Spotify well entrenched and other powerful players, such as Google, making a serious play for the music consumer.”

That competition is worth paying attention to. At the last count, Spotify had 75 million subscribers worldwide, with 20 million of those paying for the service and was available in 58 countries; with Deezer was at more than 180 countries with 16 million users. Apple is going for somewhere between the two, with 100 countries slated to get the service at the end of the month. But Apple has some 800 million iTunes accounts, giving it a massive market to tap into.


For consumers, the draw for Apple Music will be convenience. If you’re an iTunes customer, Apple already has your credit card information on file. For mobile users, the streaming element of the service will be part of the Music app already installed on the iOS system, so it sits alongside the rest of your music. And while there’s no ad-supported free version like there is in Spotify, for example, Apple Music is pricing itself around the $10 mark, with a family sharing plan for $15 that allows for up to six users on one account.

To tempt users to change over, Apple is also offering three months of the service free before the charges kick in.

Some people were more optimistic on Apple’s chances. “The Apple brand speaks for itself, and it will have an earthquake-like impact on the industry,” said Daniel Ives, analyst with FBR Markets. “Given the gold standard brand, given Apple’s breadth and awareness, it’s more important what Apple is doing strategically than moving the needle financially.”

Significant step

Perhaps the most surprising element of the announcement was that Android users will also be included, with Apple Music to launch on the platform in the autumn.

According to Ian Fogg, head of mobile at analyst firm IHS Technology, this is a significant step.

“From a mobile market perspective, the apparent lack of bundling for free with Apple devices indicates Apple is just trying to build a great big digital music business, rather than attempting to differentiate its devices through music,” he said. “This will be the first Apple-branded app or service to reach Android and is a strategic shift for Apple in its approach to the main rival smartphone platform.”

The WWDC keynote wasn’t just about music. Every year, Apple uses the event to show off what is coming down the track for its mobile and desktop software. This year was no different, with both iOS and OS X getting new versions this autumn. Also on the cards is a software update for its smartwatch that will allow standalone apps for the system and reduce the dependence on the iPhone.

“This will be a big deal in creating a much more useful set of apps for the Watch,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research, explaining that apps did not always run smoothly when tethered to the iPhone. “Watch apps could feel slow and unresponsive at times.”

There were the usual software upgrades for iOS and Apple’s desktop OS X software, and more information on Apple Pay, which is set to launch in the UK in the coming weeks. There are no definite plans to bring it to Ireland as yet.

There was a distinct impression that, having done most of the big changes in the two previous versions of iOS and the last update for OS X, Apple was refining the software, perhaps trying to avoid the bugs that plagued previous releases. The addition of transit information to Maps, while useful, couldn’t be described as earth-shattering for the operating system.

Digital assistant

The News app, which acts as a digital magazine that can be personalised, has already been compared to Flipboard, while the multitasking feature on new iPads allowing users to see two apps side by side, bears more than a passing resemblance to the “snap” feature in Windows 8. A low-power mode, which will turn off battery-draining elements of the OS X, is also something rivals have introduced ahead of Apple.

But there were some notable features. The latest version of iOS will make digital assistant Siri more useful, for example, allowing users to search for specific things within apps, such as photos from a particular month, or identify an unfamiliar number calling by scanning your email for potential clues. It will also offer contextual reminders and learn from your behaviour; for example if you run at a certain time each day, Siri will automatically know that when you plug your headphones into your device, you want to listen to playlists.

The idea is, it seems, to make Siri indispensable. According to Apple, Siri has been becoming quietly popular with users. Perhaps the company is hoping the same “softly, softly” approach will work equally well with iOS 9.