Apple Music: The good, bad, and Eddy Cue’s shirt

This week’s main story, of course, was Apple’s WWDC. This year’s “one more thing” was Apple Music. There was an equal mix of good and bad in the oddly long, painfully awkward unveiling. A meandering, dad joke-heavy mess of a presentation, it did give us something to think about.  

Why music?

Apple shouts from the rooftops about their focus. Unlike other mammoth companies like Google and Microsoft, they haven’t historically felt the need to dabble in every possible business pool. Their focus is part of what makes them great, and they’ve famously said “no” to ventures that take them outside their comfort zone. That’s why we’re a little confused about Apple Music. It’s no secret that music is a huge part of Apple’s culture and was of immense importance to Steve Jobs. So is this just a “what would Steve do” gone awry? Sure, iTunes is being disrupted by Spotify, but iTunes isn’t a huge part of Apple’s revenue. Is there really a need for Apple to get into the business of curating music and running radio stations?

Another question is whether or not music occupies a position in our lives important enough to warrant a three billion dollar investment and countless hours of development and focus. Gone are the days when you would invite someone over to listen to your sweet new Hi-Fi, and for many people music has become little more than a background feature. Yes music is ubiquitous, but that doesn’t make it more valuable. Value grows from scarcity, and music’s background noise status makes it less valuable.

And where does the Beats hardware side of things fit in? Remember it’s an existing and thriving high-end music hardware company. Is Apple Music really just an adjunct to that, giving users great music to listen to on their great headphones? Maybe there’s more going on here than just wanting to one-up Spotify.

Connect

The Connect piece of the puzzle is of huge importance to the overall success of Apple Music. You can’t replace social networks musicians already use to connect with fans (like Vine, Twitter, and Instagram), so Connect has a very steep hill to climb. It needs to integrate seamlessly with those services, giving artists and fans everything they need all in one place. To be successful it can’t make the artist change much about how they already connect. I’m hoping it’s like Buffer for artists but even then I can’t see it usurping existing social channels.  This feels like Ping. Remember Ping? We barely do.

Streaming and Siri

With iOS 8, Apple gave people the ability to have different apps for different users all on the same account. With the smart family option for Apple Music, they’re doing the same thing. You’ll be able to create different stations for different family members, different tastes, different moods. This is something Spotify can’t touch. But is the streaming portion worth it? The average iTunes user spends a paltry $12 a year on music. Will Apple Music be compelling enough to convince users to pay ten times that (or good enough to make them forget to cancel after the brilliant three-month free trial)? Unlike Spotify, the streaming side of Apple Music will have no free tier. Either you pay for it or you don’t, and that’s somewhat of a tough sell. They have to hope free Spotify users dislike the ads enough to make the switch.

Apple Music’s integration with Siri is another potential nail in Spotify’s coffin. When the muse strikes, you can just tap Siri and cue up that one Journey song you can’t get out of your head. That’s significantly easier than launching Spotify, looking up the artist, finding the song…by the time the muse has flown and you don’t care. Integrating with Siri makes it exponentially easier to use Apple Music all the time.

Can they compete?

To get ahead of Spotify (which, given its latest $526 million round of funding is still quite attractive to investors), Apple doesn’t really have to go too far. Spotify has 15 million paid users and around 60 million overall subscribers. With around 470 million worldwide iPhone users, 15 million just isn’t a big hurdle for Apple to clear. It’s not unreasonable to assume Apple could make that and more in no time, especially with the three month trial period.

Ultimately the question is whether or not users will fork over the $10 bucks a month for Apple Music, in a world where people are used to getting their music (and everything else) for free. Does popular culture still think music is worth paying for?

And finally, Eddy Cue needs to stop dad dancing. Our sensitive constitutions can only take so much fremdschämen.