Apple Music: the right move, or a pricey dead end?

When Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, it changed the world’s approach to digital music forever. There was a however a downside to that revolution.

You see, it made iTunes, a piece of software that veers between frustrating and completely unusable, a worldwide phenomenon.

If you wanted to use your iPod, a great piece of hardware, you had to have iTunes installed.

And so it has been with every new piece of hardware Apple’s launched over the past decade and a half.

In fact, iTunes’ responsibilities have actually increased over that period. As well as playing digital audio and video, it handles the purchasing and downloading music, music videos, television shows, audiobooks, podcasts, movies, and movie rentals in some countries. The scope for things to go wrong has therefore increased dramatically.

Small wonder then that, with the launch of Apple Music, some feel that the Cupertino-based giant is painting deck chairs in the garden while the house burns down.

While that assessment may prove to be fair in the fullness of time, does it suggest that the folks at Number One Infinite Loop are wasting their time with Apple Music?

A massive investment

More than most products, the top brass at Apple will be hoping not. Launched at its annual developers’ conference, the US$10 a month service is seemingly trying to be everything to everyone. And we don’t just mean that as lip service either. The company’s clearly spent big on the streaming/digital radio/musician social networking service.

Take the curation feature in the Apple Music section. Apple claims to have “hired the most talented music experts from around the world, dedicated to creating the perfect playlists based on your preferences”. It also says that they become better curators the more you listen.

That’s great, you might be thinking, but does it really matter? Well yes, as South African startup veteran Peter Matthei points out, it does.

He should know too, at once stage he launched a startup which did a number of things Apple Music does, albeit with much more limited resources.

There is however an obvious danger with this kind of curation: unless your music tastes are pretty broad to begin with, they run the risk of becoming incredibly narrow as a combination of people and algorithms become more successful at catering to your tastes.

There’s also clearly been big money spent on the radio offering. Starting with Beats 1, the company’s first live radio station dedicated entirely to music and music culture, Apple will broadcast live to over 100 countries. The station is led by DJs Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London.

Curation also plays a role here with stations across a number of genres curated by top radio DJs from around the globe.

Getting artists to use the Apple Music Connect feature, at least at first, is also bound to be expensive. The service allows artists to share lyrics, backstage photos, videos or even release their latest song directly to fans directly from their iPhone. Fans can comment on or like anything an artist has posted, and share it via Messages, Facebook, Twitter and email. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, it could be an even bigger flop than Ping.

It’s all about control

If the emphasis on curation weren’t a big enough clue, there’s a line in the press release that shows what Apple Music is really about: “You can stream any song, album or playlist you choose — or better yet, let Apple Music do the work for you”.

It’s a line which Apple Music will live and die by and which perfectly sums up the approach to business which has made Apple so successful in recent years.

Apple products generally don’t do anything other products can’t. The difference is, those products put you in the driving seat. And while some people enjoy that, most prefer to sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the view, which is what Apple devices allow them to do. Sure they might lose a little freedom, but if they were never going to use that freedom does it really matter?

Counting the pennies

Apple Music could do be the most brilliant application of the Apple model, but it’ll all come to naught if people aren’t willing to pay for it.

That’s most likely why the company’s chosen to give Apple Music users a free three month trial period. It wants people to get hooked, to feel like they can’t do without the service.

But there’s no getting around the fact that at US$10 a month, it isn’t cheap. Add in data costs and I can’t be the only one thinking that it’s possible to get by without famous DJs and expert curators.

I mean, we’ve made it this far haven’t we?



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