Ending the nearly two-hour WWDC 2015 keynote was the introduction of the long-awaited Apple Music. Despite their intense love for music, Apple’s success rate with new services has been pretty awful. This coming from the company that revolutionized music. There was the failed social network Ping, that allowed users to follow artists and see what friends were recommending. It closed in 2012. Services like iTunes Match, while useful, haven’t set the world on fire. Apple’s iTunes Radio hasn’t made people forget about Pandora, despite its prominence in the current iteration of Music. It gets a second chance this time around, with a new Beats 1 24/7 radio station and the promise of redesigned stations curated by “some of the world’s finest DJs.” At the heart of Apple Music is its new streaming service, based on the lineage of Beats Music, purchased last year for 3.2 billion. With music sales lagging, the importance of transitioning to streaming can’t be understated. Just a little over a year later, Apple Music is official and will launch on June 30th. It’ll be priced at $9.99 for an individual account and $14.99 for a family plan (up to six people – so the Duggars are out luck). There’s a free 3-month trial, so even the most skeptical (counting myself in that group), should take advantage and kick the tires. From what I’ve seen, I’m passing on Apple Music and here’s why.
Forgettable Introduction, But Who Cares?
Forget about Jimmy Iovine’s painful introduction that look forced, as if he was reading words written for him. Forget about Eddy Cue’s dancing – I know that will be hard. And forget about Drake, who probably for the first time in his career, looked completely lost on the big stage. This wasn’t Apple’s finest product intro moment and it may have sullied the once important phrase, “One more thing….” If it were a completely new cord-cutter’s dream of an Apple TV, that would have been worthy. Apple Music was hardly a secret. Then again, thanks to the journalistic stylings of Mark Gurman, not much that Apple announces is new. Putting all of that aside, the real test is the service, the app and how it will revolutionize music. Their words, not mine.
Sonos Won’t Be Supported At Launch
If you haven’t tried Sonos yet, you’re missing out. Whether you have one or twenty Sonos speakers, the service is rock solid. It’s the speaker version of Apple products. It just works and it’s awesomes. I’ve yet to find someone who purchased Sonos to say anything that wasn’t glowingly positive. In my home, we have a Sonos Connect and a Sonos Play 1. They are strategically placed where we listen to music most. Beyond the dead-simple setup, rock solid stability and ease of use, Sonos is also service-agnostic. They don’t care which service you use and do a great job of supporting most, if not all of the major streaming services (they don’t support Xbox Music).
You’ll have to excuse the gushing over Sonos, but I’m certainly not alone in the vital role it plays in listening to music. It’s beyond mildly disappointing that at launch, Apple Music will not be supported by Sonos. This isn’t the fault of Sonos, at least based on my interaction with them yesterday. “Although it will not be available at launch, we’d love to bring the service to Sonos as soon as Apple is ready.” This statement from their support team, shortly after the keynote. That sure sounds like a company who would be happy to make this happen. Apple has had this rollout planned for the summer of 2015, so why not check the boxes next to Sonos and have the Android app ready to go as well. These may be small elements of the market, but that does not diminish their importance.
Millions of songs
Apple Music will boast the biggest library of songs. There may be some holdouts, but it’s more music than you could ever want. This all neatly ties in with the music you currently own. Admittedly, I’ve had a difficult time transitioning from owning music to borrowing it. I’ve used services like Zune (no really, I’m not kidding), Rdio, Spotify, Rhapsody and more recently Beats. They were all quite good and when I trialed Beats, I found their curated playlists to be excellent. They should be, considering the curation is a big reason why Apple spent big on Beats. The all-you-can-eat music buffet sounds tempting, but I’m not certain it’s worth $9.99 a month. If I had a family that shared my interest in streaming music, the family plan might just have the value component. As an individual, that’s a $120 expenditure per year on music – that I don’t own.
The trouble I have with Apple Music and perhaps others as well, is that good music is readily available, for free. I have an Amazon Prime account and they offer a decent selection of playlists. These aren’t curated by world renowned DJs, but even a monkey could pick Journey’s Greatest Hits. If I’m looking for music specific to my mood, I’ve found Songza to be fantastic. In fact, on Sonos, it’s ad-free and it costs nothing. I don’t get sprawling playlists, but nice short groups of songs that I find are quite good. When I think of Songza, I think of good quality curation.
I suspect that the curation of Apple Music isn’t a vast departure from Beats. A good service, but I’ve been there, done that. The difference may lie in the sheer number of tracks, which may help with marketing bravado, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. Does anyone care if a service offers 20 million vs 37 million songs?
Connect: The return of Ping
With Connect, I can get sneak peaks at what artists are working on. Videos from inside the studio, hand written lyrics and whatever artists contribute. This worked so well with Ping, that Apple brought it back. What you’d normally find on a Facebook fan page or Twitter account, will now be in Apple Music. Thirteen year olds around the world are rejoicing, eagerly awaiting updates from One Direction. Maybe this is a young people’s sport? Having backed one of my favorite artists on Pledge Music, I can say these sorts of perks proved to be lackluster. Now if you’re talking free, exclusive content, then maybe we’re talking. The artist I backed provided a few acoustic covers that I could download and it change my perspective. I could do without updates, but unique tracks, that’s value.
Not magical, certainly not revolutionary
I’m not sure what magical service I was hoping from Apple that would change how I discover and listen to music. These lofty expectations come from years of seeing them enter product categories and completely kick-ass. Have you seen the Apple Watch next to a Pebble?
Music should be their wheelhouse. They revolutionized music with the iPod and the iTunes Store. In Apple Music, I’m at a loss to find anything that differentiates from existing products, most of which work with Sonos and other products I already have in my home. If you throw around the word revolutionary, you have to be ready to back it up. Despite my critical view, I’m sure it’ll do fairly well. By baking it into the stock Music app, coupled with having credit cards on file, they have navigated past a few traditional barriers to acceptance. It’ll be easy to join and use. I’m still looking forward to my 3-month trial, still looking forward to how a good streaming service deeply embedded in iOS might be enough to change my opinion. From what I’ve seen thus far, I’ll be passing.
What’s your take on Apple Music?