This upcoming Monday is the start of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, an event where MacBooks glow like fireflies and the men’s bathroom line stretches as far as Oakland. Apple isn’t expected to unveil a new gadget; instead, it will highlight the mobile and desktop software goodies coming our way, including a mysterious new music service that supposedly will take on Spotify and Pandora.
Some say Apple execs will show it off on Monday. Others disagree. Sony Music’s CEO said in an interview on Sunday that it’s definitely coming. So, you’re probably wondering what’s so new and exciting about another music subscription service. My fearless colleague Dan Tynan and I will be there in the flesh, on Monday at 1pm ET, 10m PT, live-blogging the event until our fingers get sore. But in the meantime, we answer your most pressing questions.
So, what is this thing called?
According to the frequently accurate Apple blog 9to5Mac, Apple’s internal name for the project is Apple Music. It makes sense, since Tim Cook opted to drop the gimmicky iNaming scheme with the premiere of the Apple Watch earlier this year. The company is also shedding the Beats Music branding that this app is based on (more on that soon).
How much will it cost?
Just a few months ago, outlets were reporting that Apple would offer this service for a cheaper price than its competitors, at just $8 a month. But after extended negotiations with music labels, it’s looking more like $10 a month—exactly the cost of unlimited streaming for competitors Spotify, Rdio, Google Play Music, and Deezer.
Why should I care about this when Apple has failed at music for a long time?
Wow! How rude. If you’re reading this, Craig Federighi, cover your beautiful eyes.
I’ll have you know that back in my day, the 99-cents-a-song iTunes model was actually innovative. Apple was the first company to work closely with artists and music labels to sell their music by the MP3. The launch of its online music store was significant in 2003, the time of iPods — especially for those of us who had 40GB to fill.
But as they were perfecting that model, entirely different approaches to digital music were popping up. Pandora, which was created in 2000, was a viable alternative to music discovery. And, you know, so was stealing it, on sites like Kazaa and LimeWire. When Spotify and several other unlimited streaming services premiered in 2006, it began to eat away at the iTunes audience, despite Apple’s occasional efforts to modernize (RIP Ping) and, you know, surprise Beyoncé albums. Apple has fully realized that it needs to get with the times, though it will probably continue selling MP3s.
So, how is Apple going to catch up to the standard after all these years of mediocrity?
You may have heard about a little $3 billion transaction last May in which Apple purchased the headphone and speaker company Beats Electronics. On the surface, it may have seemed as if Apple was trying to up its accessories game, but buying Beats gave it two key things: the talent and influence of the company’s founders, Dr. Dre and recording industry bigwig Jimmy Iovine, and Beats Music, a subscription-based service that the pair had launched earlier that year. I tested it out when it premiered in January. It’s pretty solid. To help with the update, Apple reportedly hired Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor to help redesign the app.
So, what does the Apple Music service have that my current music-streaming service doesn’t?
Because this service is based on the original Beats product, it focuses heavily on personalization. The original app asked your age and gender to get an idea of what genres resonate with your generation. While it’s unclear if Apple Music will keep those features, it will reportedly greet first-time users with a bunch of bubbles displaying genres. You can select the ones you like, and it stores that information to make smart suggestions.
The service will be integrated with your existing music library — including all those deep cuts you ripped during your Phish phase in college — so when you search for a song, the search will include both your personal collection and the entire 26 million-song iTunes catalog. Any song you hear and like can be added to your library. If space allows, you can add it to your offline library. Otherwise it will be stored in the cloud. This just happens to be very similar to what Google Play does with music.
Apple hopes to set itself apart with a revamped iTunes Radio. In case you’re unfamiliar, the two-year-old service works kind of like Pandora. You can create your own stations based on genres or artists you’re into. Eventually the program will learn about your interests to make its own suggestions. But you can’t freely search for specific music and play it, and you can only skip six songs in an hour, per station. Overall, it worked as a medium to sample songs and then, if you wanted, buy them in iTunes. And just like the paid Pandora service, the updated version will reportedly allow you to skip tracks an unlimited number of times and provide stations that are exclusively DJed by high-profile celebrities.
Wait, like Bono? Please don’t say Bono
While I can never guarantee whether or not Bono will surreptitiously appear in an Apple product, I can tell you that certifiably legit musicians are rumored to be involved with the project. So far the rumored shortlist of station curators include Dr. Dre (easy), Drake, Pharrell Williams, David Guetta, and Q-Tip. This list seems to align with the celebs we’ve seen wearing pricey Apple Watches in the wild, so it’s not entirely out of the question to wish and hope for a station from Beyoncé, too.
Cool, so that’s it?
Apple is also supposedly resurrecting a hollow shell of its failed social music recommendation feature, Ping. Except this time, the only people who are allowed to have music profiles are the artists themselves (sorry, Aunt Gertrude, you’ll have to find another way to display your love for Huey Lewis and the News). On these artist profiles, musicians can promote themselves, share clips of their own music and tracks from other artists, and premiere music videos. It sounds curiously like a little something called Tidal. And in that case, perhaps we won’t see participation from Queen Bey, after all. But, Drake!
Yeah, Drake’s cool, I guess.
Anything’s better than Bono.
Join us at Yahoo Tech on Monday morning for our excellent WWDC liveblog, featuring color commentary from David Pogue, Dan Tynan, and yours truly.