Ever since Apple bought Beats last year, speculation has been rampant about Apple's ambitions to join the world of music streaming. Beats Music had just been sitting around doing nothing ever since (other than making for prime rumour-fodder). But now there's this: Apple Music is the iPhone company's Beats-based streaming service, launched during tonight's WWDC 2015 keynote. Spotify, take note.
Dubbed the 'next chapter in music', it seems to be an evolution of what Apple started back in 2003 with iTunes.
According to Jimmy Iovine, the world of digital music was a mess in 2003, with services offering many different ways to obtain music over the internet. That changed with iTunes, which offered what Iovine refers to as "the simple, elegant way to buy music". Now he claims that the streaming world is the same, and it's up to Apple to fix everything again.
That's where Apple Music comes in, offering a hybrid of iTunes, streaming, internet radio, and social media. The app is comprised of three key parts: Your Music, Connect, and Radio.
Your Music sounds very similar to the music player already included in iOS, letting you access all your music, playlists, the music queue, and recommendations. It also seems to be where the streaming takes place, letting you listen to millions of songs already stored in iTunes.
It was implied that all of the music present in iTunes will be available to stream, and that's pretty damn impressive given iTunes' extensive catalogue.
Apple promised that Apple Music's radio feature will not just be your typical internet radio affair. They pointed out that most internet radio stations are just playlists, whereas Apple Music will be a proper radio station that happens to be broadcast online. At launch there is one station, dubbed Beats 1.
Beats 1 is a station live broadcasting 24/7 in over 100 countries across the world, with shows from actual people like poached BBC DJ Zane Lowe. According to Apple Beats 1 is designed to be focussed on great music, rather than any specific subset or genre. So basically, it's Radio 1.
Connect is the social media aspect of Apple Music, letting musicians communicate with their fans and express themselves in any way they see fit. It's there for sharing songs, demos, remixes, soundbites, or even just random musings that pop into their head. From the sound of things it's akin to a mixture of Twitter and SoundCloud.
The idea is to help support artists of all forms of life, regardless of how famous they are, and let them communicate with their fans.
The Human Touch
One of the big things Apple focused on was that using algorithms wasn't the best way to deal with playlists and recommendations. They matter, but not as much as the behind the scenes human touch. Humans, unlike algorithms, can actually feel the emotions of your songs, and deliver you the right song/playlist at the right time.
That's not to say algorithms won't be involved. Recommendations for playlists and albums are personalised to your tastes and what you already listen to. That said, Apple has a team of real people who go ahead and make the final decisions. Make of that what you will.
If you'd rather not stick to the automatic recommendations, there is a section of the app dubbed 'New'. This is the place you go to to find new stuff and help expand your musical repertoire.
Apple has announced that Apple Music will be coming to iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Windows on 30th June, launching in over 100 countries across the world. Apple hasn't specified which 100 countries, but it's a safe bet that the UK is one of them. It'll also be arriving on Android and Apple TV sometime this autumn.
We don't have any UK prices right now, but in the US Apple Music will cost $10 a month for a standard subscription and comes with a three month free trial. Expect it to cost somewhere between £7 and £10 a month here. That's for the premium version, though. Some of the stuff is included free of charge, and this handy chart lets you now what's what.
The biggest news about the service, however, is the fact that you can opt to pay a little bit more and share a single account with five other people. Priced at $15 a month in the US, this will effectively give everyone involved their own account, with their own playlists and recommendations. If anything is going to give Apple a boost over Spotify, it'll be this.