The Apple Music UK launch takes place today, after literally years of rumours. Apple's most important move in the music business since it launched iTunes, it's entering a space already served superbly by Spotify. Is there any point to it then? Well, Apple doesn't like to do things by halves, so at the very least you should be paying attention, even if not jumping ship to the service completely. But before you do that, you'll want to know exactly what Apple Music is all about. Read on for everything you need to know about the Apple Music UK launch.
What is Apple Music?
Apple Music is Apple's belated attempt to get into the streaming music game. Rather than try to make you buy tracks individually (though you can still do that), the idea is that you pay a monthly subscription fee, and in return gain access to (pretty much) all of the music in the world. In other words, it is just like Spotify.
What unique features will Apple Music have?
On top of the standard Spotify style service, Apple has built what it calls "Connect", which it wants to be like a social network for music. You can subscribe to updates from your favourite artists, and artists can use their feeds to share music videos, updates and other content with you. Like Soundcloud and Twitter, essentially.
Apple is also promising an emphasis on human curation, with a 24-hour, DJ-led Beats 1 radio station built in and other manually curated playlists.
It will also be launching with iTunes Match built in, which will make sure you can access your existing music library and playlists via streaming. The Apple Music UK launch also sees iTunes Match's track upload limit jump to 100,000 songs.
Can I listen offline?
Yes, Apple Music will have offline listening functionality, though the details aren't clear on how much music you can save offline, or how many devices can simultaneously contain offline playlists.
If the Apple Music UK launch is today, how can I get it?
Apple Music will be available as part of iOS 8.4 - the latest update to Apple's mobile operating system. iOS 8.4 will be available for download from Tuesday 30th June (tomorrow) at 4pm UK time. So just head over to your iPhone settings and hit "update" to get it. We presume an update to the desktop iTunes app will also take place, while an Android app is also in the works.
How much will it cost?
The good news is that for the first three months, Apple Music will be completely free for you to try out. After the trial though, it will cost £9.99/month, which is the same as Spotify.
Unlike Spotify, there will be no free tier - though iOS users will be able to listen to Beats 1 and a selection of other Apple radio stations for nowt. Android users won't be so lucky, having to pay up to get any music at all.
Apple will also be offering family streaming, which for what we expect will be £14.99/month, will enable up to six family members to listen to the same subscription at the same time.
What music will be available?
Apple has done deals with all of the major labels, so pretty much every mainstream band will be available on the service. Despite receiving early negative publicity over royalties, Apple has been signing up plenty of independent labels too, so even the obscure indie stuff you like could be available too.
This includes umbrella body WIN, and Beggars Group, which also owns a bunch of smaller labels.
Pharrell Williams has announced his new single, Freedom, will be available on the service on launch day.
Can I listen to Taylor Swift on Apple Music?
Amusingly, this whole spat has generated some bizarre conspiracy theories.
What is Beats 1 and how do I listen?
Beats 1 is Apple's attempt at making a radio station full of cool, new music for the sorts of trendy people who appear in Apple's marketing to listen to. To listen in, all you'll have to do is go into the Apple Music app, where there will be a Beats 1 tab - hit that, and you'll be listening live. Again, we presume there will be similar links to listen in on the desktop iTunes app.
Despite being called a "radio station", Beats 1 will only be available online and not via FM or DAB. So make sure you have Wi-Fi or a strong data connection! Beats 1 will start broadcasting at 5pm UK time on the 30th June.
What will be on Beats 1?
To make it happen, the corporation has recruited Radio 1's Zane Lowe, hip-hop DJ Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga to anchor programmes from Los Angeles, New York and London respectively. From the opening trailer it sounds as though much of the programming will be live (though it'll be interesting to see how long this lasts).
Brilliantly, Apple is also recruiting celebrities to anchor shows, including Elton John and the one and only Jaden Smith.
Not everyone thinks that Beats 1 is going to be a success. It has received some criticism (from, umm, me) for being nothing but a corporate vanity project.
Radio 1 apparently isn't too scared.
Will connected devices be supported?
Eventually, yes. One of the big areas Apple needs to play catch-up with Spotify on is with devices that can connect to music independently of a phone, like Sonos music players. Apple has said the service will be available on Sonos by the end of the year and we await similar announcements from other companies.
It seems unlikely to us that Apple Music will achieve the same sort of reach as Spotify, which for example has a PS4 app which lets you use Spotify as background music in games. But then Apple did do the improbable and announce an Apple Music Android app, so perhaps we're entering a brave new world of Apple opening up its services for other platforms too?
Who are Apple Music's competitors?
As you might have guessed reading this piece, Spotify is enemy number one - it got in early and is now the world's largest streaming service, boasting over 75m active users and over 20m paying subscribers. Apple's challenge will be joining in late and somehow getting ahead. But if anyone can do it, cash-rich Apple can (it could probably afford to run the service completely free for a number of years if it wanted to). Make sure you check out our full Apple Music vs Spotify guide, too.
Other competitors include Rdio and Deezer, which are again similar to Spotify but less popular. Google also has a number of different streaming products, including YouTube Music Key and Google Play Music All Access - but strangely these services don't appear to have taken off to quite the same extent as Spotify. So the time is perhaps ripe for Apple to wade in and see what it can do.