Apple launched their online music streaming service to much fanfare on June 30, 2015. It’s their entry into the already bustling music streaming business arena, but being Apple, they caught everybody’s attention. This is not an in-depth review of the service; I will just share my initial impressions of using the service.
The service was first announced during the WWDC 2015 opening keynote on June 8, 2015. It was going to be launched in over 100 countries worldwide on June 30 and much of the focus was on the curated radio station Beats 1 that was going to be part of the service. Apple had signed on some high profile DJ’s and the station was claimed to be unlike any other online radio station. There wouldn’t be any automated playlists; the station would be manually run by the DJ’s round the clock from Los Angeles, New York and London. The Apple Music service would be available via the updated iTunes app on Mac and Windows PC’s, iOS, and also Android at a later stage. The service would be available free for the first 3 months and then cost $9.99 per month for an individual and $14.99 per month for a family plan.
I did not actually see the service start up on June 30, but on July 1 I took my iMac through a series of updates – first the OS, then iTunes. After a short signup process, which including agreeing to be charged the monthly fee after the first 3 months (you can cancel later), I had access to Apple Music.
The first thing that struck me was the ₹120, roughly $2, that I would be charged per month in India instead of the regular US price of $9.99. Turns out Apple has used a differential pricing model for Apple Music. While it costs $9.99 in the US and most of the Western world, it cost much less in most developing Asian countries. The $2 price for India is probably one of the lowest. This is a big deal for India as the service really had no hope of getting off to a good start with the $9.99 price. In India most people pay less than that per month for a full cable/satellite TV ensemble. But at $2 or ₹120 it looks quite affordable to most Indians who would really like to use this online streaming service. The family plan goes for ₹180 or $3.
Apple Music holds even more significance for India as this is perhaps the first international music streaming service to be available in the country. India has long been deprived of services like Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music. Apple Music is probably the first large scale international streaming music service to be available in India. And though I don’t much about Indian music, it seems to include a pretty good collection of Indian music from classical to modern.
When you first sign up for the service, you are asked to make a selection of music genres and artists/bands that you like. This information is used to provide you a customised selection of suggested music.
Apple Music lets you play almost any album or track from the huge iTunes catalog. Just search on the iTunes app (or the Music app on iOS) like you would search in your local music collection and the updated iTunes and Music apps will show results from the complete iTunes catalog that are available for streaming. I say “almost” because there are still a few artists who have not agreed to make their work available to the service for streaming. I won’t go into the details on this, but this will hopefully change soon.
The music is streamed as 256kbps AAC which is said to be equivalent to 320kbps MP3, a pretty good offering in my opinion. Even though I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile, I do take audio quality quite seriously.
Apart from offering albums and tracks, Apple Music also offers several nicely put together playlists based on artists and genres. They are good for getting introduced to artists and bands you haven’t explored earlier.
As for Beats 1 Radio, it sounds very much like a regular human-run radio station, unlike many automated online radio stations. The DJ’s keep it interesting, though the music seems a little biased towards hip-hop and R&B. Maybe that’s the current music scene in the US and Europe, but I would prefer the music to be a little more balanced. You can see the Beats 1 program schedule in your local time at beats1radio.com which redirects to applemusic.tumblr.com/beats1. Apart from the schedule, the page also lists out the featured artists of the month and introduces the DJ’s running the station. I find it very odd though that Apple is using Tumblr for this page. The DJ’s keep the programming interesting for the most part and add that human touch, so it feels a lot like a traditional radio station. Beats 1 also brings in established musicians from the industry to work as guest DJ’s. Elton John, Ellie Goulding and Apple’s own Dr. Dre are having their stints on the station this month along with quite a few others. .
In addition to the curated Beats 1 station, Apple Music also offers several automated playlist type stations. The are more like Pandora stations but already pre-built according to genre. You can also create your own custom Pandora style stations from any song and tune them as you go along by liking and disliking songs.
I have so far tried the service on iTunes on both Mac and Windows, as well as iOS on iPad and iPhone. The interfaces vary slightly between iTunes and iOS but they follow the same theme and it doesn’t take you very long to get familiar with one platform after moving from the other. Though Apple announced that Apple Music will eventually be available on Android, it seems that we are not getting the Android app until fall this year. If and when the Android app eventually comes, it will be a significant move for Apple, and a very welcome one for us consumers as most of us don’t strictly stay within the confines of the Apple ecosystem. I myself use an Android device as my primary smartphone.
Though I haven’t been able to test the service extensively, I’m really liking it so far. It’s a great platform to explore new music and you have the ability to listen to pretty much any music without having to purchase and download it. It’s pretty much the same for any online streaming service, but Apple’s strength here is in its extensive iTunes catalog and its presence in a lot more countries. Now that Apple have done it, hopefully some of the other big players like Google will also expand their services to more countries and give consumers the benefits of healthy competition.
How many of us will continue using it after the free period gets over is still to be seen. At ₹120 it sure looks attractive but it all depends on how things stand after the initial novelty wears off.