Apple came late to streaming services, but did it right. So right, that for all the other services that have come and gone, and all the services you can't remember the names of, streaming music is now a two-horse race. It's Apple Music, Spotify, and nothing else. Now it is tightly integrated into macOS, iOS and HomePod, offering over 60 million songs to over 60 million users, on either an individual subscription, or a family plan.
● More than 60 million songs
● More than 60 million users, too
● Human-curated playlists for artists and genres
● Algorithmic weekly playlists of Favorites, New and Chill Music
● Incorporates a users own music from iTunes
● Beats 1 live radio
● Scrolls lyrics in time to the music
● Available on Android and Alexa
Apple Music and Spotify
The same idea around unlimited streaming drives both Apple Music and Spotify. As of October 2019, Spotify claimed to have 248 million users compared to Apple's 60 million. A majority of Spotify's users are on the ad-supported free version, with only 113 million choosing to pay for the premium service.
That's still nearly twice that of Apple's user base, but Apple reached that number in less than half the time. This can be attributed to the default music app on the iPhone offering the service, and the education of the market surrounding streaming in 2015 versus 2008.
With an individual's monthly subscription of $9.99 — about the same cost as one album — a user will get immediate access to a library of over 60 million songs.
A family plan is available for $14.99, allowing six family members to get the full service. Each family member gets access to all this music, and also they separately each get the full service with its recommendations.
So anyone in a family can say to their Apple device, "Hey, Siri, play something I'll like," and it will oblige. Playlists are preserved from the old iTunes system, and because the service contains features from iTunes Match, old purchased music is preserved too. The HomePod also gained the ability to distinguish between user's voices for commands, which will pull up their playlists and preferences.
People looking to play their Apple Music collection from a work computer or other web browser can now do so, as Apple has launched its streaming site. The web player has access to all the same features and playlists as the app does, so you'll feel right at home.
Apple Music Playlists
Alongside any added music, Apple's curators provide a myriad of different playlists. Some of them are curated by artists and industry writers. Utilizing Search or ask Siri to play a band or artist's name followed by the word "Essentials" will generate the greatest hits collection.
Apple's human-curated playlists are updated regularly, especially in the case of their "New Music Daily" playlist.
Four personalized playlists are algorithmically generated based on listening history, likes, and adds. Every week, on different days, Apple Music updates personalized playlists it calls New Music Mix, Favorites Mix, and Chill Mix.
As of late 2019, there are also auto-generated playlists to do with individual years, called Apple Music Replay. So users can quickly go to see what music they listened to most this year, last year, or as far back as when they first subscribed. A user's current year's playlist is updated every Sunday.
A new playlist was added to "For You" called Get Up! Mix and is meant to produce an upbeat soundtrack each week. This was added during the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 to add some happy notes to the pandemic.
Another new category was introduced by Apple Music editors, called "Come Together." The section contains playlists and albums meant to bolster us through the hard times being stuck in lockdown.
It is the ability to get personalized playlists and human-curated content on top of existing collections that sets Apple Music apart.
As the music algorithm learns and a user adds to their likes and downloads, they will begin seeing notifications when artists they follow release music. An update added the ability to display these notifications in a banner inside the app as well.
A weaker part of Apple Music has been its iOS apps and how it has worked previously with iTunes on the Mac. While it's been steadily improved, the app is sometimes hard to navigate.
The iCloud Music Library, the element of iTunes Match that has been brought to Apple Music, also caused some grief. The service works by uploading ripped music when there is no other choice. Apple prefers to link, instead, to existing tracks in its library.
When a CD rip is extremely low quality and the copy on the cloud is better, that's a bargain. Apple will replace the lower quality version for free.
However, the linking and matching were often wrong. If a user had a playlist of favorite studio recordings by a band, even if every track is available on Apple Music, many would often find some had been replaced. Instead of the studio version, users may only be able to access a live recording.
These issues caused some chaos during the initial release of the service while bugs were being worked out.
Money, artists and streaming wars
Apple Music offers an extensive free trial –– originally three months, now just one. Initially, artists and musicians were not going to be paid for the use of their music during that time. Users can also find free trials attached to new device purchases, or even as part of Verizon or T-mobile contracts.
Following protests from the likes of Taylor Swift, who pointed out that the free streaming would impact album sales, Apple recanted. Apple pays artists regardless of the trial status of a user.
On the more positive side, Apple has, from the start, been a better payer for artists than its rival services. Whereas the likes of Spotify often find themselves in lawsuits for missing payments or underpaying artists, or even stealing music outright.
Overall, Apple Music and the paid Premium tier of Spotify, have contributed to the music industry's financial fortunes improving.
However, there have also been what is now called streaming wars, when one service will arrange an exclusive deal with an artist that excludes others.
For example, in 2016, Frank Ocean released the album "Blonde" to Apple Music and iTunes for a two-week exclusive. It was reportedly Ocean who decided to do this, the album's record label was not involved, and the album's record label was not amused, either.
Universal called for an end to exclusives. Speaking later for Apple, Jimmy Iovine distanced Apple from the whole arrangement.
"We had a deal —we were working with Frank Ocean, and he controlled where his music came out," Iovine said. "Why would it be in our interest to be part of a fast one, a slow one or any one? We were getting the record no matter what. Whatever happened with him and Universal is really between him and Universal. It has nothing to do with us. Nothing."
Speaking of putting distance between artists and the streaming service, Apple shut down its much-touted Connect feature in December 2018. This was a music social media service intended to connect artists and audiences, much as Apple's previous Ping service had.
It wasn't exactly the same as Ping, but it met the same fate. Since then, Apple has reached out to Genius, a service that interviews artists about their music and provides lyrics, to supply content to Apple exclusively. Artist bios and album descriptions, along with Beats 1 interviews and radio shows, allow users to connect with their favorite artists still, but not as directly.
Apple has started a $50 million fund for indie music labels and distributors. This is to combat the lack of pay and damage to the music industry caused by social distancing practices brought on by the coronavirus.
It appears that the fund will go toward one-off advance payments pulled from future Apple Music royalties. Only labels and distributors with a direct distribution deal in place with Apple qualify, and those that do must also meet a minimum of $10,000 in quarterly earnings on the service. The limitation rules out indie labels distributed through larger labels.
Another Apple Music initiative called "Stream Local" was created to promote South African musicians during the crisis. Starting April 11, users can check out playlists and albums in a special section of the App Store featuring popular South African artists.
More than music
Many music videos and some documentaries made it onto the service. It's not been the most visibly successful part of the service, though, and now there is Apple TV+. That may become the more obvious destination for video in the future.
Also breaking away from being a music streaming service for individuals, Apple most recently announced Apple Music for Business. In exchange for a higher subscription fee and better payments to artists, businesses get to play music from Apple's service in stores. And the music played is a playlist specially curated for that business.
It's similar to the way firms wanting to play music or radio in their stores have to pay a license fee.
A new feature has brought some new social aspects back to Apple Music. In iOS 13.4.5 users can share their current song to Instagram or Facebook stories using a native share sheet action. Stories only appear for a few hours and allow users to share more intimate parts of their day without the concern that it will stay on a feed forever.
Before Apple Music, iTunes did have a section devoted to Internet Radio and there were many stations available for listening. Recently, Apple brought back radio stations and offers users music based on their location.
For a long time, though, Apple had two forms of what it calls radio, starting with personalized stations. The first is "Favorites Mix," an infinitely generated station of music based on previous purchases or current streaming choices.
There is also a true broadcast station, though, in Beats 1. The radio station features daily shows on a schedule, free to any user, and a backlog of every previous show still available for premium users.
This began airing on June 30, 2015, and has aired 24/7 since, with only one exception. On June 2, 2020 Apple stopped airing its radio station for the first time, in solidarity with the rest of the music industry on Black Out Tuesday.
The radio station is a mixture of pop, indie and rap music, and mixes regular presenters alongside star names fronting shows, such as Sir Elton John.
Model of success
Its Connect feature may have flopped, but otherwise it's hard to see Apple Music as anything other than a success.
While it's too soon to compare it to Apple TV+, the music service has seen a much more widespread and effective adoption than, say, Apple News+.
In the future, Apple Music appears to be aiming to boost live music more. For now, though, Apple changed the music industry with iTunes, now its streaming services have changed it all over again.
The regular price for an Apple Music subscription is $9.99 per month for one person. There's a family subscription which, for $14.99 per month, is for up to six people in the same household.
Apple also offers a student rate of $4.99 per month, and there is a one-month free trial for any user.
Certain carriers include a free Apple Music subscription in their cell contracts, such as Verizon.