The problem with Apple Music (from a product development perspective)
Apple announced Apple Music in the WWDC 2015 keynote. This is obviously not Apple’s first foray in this product category, started with iTunes itself (the app and the store), Ping, iTunes Match and iTunes Radio. Here are a couple of my thoughts on Apple Music from a product development standpoint.
So much for “the crazy ones, misfits, rebels and troublemakers”.
Apple Music is for the masses.
Apple Music consists of 3 services: streaming ala Spotify, a “backstage pass” fan-artist relationship platform and live Radio . Apple Music will be available in not just Apple’s own ecosystem, but also on Android and Windows (no Web?). The service is priced at $9.99 per person (or $14.99 per family). This is a definitely a clear indication that Apple is looking at Apple Music as a real revenue stream, as opposed to just another “point” towards their hardware ecosystem like Samsung does with Samsung Milk and Nokia did with Nokia Music. It also makes it clear that it is a volume business. To be successful, Apple needs to focus on mass appeal (and eventually gets to the long tail). It wants to be the modern major label/distributor. This is why Iovine joined Apple.
I would argue that the iTunes brand would have fit in much better to the “mainstream” audience Apple Music is targeting for. Think about iTunes Radio, iTunes Match, iTunes Extra, iTunes Festival. Apple Music lives not only in the same industry but also aiming for the same image – as cool as the latest pop, rock r&b artist at any given time. Unfortunately an i/I -of anything a little bit passé at this point.
From the outset,
Connect is like Youtube meets Instagram meets iTunes Extra.
Each social platform has its own ethics and evolving culture. Youtube Vlog content are mostly done in a fast pace editing style. On Instagram, you better use the right hashtag if you’re posting a photo from the previous week. Each platform forms its own identity and attracts certain types of content. The clearer that identity and culture of the platform are, the easier for the audience to consume its content. Just by looking at the initial ASMR on a Youtube video, “Ah yes, this is one of those Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response videos“.
Connect is trying to merge and bring all these artist-fan interaction into a single consolidated platform. Will a single platform allows the liberty for artists (and fans) to try out different content format and interactions without confusing the audience. Some artist may produce a high gloss, highly produced, medium duration, behind the scenes footage ala iTunes Extras. Others may choose a Vine/Instagram style 6 to 15 seconds of scrappy silly video messages. Can the two live side by side?
Then of course there’s the other side too, the fan generated content. From what I can see so far, Connect is an artist-centric platform. A real engagement really comes from a two conversation that’s more than just likes, comment and paying money for the artist work. An artist-fan platform needs to take into consideration fan generated contents from retweets, mashups to full blown covers.
I think it is pretty naive to hope you could bring all these artist-fan interaction into a single consolidated platform.
See what I want is,
the right music at the right time.
Beats 1 is an interesting concept. Iovine said nothing beats human curation (pun intended). I get that. I do also miss listening to a human voice when listening to music – IMHO there’s an opportunity here to create an app that can intelligently mix podcasts and music.
But then there’s the “live” part of the equation. Beats 1 is live radio streaming. This is at a time when everyone else goes on demand? That part is a bit of a mystery to me. It almost goes back to the Winamp ShoutCast days. Sure, live broadcasting makes sense for news, concerts, sports. I would personally prefer my music to be played in the “right time” than real time. I think there’s a missed opportunity here to mix the 2 paradigms together, on demand yet human curated through time-shifting or algorithmically triggered “sessions” by Siri’s Proactive-assistance. There’s alot of work involve to get the formula right, something that Apple would excel in, but here instead resorting to the safe traditional option.
In the world of Apple Music, my taste is reduced to 3 stations.
When I listen to radio shows (as a podcast, by the way) – I listen to NPR. As many, I take pride in having a slightly “off-the-beaten-path” taste in music. When the mandate is to appeal to the broadest audience possible, my suspicion is Beats 1 won’t be a station that I listen to. But I’m happy to be proven wrong when the time comes.
The future lies in the upcoming artists.
Apple’s long term goal really rests on the new upcoming artists who would start (and perhaps end) their career within the Apple Music ecosystem. These artists will not need deals, record in their own bedroom, collaborate across the internet and most importantly not signed to a label. At that point the equation changes. Apple gets the lion share of the cut from the materials. No longer they have to pay recording labels an exurban amount of money. Apple gets enough cut to run the business and grow, so do the artists. The question is whether Apple Music would survive to see that time.