Apple has made its long-awaited move into the streaming business with the launch of Apple Music.
The firm has yet to officially announce UK pricing for the service, but it's looking very likely to be set at £9.99 for an individual account, and £14.99 for a family account of up to six members. This pricing was leaked via the latest iOS 8.4 developer build release, which includes the monthly subscription details.
This puts the pricing directly in line with rival Spotify, which has already built up a huge base of 20 million paying subscribers, double the 10 million just over a year ago.
But the key difference in the two services is the free/paid model. Spotify, which released its latest user figures in the wake of the Apple Music announcement, is able to boast 75 million active users overall, up from 40 million just over one year ago.
It followed the preferred model to market of many tech services: launch with a free basic service, get your user base hooked and then start charging a reasonable licence fee for a premium version.
In the case of Spotify, this means users can still access all the songs for free as long as they don't mind their music being interrupted every now and again with an audio commercial, or they can pay the £9.99 per month to get an advert-free music stream.
Apple might be starting out from a higher user base, considering the millions of iPhone, iPad, iTunes and Mac users it's accumulated over the years - the firm has over 800 million iTunes subscribers alone. But it is missing out on a huge potential user base for its new streaming service by skipping straight to the paid model.
Currently iTunes is free to 'subscribe' to, and users just pay for the media they want. Converting these 800 million to £10-a-month customers will be a feat to pull off, even by Apple's standards. Many of those with iTunes accounts will simply have them as a hangover for the days when you had to update to the latest iOS via iTunes, or when CD burning was prevalent, but won't really be active users who would be willing to pay to access the music they already own.
Speculation is that Apple caved into pressure from the music industry to exclude users not willing to pay to access their favourite tunes. And there are definitely artists out there who'd rather forfeit the potential revenues from streaming services than allow their music to be listened to for free - Taylor Swift or The Beatles for example, the latter of which has an exclusive agreement with iTunes currently.
But Spotify would take issue with this, pointing out recently that it has now paid out more than $3bn in royalties to artists, including more than $300m in the first three months of 2015 alone.
Apple will no doubt be tempted by the idea of the additional revenue from a wider user base - it's opening Apple Music up to Android users this autumn and going for the mass market rather than following its normal model of restricting services to its own devices.
This move indicates that Apple views the music streaming business as of huge revenue-generating potential in its own right, rather than an additional feature it can add on to its next-gen devices as a way to push users to upgrade to the next iPhone or iPad.
But as Spotify has already cornered a large chunk of the market, it's unlikely that Android users will jump ship just because they can use an Apple service - indeed, the opposite is likely to be true as they've chosen not to use an Apple device in the first place.
So Apple will need to offer some additional unique features not available on Spotify or rival streaming services to try to build its base. Apple Music essentially follows the Spotify model of hosting a ready-made library of songs - both offer over 30 million tunes - for users to stream, but with a few key differences.
One is the decision to include broadcasting and music names to attract subscribers. Beats 1, Apple's first live radio station, will broadcast to over 100 countries hosted by "influential" DJs Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London.
Apple has also relied on human curation for Apple Music playlists and radio, with indie rock and folk stations "expertly curated" and playlists put together by "the most talented music experts from around the world, dedicated to creating the perfect playlists based on your preferences".
Apple Music also adds Siri to the mix for those using the service on one of its own devices. "Ask Siri to, 'Play me the best songs from 1994', 'Play the best FKA twigs song', or 'What was the number one song in February 2011?'," the firm challenges users, stopping short of confirming what the answers might be.
But the kinds of people who'd be tempted by big-name DJs and curated playlists to discover new music, are also the kinds of people who don't like paying for anything when they can get it for free - students or young people, for example, used to using a service like Spotify with ads to save cash. It's hard to see many of that group as willing to shell out to the tune of £120 a year to hear Zane Lowe's choice of records, which they can access for free anyway via Spotify.
Aware of the tricky position it's in, Apple is offering music fans in 100 countries free membership of Apple Music for three months from the launch date of 30 June, in the hope that triallists will be so enamoured they'll continue with the paid access - or forget to cancel their subscription and get charged anyway.
"At the end of the trial period, the membership will automatically renew and payment method will be charged on a monthly basis until auto-renewal is turned off in account settings," Apple notes.
By comparison, Spotify is available in 58 markets and is currently offering a free 60-day trial to its premium ads-free service.
If Apple had decided to undercut Spotify by even 50p, at £9.49 a month, it would have been giving a message to the world that it wants your business so much it's willing - for once - to offer a slight discount on the current market leader. Yes, this would compromise its standing as the luxury brand able to charge much more for its products due to the coveted Apple logo. But Apple Music is no status symbol like an iPhone 6 or Apple Watch.
And even with the Apple Watch, another device where the firm is playing catchup in the market, the firm is yet to release any official sales figures, so we can't yet measure the success of the launch model of coming late to the market with a market-trailing product. All the firm's biggest and reported successes have come from market-creating products.
My bet is that, while Apple Music will be a success in the number of people making use of the free trial, the number then committing to the £120 a year will fall far, far short of the current 800 million iTunes users. Apple is willing to dip its toe in the mass market, but not fully dive in by offering a lower price tag than the current market leader.
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