Apple Music – everything you need to know


From 4pm, you'll be able to download Apple's latest iOS 8.4 upgrade for your iPhone or iPad. With the update comes the eagerly anticipated Apple Music, the music streaming service to take on Spotify, Tidal and the rest of the streaming industry. The service was officially launched at WWDC 2015 in San Francisco.

To try and tempt you to jump ship from your current streaming service, Apple's offering a free three-month trial. Once it's complete, continuing your subscription to Apple Music will cost you £9.99 per month.

If there's more than one Apple user in your household, then there's always the "family" option which caters for up to six users costing £14.99 a month. Android users will have to wait until autumn for the app and their chance to sample Apple Music.

Your existing music bought from the iTunes Store and your own ripped CDs will now live in one place alongside the 30 million songs available from iTunes.

MORE: Read our full Apple Music review

You can search and stream the millions of songs on Apple Music as well as your own music library, using the 'For You' function which will make recommendations based on the music you love. The learn-about-you interface will help create playlists for you. There are also curated playlists based not just on algorithms but put together by editorial teams of experts.

To make search even easier, Siri has been upgraded to learn more about music so you can use it to search for what you want. So now you can ask Siri questions such as "play me the best songs from 1994" or "what was the No.1 song in February 2011?"

Based on the Beats Music interface, Apple Music also offers HD music videos as well as offline playback.

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Beats 1, Apple Music Radio and Connect

In addition, the service will launch with what Apple calls "the first 24/7 worldwide radio station". Called Beats 1, it will be broadcast from three cities by celebrity DJs: Ebro Darden in New York, Julie Adenuga in London and Zane Lowe in Los Angeles.

It's already been confirmed that Eminem will be the first artist to be interviewed (by Lowe) on the new radio station.

You also get Apple Music Radio, giving you a mix of music curated by genre. The new stations range in genres from indie rock and classical to folk and funk.

Another neat feature is Apple's new 'Connect' service, which promises to connect artists with fans by allowing artists to upload content directly to the Apple Music app. "Connect is a new way of connecting up and coming and established musicians with their fans," says Iovine.

Through Connect artists can share lyrics, backstage photos, videos and their own music. Whether artists will want to direct their millions of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram fans to Apple Music to see pictures and other content, remains to be seen.

As for the Apple Music interface on iPhones and iPads, a 'mini player' bar appears at the bottom of your playlist - tap on it and the full artwork for that song will appear with the usual pause/play and skip controls.

What else do we know?

Since Apple took over Beats Music and Electronics for $3bn in May 2014, it had been widely assumed that the company would rebrand the Beats streaming service as Apple Music and (finally) incorporate streaming into its own iTunes music offering. Now it's happening.

But Apple Music is late to the party - witness the celebrity-backed relaunch of Tidal, along with Spotify's recent updates to cement its position, the arrival of newer European players such as Qobuz and Deezer's launch of CD-quality streaming on Sonos.

All this activity is a clear sign that things are about to get very interesting. Given Apple's might, and vast cash reserves, Apple Music will undoubtedly shake up the entire music streaming market.

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Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who moved to Apple following the Beats acquisition, led the development of the new service.

Since the acquisition, Apple has been busy hiring new staff, including Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe and four former BBC music producers.

One of those four is Kieran Yeates, the man behind the 'BBC Introducing' initiative, a platform for new and unsigned artists to upload music and potentially have it broadcast on BBC Radio. That's presumably where the idea for Apple Connect came from.

MORE: Apple iTunes Store review

As for existing music from established artists, Apple has, not surprisingly, included curated playlists, interviews and videos as some of its rivals do.

Celebrity sign-ups for Beats 1 include hip-hop artist Drake, Dr. Dre and Elton John.

Apple Music has also secured a couple of exclusives for launch. Taylor Swift's dislike of Spotify has been well documented, so it's big news that her 1989 album will only be available to stream on Apple's service.

Similarly Dr Dre's 1992 album, The Chronic will also be exclusively avaialble for streaming on Apple Music - this news is less surprising though, given Apple's acquisition of his Beats brand last year.

How can you get Apple Music?

The new streaming service will be part of the iOS 8.4 upgrade, while there will also be new versions of iTunes for Mac/PC with the update.

This means it's available on millions of Macs, iPhones, iPads and PCs, and this is where Apple Music vs. Spotify suddenly seems an unfair fight - Apple already has an installed customer base of 800 million people using iTunes on iOS and desktop devices. Spotify's paying subscriber base currently sits at 20 million users.

Switching to Apple music streaming should be seamless for existing Apple owners and iTunes users. But the question is, will they pay? It's no secret that sales of downloads from the current iTunes Store have been declining (by 13-14 per cent in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal), partially due to the rise in streaming services.

As well as iOS devices, there will also be an Apple Music Android app from this autumn, and the streaming service will come to Apple TV later this year too.

Sonos already offers streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer and Tidal through its multi-room speaker speaker solution and although Apple Music won't be available at launch, it now seems Apple Music will be on Sonos later in the year.

MORE: Streaming revenue higher than download revenues

Will there be a free option like Spotify?

Apple has decided it won't offer a free streaming tier like Spotify, which offers a more basic service with no charge.

According to The Verge, Apple tried to use its power to convince record labels not to renew Spotify's licence to stream music for free. Spotify has 75 million users, but only 20 million of those pay for the Premium service, and Deezer also offers a free subscription plan.

Oh, and don't forget all that free music available on YouTube. Apple also reportedly offered to pay Universal Music the fee it normally receives from YouTube if the label agreed to stop allowing its songs to be available on YouTube for free.

What's more, Apple had hoped to convince record labels to agree to an Apple Music price of $8/£8 a month, undercutting the $10/£10 per month typically charged by its rivals, but apparently to no avail.

MORE: Streaming and downloading set to overtake sales of physical formats

Apple Music sound quality?

There was no mention at all about the sound quality of Apple Music at the WWDC launch, and there's been little news since.

Apple Music will reportedly stream at 256kbps bitrate, the same bitrate as iTunes downloads. Apple hasn't confirmed whether or not that will be using AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) as opposed to MP3 (as used by Beats Music). Given Apple's commitment to AAC in iTunes, we'd be surprised if it didn't stick with that.

There's no mention of CD-quality streaming, so it looks unlikely Apple will take on Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz with a lossless CD-quality streaming service.

Apple has probably decided that its current audio standard is "good enough" and to leave the $20/£20 a month lossless services - which could be seen as a niche market - to others. In its documentation for the 'Mastered for iTunes' standard, Apple says: "An inherent challenge of working with high-resolution audio has been that both the sample rate and the bit depth must be reduced to match the specification used in mainstream distribution, such as CD or AAC.

"iTunes AAC encoders are now transparently able to encode high-definition audio, creating files that retain the small footprint, portability and ease-of-use iTunes is known for. And they sound amazing."

In other words, Apple seems to be happy using high-res masters as the source material, but compressing them using AAC to make the files compatible with a wide range of devices. "AAC achieves the portability and convenience of compressed and encoded digital audio while retaining audio quality that's indistinguishable from larger digital files, such as CD." Its words, not ours.

Where this leaves the existing streaming services remains to be seen. All of them are desperate to grab a slice of the action before Apple muscles in on the market. The music streaming landscape may look very different by Christmas.

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