Mobiles & Tablets

A service for a niche within the niche

Visvaksen P | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on July 15, 2015

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Will Apple Music be able to make a dent in a market where consumers have historically refused to pay for digital content?



When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003, it changed the way music was consumed forever- in certain markets. In India, consumers largely ignored the store as an oddity- something to be used by well-heeled, Apple-obsessed folks who could afford to fork over the Indian equivalent of a dollar for a song when entire discographies were available for free on the Internet. It also lacked an extensive catalog of Indian content, thus making it useless for anyone but the MTV generation.

Now, with the proliferation of streaming services like Spotify, Rdio and Pandora, Apple’s dominance in the online music space has waned considerably. Apple’s late entry to the streaming space was fuelled by Steve Jobs’ dislike for streaming services- he famously said that the subscription model is bankrupt and if the Second Coming [of Jesus] was offered in a subscription model, it would fail. However, Steve Jobs was also famous for constantly changing his opinions in the face of evolving consumer preferences. And in keeping with that tradition of flip-flopping, Apple has now launched a subscription music service. Unlike the iTunes Store, which was exclusive to a few countries for a long time, Apple Music is available worldwide. And although its catalogue is smaller than iTunes, the cost is also significantly reduced- in India, it costs ₹120 for a month’s access. The fact that Apple has country-specific pricing for the first time is crucial. Replicating the $9.99 cost in India would have made it a very difficult proposition in the Indian market, where competitors like Gaana, Wynk and Saavn all offer free tiers and cheaper subscriptions.

Experience

Signing up for the service requires you to have a credit card associated with your Apple account, even if you’re going to opt for the three-month free trial.You will be charged a small amount to verify (₹60), which Apple claims will be refunded, but we’re still waiting. The process then takes the user through a series of steps designed to personalize your Apple Music experience where one can select preferred genres and artists. Apple will then serve up customized playlists and artist suggestions. The Apple Music interface consists of a couple of tabs- For You and New- through which the user can discover music based on their tastes. And this is Apple’s trump card. All of the playlists it throws up are hand-picked by humans rather than generated by algorithms. The success of online playlist sharing sites like 8tracks has clearly demonstrated the value of human curation when it comes to music. The fact that the curation is done by Apple’s experts rather than crowd-sourced only makes the experience better in our opinion. Some of the playlists had stellar tracks all the way through, and did not require any skipping - a rare feat.

Radio ready

The radio feature, headlined by the flagship Beats 1 station also has living, breathing, presumably-music loving people at its heart. And while the selection is quite interesting again, it tends to skew towards a western audience- the token Bollywood station notwithstanding- as the stream remains the same regardless of where you’re listening from. These stations do not require a subscription to access and like regular terrestrial radio have constant ads and talking punctuating the music. Overall, the radio service is decidedly underwhelming considering the internet abounds with thousands of free radio stations on services like Shoutcast that offer an incredible range of music that Apple just cannot match.

The less said about Connect- Apple’s social platform for artists and fans- the better. Most artists worth their salt took a while to warm up to Facebook and Twitter, convincing them that they need to be on Connect as well is going to be a tall order. Currently the service resembles a dusty echo chamber.

The last remaining tab on the Apple Music interface, My Music, is where all of your purchased music from the iTunes Store will show up, alongside any tracks from Apple Music that you have chosen to make available offline. As with all music related services ever offered by Apple, the implementation of DRM seems expressly designed to give users a headache unless they use the service precisely as Apple intended.

Verdict

Overall, the service doesn’t quite have the Apple polish yet. The interface is missing the trademark Cupertino simplicity and offers very little that sets it apart from other services. The curation of music is admittedly top-notch and worth the price of admission all by itself. However, in the Indian market, where users willing to pay for digital music are a niche, Apple’s limited selection of Indian content- particularly non-Bollywood music- makes it unviable for many in that niche.

For the aforementioned MTV generation though, which has grown up on glam rock rather than ghazals, Apple Music could quite easily become the soundtrack of their lives.

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Published on July 15, 2015
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