If you’ve listened to Apple Music’s Beats 1, for even a few minutes, you know by now that it’s a global radio station that’s “always on” in 100 countries.
Overall, critics are mostly praising the stream and its celebrity hosts, which include former BBC personality Zane Lowe, Elton John, eclectic indie star St. Vincent, and outspoken rap duo Run the Jewels. Users who listen to the channel have the option to save songs and create their own playlists, as well as add tracks to their favorites list for an even more personalized, algorithm-based playlist.
Unfortunately, Beats 1—which is overseen by Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor—isn’t particularly revolutionary and has a number of flaws that hamper future growth. For instance, the music service’s “always on” tag is a bit misleading, since there’s only 12 hours of live broadcasting, which is re-aired throughout the day. Despite the fact that the service broadcasts content over the Internet and therefore not subject to FCC laws, Beats 1 only airs radio-edit versions of songs that leave certain tracks nonsensical. As many critics have noted, it’s particularly funny to hear songs by Beats founder Dr. Dre so heavily censored.
The ability to listen to a DJ’s playlist via the app loses some of its appeal since host commentary is often excluded, which is a particular shame for fans who want to hear St. Vincent interact with guests. Some listeners have also complained that the station features too many ads, although most are usually only a few seconds long and far shorter than traditional commercial interruptions. When compared to the hosts’ constant (and unnecessary) reminders about how far Beats 1’s global reach extends the ads are barely noticeable.
Last, but not least, is the music selection. Sure, it’s always great to have a human choosing the tunes and offering up recommendations, but over the course of the first week the channel has remained overly focused on pop hits, with some throwback classics and deep cuts mixed in for the sake of being eclectic. Beats 1 takes away the repetition found on terrestrial top 40 radio, but it’s still spending too much time catering to a pop audience. For example, country music is still America’s most popular radio genre, although it’s rarely heard on Beats 1 when compared to rock, rap, and R&B.
Outside of app functionality, Beats 1 offers very few features that differentiate it from other music streaming sites. Users can still stream plenty of ad-free music programming from other sites like SiriusXM, and other Internet-only stations that offer up more niche listening.
Meanwhile, Apple Music’s competitors are getting into the game as well, with plans from Google Play Music to offer diverse, curated playlists that span genres and moods. Last week, music rival Rdio launched new music stations curated by record labels like jazz powerhouse Blue Note, James Murphy’s DFA, and Glassnote (home of Mumford & Sons and Phoenix), as well as culture sites including Vogue Brasil and Consequence of Sound. Given the industry’s penchant for copycatting, it’s almost a given that Spotify, Tidal, and the like will launch similar features in the future.
For Beats 1 to truly differentiate itself from the competition and extend its reach, Apple (AAPL) has a range of options at its disposal. In the near future, it could start offering its programs in a podcast form, so people can listen on demand to their favorite shows. This type of programming option will keep fans in the Apple ecosystem without limiting them to a live airing or repeat 12 hours later. An option to listen to songs without censorship would also be a plus, as would less emphasis on the channel’s “worldwide” and “always on” tags.
Once the company discovers what works and what doesn’t, Apple Music could also start expanding into other genres and more local markets—maybe Beats Country or Beats New York, as standalone stations—to get an even bigger share of the market. After all, Apple has the time, power, money, talent, and creative freedom on its side to make it happen.
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