Making sense of Apple Music

The Apple Music part of the Monday’s WWDC keynote — the one that occupied the coveted “one more thing…” spot — is not getting well reviewed. Above Avalon’s Neil Cybart called it “all over the place.” Stratechery’s Ben Thompson called it “unclear and dragging,” Dr. Drang — in a post getting a lot of traction Tuesday — was unforgiving

Endings are important, which is, unfortunately, why today’s WWDC keynote will be remembered as a flop.”

I wouldn’t go that far. But I am struggling to make sense of Apple’s three-part proposition: A $9.99 per month streaming music service, a Ping-like place for musicians to build a fan base, and a 24/7 Internet radio station with a global reach.

The price, double what Apple reportedly wanted to charge, is probably a concession to the music labels. And it’s a problem. Cybart lays out the facts:

“Many people are positioning this as an Apple Music vs. Spotify battle. That comparison is wrong. Instead, it’s a paid music (Apple Music) vs. free music (YouTube, Pandora free tier, Spotify free tier) war. Previous reports had said that the average iTunes user spends $60/year on music. Apple now wants this person to pay $120/year for music. Yes, they are getting much more for that $120/year, but it is still a harder proposition to sell, and Apple needed to be a master salesperson to make it happen. I’m not sure they did it.”

Which gets me to the question I put to Apple yesterday: Is Apple’s new radio station — the piece that is supposed to draw in new listeners from 100 countries around the world — free, ad supported or what? Eddy Cue didn’t say. Jimmy Iovine was incomprehensible. The press release was singularly unhelpful. And the rumor going around Moscone after the keynote was that Beats 1 was free for iOS but not for Android — which seemed harsh, given that in most of those 100 countries, Android rules.

The answer, when I finally got it, was “or what”:

“Yes, it will also be free for Android. There are no ads that will interrupt programming, but programs could be sponsored.”

That might work, if the music is great and if Apple can make the curation powers of DJs relevant again. Like the rest of Apple Music, we’re going to have to wait and see.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.

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