Apple unwraps streaming service, adds intelligence to iOS and OS X

$10 per month Apple Music subscription service launches at end of this month

apple music on iphone

Apple CEO Tim Cook and a small crowd of his underlings today touted the next iterations of the company's mobile, Mac and wearable operating systems before an exuberant audience of developers and unveiled Apple Music, the company's new streaming service.

Monday's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote focused on software -- the weeklong buffet is for developers, not customers -- and for the second straight year passed on delivering a side order of hardware: A revamped Apple TV, once expected, did not make an appearance.

Instead, Apple hammered on the software and service side, trumpeting improvements in the former and introducing a new service. Early in the event, Cook highlighted native apps on the Apple Watch, which until now has limited those to Apple's own. "We're bringing native apps to the Watch with a new version of the WatchOS," said Cook.

But the most compelling part of the two-and-a-half-hour presentation was strictly for consumers, not developers: Apple Music.

"We do have one more thing," Cook said near the end of the keynote, when he announced the $10-per-month music streaming service, essentially a rebranded and revamped Beats Music, which Apple acquired last year as part of the $3 billion deal for the headphone maker Beats Electronics.

Record producer and label owner Jimmy Iovine, who joined Apple -- as did his partner Dr. Dre -- as part of the Beats purchase, stepped on stage for the first time at a company event to introduce Apple Music. "The music industry is a fragmented mess," Iovine said. "Can we build a bigger and better ecosystem?"

Apple Music will be a single app where a customer's entire music collection will reside, but will also provide access to an on-demand backlist catalog leaning on the human-curated playlists that Beats made popular if not profitable. "Algorithms can't do that emotional task," argued Iovine.

Apple Music a challenge to Spotify

Also part of Apple Music: Beats 1, a global digital radio station, and the ability of any artist, even those without record deals, to participate by offering up content.

The latter, said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research, was one of the things that may distinguish Apple Music from its streaming competition. "This could be a place where artists stick with," said Dawson, throughout their careers, first as unknown musicians, then known, then, if they're lucky, famous. "Apple Music is unique in that respect."

iTunes purchases and established playlists on iOS and OS X devices will be automatically integrated with Apple Music, said Eddy Cue, who heads Internet software and services, and manages the company's music business. Cue demonstrated the new app, walking through the various components and features of Apple Music, including integration with Siri to call up tracks, genres, tunes from a specific year or those played on a film's soundtrack.

Apple Music will launch June 30 on iOS, OS X and Windows in more than 100 countries -- on Android and Apple TV this fall -- for $9.99 a month, $14.99 for a family plan of up to six, after a three-month free trial.

Dawson and others gave Apple a solid shot at unseating the current leader in paid subscriptions, Spotify.

"[Apple Music] will be installed on hundreds of millions of Apple devices," Dawson said. "And the three-month trial is generous. If only 10% of the Apple device user base subscribes, it will already have more subscribers than Spotify."

"I think Apple has a built-in advantage," echoed Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "Apple has so many different points of marketing, including all their retail stores and on all of their devices. But they are coming into the market late."

For those who don't care for music -- the few, the far, the in-between -- or who have committed to another streaming service, Apple had other news.

El Capitan

Craig Federighi, who leads OS X and iOS development, unveiled the upgrades to iOS and OS X, which will be less about massive revamping and more about polish. Both are to be seeded to registered developers today, with public betas in July -- a first for iOS from the get-go of a new edition -- and a final release this fall.

el capitan

OS X 10.11, now tagged as "El Capitan," will be the successor to last year's Yosemite. Federighi again demonstrated his comedy talent by returning to last year's spoof of how the name came to be, showing a blurred image as he touted the marketing team's "Bare-bottom Friday" attire, or lack thereof.

El Capitan, as expected, was selected because the new edition is less a revamp and more a polish of Yosemite. "We wanted to build on the strengths of Yosemite," said Federighi. "So the name came from within Yosemite."

"There was a certain symbolism there. This is an incremental upgrade," said Dawson, who cited the 2009 naming of OS X Snow Leopard, following Leopard from two years earlier. The former also lacked a large number of visible changes but focused on performance and stability.

Federighi blew through a few demonstrations of El Capitan's new features, saying that the upgrade would offer changes to Spotlight, the baked-in search engine; enhancements to Apple's first-party applications; and improved windows management, including a new split-screen mode.

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