Apple singlehandedly turned the digital music marketplace on its head when it launched the iTunes Store in 2003, and now it’s going after the current hottest trend: Streaming media. Apple introduced this new service, Apple Music, during its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference, bringing out the company’s big guns (record exec and Beats cofounder Jimmy Iovine, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software Eddy Cue, and hip hop star Drake) to show the world how Apple Music plans to compete with the likes of Spotify, Rdio, and Tidal.
So, will this replace iTunes? Can you listen to music offline? What about existing Beats subscriptions? We’ve got the answers to those questions and more in this guide to everything Apple Music. We’re still learning more—it doesn’t officially launch until June 30—so if you have any additional questions, let us know in the comments below and we’ll see what we can dig up.
What the heck is this thing? Apple Music combines subscription-based music streaming with global radio-like programming and a social feature that connects artists to fans. It will come pre-installed on all iOS and OS X devices—just like iTunes—but users will be able to stream music instead of purchase music. It’s an all-you-can-eat service for subscribers: Pay a flat fee, and you unlock all of Apple Music’s extensive 30 million-song library.
Isn’t that the same as iTunes? Not at all. iTunes is all about media ownership, functioning as both a virtual record store and an efficient digital library for music and other media (movies, TV shows, etc) that you own personally. The software comes pre-installed on all Apple devices, and is available as a free download for non-Apple PCs and mobile devices. iTunes doesn’t require a subscription fee to use it (unless you use iTunes Match—more on that in a moment), since every song, album, movie, or show was purchased individually—either from the iTunes Store, or imported or ripped from another source.
Apple Music is all about streaming. You pay a flat fee to unlock access to Apple Music’s entire catalogue, but you don’t actually own the music you listen to. The files don’t live individually on your devices; you’re instead just listening to tracks stored remotely, that are owned by Apple. If you subscribe to any other media streaming subscription service—be it a music-only service like Spotify, Beats Music, Tidal, or Rdio, a TV service like Hulu, or a movie/TV combo service like Netflix or HBO Now—Apple Music will function exactly the same way.
So, iTunes is dead? Not exactly. You’ll be able to access your entire iTunes library from within Apple Music, and iTunes will still be a standalone app and media store if you’d prefer to continue to buy music a la carte. However, if you’ve let purchasing music fall by the wayside, you may never have to open iTunes again if you sign up for an Apple Music subscription.
What makes Apple Music different from Spotify/Rdio/Tidal/every other music subscription service? Apple is putting a lot of emphasis on Apple Music’s three additional features: Beats 1, curated playlists, and Connect.
Beats 1 is its radio offering, which will feature an around-the-clock worldwide live broadcast from DJs based in Los Angeles, New York, and London. It promises to deliver a curated selection of songs, pop culture news, and interviews with artists.
Speaking of curation, Apple Music will also offer up recommendations tailored to your tastes, looking at artists you like and serving up other artists and playlists for you to listen to. But instead of being built by algorithms, they are built by real people, according to Apple. You can find these in the “For You” section of the app.
Connect is Apple Music’s artist-based social networking feature, which lets fans follow artists. Artists can share special content with fans through Connect—hip-hop artist Drake took the stage at WWDC to show off how he’d use Connect to post behind-the-scenes photos of his life, share snippets of new songs, and other content. Besides Drake, Apple has shown sneak peeks of Connect profiles for Pharrell Williams, FKA twigs, Chris Cornell, Bastille, and Alabama Shakes. The Weeknd closed out the Apple Music announcement during the WWDC keynote, and Trent Reznor appeared in its promotional video, so it’s safe to see we’ll see Connect profiles for those artists as well.
Besides that, Apple Music’s library has 30 million songs—the same number as Spotify, but we’re not sure if it’s the exact same tracks. Oh, and you can also watch music videos.
What about Beats Music? Will my Beats subscription disappear? Beats Music isn’t going away just yet. Starting June 30, you’ll see a prompt in Beats Music on your iOS device or Mac, urging you to move your subscription over to Apple Music. All of the albums you’ve saved and playlists you’ve created will sync over to Apple Music from Beats. You can also keep your Beats username and use it on Apple Music. The subscription cost is the same—$9.99 per month—and once you move your account over, your Beats subscription will be canceled.
Android and Windows Phone subscribers won’t see this prompt to switch until Apple Music becomes available for those platforms. Beats Music has a complete FAQ on its website, if you need more information about canceling.
How’s the music quality? Slashgear is reporting that Apple Music will stream songs at 256kbps, which is the same rate as iTunes Match. That’s a bit of a drop from Beats Music and Spotify, which use a 320kbps bitrate. And competitor Tidal boasts more than just major celebrity endorsements: It offers a high-bitrate option (1411kbps lossless FLAC) at a pricier subscription rate, the “HiFi” tier for $19.99 a month.
How much will this cost? Apple Music will cost $9.99 per month, or $14.99 per month for a family subscription for up to six people (which requires iCloud Family Sharing). Starting June 30, you can try a three-month free trial before coughing up.
Is there a free, ad-supported version? Sadly, no. Some aspects will be available to anyone who logs in with an Apple ID—namely, Beats 1, the ability to follow artists on Connect, and the ability to listen to Apple Music radio stations with a limited number of skips—but a paid subscription is required to access Apple Music’s entire library.
If I subscribe to Apple Music, do I still need my iTunes Match subscription to keep my complete music collection together? According to Apple, iTunes Match and Apple Music will be completely separate services, so it will be up to you to decide if you’d like to keep iTunes Match. If your personal music collection has a lot of rare tracks and content that you can’t get through Apple Music, then you may want to consider keeping both subscriptions.
Can I save music to listen to offline? Yep!
What devices can I use this on? Starting June 30, you can access Apple Music on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and PC. It will be coming to the Apple TV and Android phones this fall. It also pairs with the Apple Watch.
Wait, did you say Android? Yes! Android users will have access to Apple Music starting this fall. Music for all!
When will it be available? Apple Music launches on June 30 on iOS, OS X, and PCs, and will expand to Apple TV and Android devices this fall. You can take advantage of a three-month free trial period to see if you like it.
How will Beats 1 differ from iTunes Radio? iTunes Radio takes the Pandora-style approach to radio, where users create their own stations based around songs, artists, albums, or genres, and iTunes serves up songs that flow well around that theme. You can still use a version of iTunes Radio within Apple Music—but it’s now called Apple Music radio stations.
Beats 1, on the other hand, will be like a more traditional radio station, with a 27/4 live radio stream anchored by three DJs based in New York, Los Angeles, and London. Former BBC personality Zane Lowe will lead the effort from Los Angeles, with Ebro Darden of Hot 97 in New York, and Julie Adenuga in London. Beats 1 will feature a combination of songs handpicked by these DJs, plus celebrity interviews, pop culture news, and other music-related content. For now, it will be commercial free.
What’s really neat is that every user around the world will hear the same content at the same time, and these stations take a much more curated approach to radio than iTunes Radio does.
I spent years perfecting my playlists on Spotify and iTunes. Can I import these into Apple Music? Your iTunes playlists will automatically be pulled into Apple Music when it launches, as will the rest of your iTunes library. If you use Beats Music and switch your subscription to Apple Music, your playlists will sync over. But we're not so sure about playlists from other music services like Spotify and Rdio. We’ll have more info on this once Apple Music officially launches on June 30.
Do Apple Music subscribers have access to the entire iTunes catalogue? Which artists are missing? Apple says that Apple Music has a library of roughly 30 million songs. iTunes? Its store sells 43 million songs worldwide. Though we won’t know exactly which artists are missing until it launches, Bloomberg reports that the Beatles won’t be included with Apple Music at launch—Apple is still working out a deal for those rights.
What about podcasts? We’re not sure yet, but as soon as we find out, we’ll let you know.
This story, "Apple Music FAQ: The ins and outs of Apple's new streaming music service " was originally published by Macworld.