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Apple Music tops fifteen million subscribers, unveils expected revamp

By | Published on Tuesday 14 June 2016

Apple Music

“It’s been an incredible year”. Not my words, but the words of Apple music man Eddy Cue. And he’s right, it has, hasn’t it? I thought March was particularly good. Mainly 15 Mar. Around about lunchtime. “We’ve learned a lot along the way”, added Cue. Now, I have to disagree there. I’ve learned nothing. Oh, except how to make sure Apple Music didn’t start charging me once my free trial was up. I learned that.

But, it seems, more than fifteen million people don’t know how to do that, meaning the Apple streaming service has now passed yet another user-number landmark. The latest stats brag came as Apple unveiled the expected revamp of its music platform at the firm’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco yesterday. Cue billed the revamp as an “all-new Apple Music, redesigned from the ground up”. Which is always a good place to start.

That rebuild from the ground up is primarily about improving user-interface in a bid to make things a little more intuitive, while bringing those elements most used by Apple Music’s fifteen million subscribers to the fore, a development which pushes one of the more derided features – the Connect tab – down the pecking order somewhat. There’s an attempt to make it easier for users to see what they’ve downloaded from good old fashioned iTunes, and if you scroll past the artwork in the now playing tab you’ll get some lovely lyrics.

Arriving amid such hype a year ago, the inevitable weaknesses that will be found in any new streaming app were always going to be experienced by a much bigger audience than if the Apple Music service had entered the market as a start-up. And to that end, Apple execs do seem to bringing a bit more humility to the fore than normal, basically admitting that the exciting new developments mainly overcome past weakness in their product.

Though, of course, all that hype has its upside in terms of enabling those user figures, Apple Music now being vastly ahead of numerous competitors who have been in the streaming music market for years, and now properly in the race with market-leading Spotify.

Though, for the music industry, while it’s tempting to pick favourites, especially as certain services court big name acts for exclusives, and with some label execs still frustrated by Spotify’s continued love affair with the freemium-sells-premium business model, what everyone in the music community needs is more subscribers overall.

Which brings us back to that tricky question that continues to linger just under the surface: how many paying users are needed for some of these services to go into profit, and for the record industry to go back into long-term growth? Oh, and are there that many potential paying users out there? Some reckon not. But hey, “it’s been an incredible year”.

In related news, Spotify last week gave a very lukewarm reception to the pre-WWDC announcement that Apple was going to cut its commission on in-app purchases for subscription services, which is to say when people subscribe to streaming services via an iOS app.

Apple charges a 30% commission on transactions that occur within iOS apps, which – in the streaming music space – services pass directly onto the customer, because 30% is their (desired) profit margin. It means that if you subscribe to Spotify via the iOS app it is more expensive than if you subscribe via Spotify’s website. It also means, if purchasing via the app, Spotify is more expensive than Apple Music.

As previously reported, once a subscriber has been signed up for over a year, Apple will now drop its cut to 15%. Which is good news for Spotify, though not so good news, according to the streaming firm’s corporate communications chappy.

Jonathan Prince told The Verge last week: “It’s a nice gesture, but doesn’t get to the core of the problem with the Apple tax and its payment system. Unless Apple changes its rules, price flexibility is prohibited, which is why we can never provide special offers or discounts, and means we won’t have the ability to share any savings with our customers”.

He went on: “Apple still insists on inserting itself between developers and their customers, which means developers will continue to lack visibility into why customers churn – or who even qualifies as a long-term subscriber”.

Bloody Apple. And wait till Prince hears that the anticipated launch of Beats 2 wasn’t included in the WWDC presentation. Then he’s going to be really pissed off.