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Playing with Apple Music to see if it can compete with Spotify

Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue (L) high fives with recording artist Drake during the Apple Music introduction at the Apple WWDC on June 8, 2015 in San Francisco.
Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue (L) high fives with recording artist Drake during the Apple Music introduction at the Apple WWDC on June 8, 2015 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Tuesday morning, Apple launched its new streaming service, Apple Music. The service features new elements like the "Beats 1" radio service hosted by DJs and popular musicians, as well as "Connect," a network that allows fans and artists to communicate with each other. 

Apple Music Trailer

Apple is trying to compete with preexisting music services like Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music. With 30 million songs available to stream, curated playlists by experts and unique artist radio shows for $9.99 a month after their free trial period, Apple hopes to absorb its preexisting iTunes consumer base as well as attracting users paying for similar services. 

Ben Johnson, host of Marketplace Tech, met with the Frame's John Horn to discuss the new music service. 

Interview highlights:

So I know you spent all of your waking hours listening to Apple Music, how does it measure up?

Well this is a good question, and John, I should tell you — I have been playing with Apple Music, but I'm going to admit something to you — I am an Android. I use Google Music. I am one of these users that, I think, Apple is probably hoping to poach from other services like Pandora, Google Music, and Spotify. But I have been playing with it this morning. It's a really interesting service. There is a lot going on in the software.

The first ride I will say was bit bumpy. When I updated the operating system to the phone that I was using it on and opened up Apple Music, it immediately crashed. Then I was listening to a Rilo Kiley song a little bit later and the phone froze. So, I think there are still a few bugs in the system.

You use the word "interesting," which is what I think a lot of people use on a blind date that doesn't work out very well. Are you going to go back for a second date?

You know, my first love is Google Music, so I am probably not going to jump into the Apple ecosystem just for this. I will say that the company seems to be doing a lot of smart stuff when it comes to curation. Both in terms of human curation and algorithmic curation.

You can talk to Siri and ask Siri to play you the top R&B hits or songs from 1994, which would be a personal favorite of mine. Also, once you get started, there is this little bubble interface, and inside the bubbles are artists, and they're kind of floating around. You tap on the bubbles to let the company know what you're into and then it starts curating stuff for you. 

Let's talk a little bit about the music. The Beatles are not on Spotify — were you able to find them on Apple Music hidden somewhere?

You know, I have to admit I love the Beatles dearly, but I didn't look for the Beatles. But what I can tell you is — yes, Taylor Swift is not only on Apple Music but, shocker, she is featured prominently. So they do have a lot of artists that I think are really big and will get people to sign up actually to pay, or not cancel after the first free months.

In my car I have XM. There are four channels on my XM dials for hip-hop and rap — probably about five or six for alternative rock. Does Apple's radio option have that depth of programming, and what does it look like? 

I actually started to use the radio function on this and I looked at the screen and it was dead empty. 

Not a good sign.

Not a good sign. You have to start by telling Apple what you're into, and you can start to create stations for yourself. So it takes a little bit of input from the user before it starts giving you an output that you want to listen to.

As to whether or not it is going to replace your listening habits in your car, I don't know. The radio component of this doesn't seem all that compelling to me as a user. I don't know that it has been super successful in the past for other companies. So it will be interesting to see how it plays out. 

Do you get the impression that Apple Music is trying to take some of the better elements of competing services, like this personalization you can get on Spotify or the radio element of Pandora, and combine them? If that is the case, is it really a shotgun marriage right now?

I think that is a really good question. I think undoubtedly with Apple sort of entering this race, not dead last, but after a lot of other services have become available, sure there is a lot of stuff you would experience in Spotify or Pandora that is going to feel really familiar to you once you start playing with Apple Music. I think that is probably a good thing. 

One of the big questions for Apple is whether it can get users to jump ship from Spotify, Pandora, and some of these other services, and really start paying for Apple. I saw people tweeting today #Spotibye. So it seems evident that some people are starting to actually jump ship and do this.

Apple, think about it, the company has millions and millions of devices in the hands of millions of people. Of course, you've probably heard this number — 800 million credit card data sets that Apple has through iTunes. That is almost most of Facebook's entire usership.

So I think that the company does have a lot going for it in that regard. But it does feel familiar, and I know don't know that there is anything, at least for me, that is brand new that gets me super excited about using the service

So is it worth 10 bucks a month you think?

So, I talk to this guy Alex White — he is the CEO of a music streaming data company called Next Big Sound. He told me that what we've learned about the way that people stream music at this point is that many of us actually just listen to the same stuff over and over. We don't use discoverability or go out and discover a ton of new music and listen to that. We're pretty habitual as users. I think when you're paying 10 bucks a month for a service in which you might only end up listen to, I don't know, 15 albums, I think it will be really interesting to see if Apple can convince people to pay on a regular basis for this kind of thing.

I think other services have struggled with this too. I mean you look at Spotify and it has tens of millions of listeners and really only 20 million or 10 million of them are actually paying on a regular basis. So I think that is a thing we still have to figure out in the streaming world.  

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