According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, Apple will finally announce its much rumored streaming service next week.
Once upon a time, Apple revolutionized the music industry by offering the first large, legal outlet to purchase digital music and offering the now-ubquitous option to buy one single at a time instead of entire albums. Fast forward to 2015 and streaming is the norm while digital downloading has fallen sharply and Apple has watched companies like Spotify and Pandora, and more recently Tidal, prosper by recognizing a consumer desire to listen to their music without downloading. Apple will be playing catch up and entering an already crowded space, but as they are Apple, they're sure to be strong contenders from the jump.
According to reports, Apple plans to release the service next month at their developer's conference. The service will cost consumers $10 a month and include unlimited listening, though unlike some of its competitors, Apple will not offer any ad-supported, free tier. Multiple stories contend that Apple heavily pursued a free-streaming option, but was so far unable to reach a deal with the labels. In addition, iTunes Radio will be recieving an upgrade with the addition of exclusive content, curated channels and DJs and hosts, including Dr. Dre. Apple is also reportedly pursueing Drake and Pharrell as a DJs, which might help explain why Drizzy pulled out of a deal with Tidal and Jay Z.
So what does this all mean for the competition? While Spotify and Pandora can't be happy about another heavyweight contender in the ring, they're well established and already have a tight grip on consumers, thanks in large part to their free streaming option. As for Tidal, it's way too early to say definitively, but the last thing Tidal needs is another streaming service at half the price and the built in advantage of packaging the streaming services with the millions of iPhones and other Apple products on the market. If users are able to use only Apple for their downloading, streaming and playback needs it creates an enticing "one-stop shop" for all music needs.
There are some hurdles remaining for Apple. It's unclear if Apple will be able to secure the necessary licensing deals in time for the launch, although Jimmy Iovine's presence should certainly help. We have to imagine Iovine's connections and leverage with labels and artists are a primary reason Apple purchased Beats by Dre.
All in all, this is hardly a surprising move from Apple. Streaming is the present and the forseeable future, and it's obvious this was the company's long-term plan for some time. They have their work cut out for them, but as a consumer it's great to see so many entrants into the race. More competition equals better products and lower prices. Whether you're using Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, SoundCloud, AudioMack, GooglePlay or any other service, the fact that all of them are competing against each other means we all win. Digital fingers crossed.
[By Brendan Varan. He wonders if he's the only person who still downloads music. Follow him on Twitter.]