Apple Music & Exclusivity

Apple Music, the iPhone maker's foray into paid music streaming, is finally here (available starting today as part of iOS 8.4 update), but with stiff competition from Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music All Access and the likes, the inevitable question is whether is it late to the party. Apple no doubt has been a champion of digital music several times before, a juggernaut positioning itself at the vanguard of change with iTunes and iPod, thus forcing the music industry to quickly adapt and embrace the new music format.

Times have changed since then and with rapid advances in technology, streaming is increasingly becoming the norm, letting you even upload and stream your music collection from the cloud. Who after all has the patience to sift and organise his/her music library (pirated or otherwise) every time one changes a smartphone! Hence it makes perfect sense for Apple to dip its toes into the world of streaming. But what of the app itself? Does it have in it the potential to become the next-gen iPod?

Having taken it for a spin myself, I found Apple Music to be nothing short of ambitious, for it wants to own your complete music experience, right from streaming, to music discovery and personalised recommendations, to live 24x7 radio, to following your favourite artists and hosting your traditional iTunes catalogue all in one single place. Feature-packed and overwhelming for a music app, yes, but if you are one of those baked into the Apple ecosystem, it should be a godsend.

However what's a little concerning here is Apple's attempt to draw customers to its service through exclusive content. Taylor Swift's latest album 1989 will be an Apple Music exclusive (this after Swift made an impassioned plea to pay artists and rights holders on a per-stream basis during the free three-month trial period) and so will Dr. Dre's The Chronic. Hard rock band AC/DC too is joining the list, although their records will be available on Spotify and Rdio as well. It's not just Apple; Jay-Z-owned TIDAL music service, which was relaunched early this year, does the same by offering exclusive content from the artists involved.

All of this bodes a bright start for Apple Music given its widespread release and a huge install base, but not for streaming services in general and for users who are already subscribed to its rivals like Spotify or Google Play Music (I'm not planning to ditch my Google Play Music All Access subscription any time soon. It has a fairly exhaustive collection, plus you get ad-free YouTube with offline use). Have we reached a stage where one has to subscribe to several streaming services to follow artists of his liking? As a music lover, it pains to see such fragmentation happening and I seriously hope this mad rush for exclusives doesn't become a trend going forward, inexorably increasing the chances of music piracy.