Apple Wants to Own Music Again, and Everyone Is a Target

Apple Music is coming with a vengeance at Spotify, Pandora, Sirius, and YouTube

Apple WWDC: Three Things You Need to Know

Apple announced a massive new initiative on Monday to take back from myriad competitors what it seems to consider the company's to own: music.

Everyone looked to be in the crosshairs at Apple's annual WWDC event in San Francisco, including streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora—but even Sirius XM satellite radio and social Web services like Tumblr might be feeling a little zeroed-in on. Apple's new service, called Apple Music, combines continuous, streaming playback of music from its iTunes library, just like Rdio or Spotify, as well as custom playlist creation and autonomous deejaying features such as Pandora, and it even launched its own global radio station, led by DJ Zane Lowe.

On the streaming side of things, startups like Spotify should be very worried about Apple's ability to reach a large audience quickly while cutting better deals with labels than a newcomer to the space might be able to find. Apple says its streaming service will have more than 30 million songs. However, the company is still negotiating deals, and currently has the rights to Taylor Swift (sorry, Spotify), but not The Beatles, for example, according to a person familiar with the discussions. If Apple manages to recreate the full iTunes catalog for its streaming service, it could be a game-changing moment for how average users get their entertainment. And thanks to the recent acquisition of Beats, Apple gets to rely on the music-industry savvy of Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, and Trent Reznor to help prove its street cred when necessary.

It also introduced an additional feature, dubbed Connect, that seemingly aims to take on how artists (both established and new) connect with their fans, putting it squarely in the space of Tumblr, Twitter, and SoundCloud. That sounds like a nice idea, but Apple has been historically tragic in this space—recall the company's ill-fated Ping “social network for music”—and Apple still hasn't fully embraced the open Internet as a core piece of its offerings. In fact, it went to great lengths to talk about how it would keep your data anonymous and never use it the way Google and Facebook will.

Should Spotify, Pandora, YouTube be Worried About Apple?

If you assume there's no upside in having your services know who you are and what you like, that's a pretty good argument to make. The businesses that are thriving on the Web and in apps right now seem to take a different view.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the subtle move to enter a space currently dominated by one company: satellite radio. At present, Sirius XM comes standard on just about every radio in every car you can buy. But as Apple moves into the automotive space with such offerings as CarPlay (“The car is the ultimate mobile device,” Apple Operations Chief Jeff Williams said recently), a clearer picture begins to take shape. If the company can combine its in-car experience with the multi-channel, human-programmed new set of stations in Apple Music's Beats One radio, Sirius's trip in the car might be shorter than it thinks.

Even music videos—a business that has been massive for YouTube—are in Apple's sights. They're included as part of the Apple Music package.

In fact, the theme on Monday could have been: Apple on the attack. The company lashed out several times against competitors that seem to be eating up small plots of land around its kingdom. If it wasn't iOS updates that make the iPad work more like a Microsoft Surface, then it was soft attacks on other companies' privacy and security issues, or improvements to its mapping software that bring it somewhat closer to parity with Google's very dominant service. Apple even introduced a whole new connective layer in the next version of iOS called Intelligence, which basically replicates the functionality of Google Now, a service Google has made a central part of its future.

Apple doesn't necessarily need to bring these features to its products in order to succeed—that much is clear. But the company has historically been masterful at taking what the competition is doing and making it Apple's—a legacy that was on full display today.

Update, June 8, 2015, 5:58pm: Adds details on Apple's music negotiations. A previous version contained a photo caption that misspelled the name of Apple executive Jimmy Iovine.

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