Last week, Apple released their long-awaited streaming music service, Apple Music. I’ve been playing around with it a lot since then, and it’s got me thinking about what Apple may have up their sleeves for some of their future products and services. In particular, I am thinking about their streaming services and iTunes software.
First of all, a comment about just what Apple Music is. When you sign up and pay for the service, you gain access to most of the iTunes music catalog. (Of course, there is a free tier of the Apple Music service, which has more limitations, such as skips per hour, and ads.) You don’t actually own the music, as opposed to if you want to buy a song for 99 cents through iTunes. In that case, you’ve bought it and it’s yours to keep. On the contrary, Apple Music may be thought of as a music rental service. As long as you pay your monthly dues, you can stream any of the songs that are available, or save them to your devices for offline listening. However, if you drop out of the program, because of the way that Apple Music songs have DRM applied to them, all of the music that you have “rented” through Apple Music disappears from your collection, leaving you with only the music that you actually own, either through purchases through iTunes, rips of your own CD collection, etc. This seems like a reasonable system, assuming you are comfortable with the digital rights management applied to the music, though for most people, this probably isn’t going to matter to them at all. I love having instant access to such a vast music library, and the hooks into Siri on iOS adds another awesome element to the whole package. The radio and curated stations are a great way to introduce songs to you, and the For You section delivers customized suggestions to you based on what you like and listen to and have on your device. It sounds similar to what Genius has done up to now, though better.
Despite this new music app only being out for a week right now, and there clearly being bugs in the software, I really like what they’re doing here. Plus, considering that the first three months are a free trial period, I consider this to be like a beta period for the software – they’re just released it and there are bound to be bugs, but we’re not paying anything for it anyways at the moment, so we can’t really complain. Hopefully the Apple engineers hear the feedback that seems to come from all corners, and will implement the necessary changes to really tune to software. I’d love for their to be iterative point updates, though I suspect that it will “come out of beta” when iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan are released in the fall, which roughly coincides with the end of the free trial. So, we start paying and hopefully the software is more or less bug free and working perfectly, as we always expect from Apple.
Now, I’m going to look a bit into the future for where I can see this software and service going. Assuming that Apple Music is a winning player in the streaming business, as everyone expects them to be, I wonder if Apple will branch out and do something similar with videos, essentially to compete with Netflix. Let’s call it, creatively, Apple Video. I’m not going to bore down into the details of licensing agreements and stuff like that. I have no idea how any of that works now, or how it would for something like this. But ideally, let’s assume this service provides Apple Video subscribers with access to the iTunes video library. Whereas Netflix typically doesn’t air first-run new release movies, Apple does make available for download new releases, often 2 or 3 weeks even before their physical blu-rays drop. It would be absolutely amazing if they started up a service like this, and charged a monthly subscription fee. They would probably never be able to do it at the low rates that Netflix charges, but they are arguably not providing the exact same service. This Apple Video service could be the killer TV streaming service that has been rumoured and discussed at length for years. If they could also couple that with cable networks to provide on-demand access to TV shows, that is a video service that is well worth the subscription price. I would pay for something like this in a heartbeat, to break away from the cable company for good.
The implementation of an Apple Video service, I imagine, would have to be done similarly to the music service. That is, a rewrite of the iOS Video app (even change the icon away from the silly skeuomorphic one that’s there now!) would be necessary. They could possibly even have the same kind of tabs in the Video app, such as For You, New, and My Videos, so the framework seems to be in place already to start something like this. (I would also love the videos taken with the iPhone camera would end up in the Video app, and not the Photos app. This has been a peeve of mine for years! Videos are not photos, even if they were captured with the same camera!) However, iOS devices would probably not be the primary viewing devices, so a new Apple TV hardware box would likely be useful to handle this. New chips and hardware would allow for the nice translucency and gradient effects prevalent in the music app on iOS. Also, they’d want a Video app available on OS X. And here is where things get really crazy.
Consider what iTunes was, and what it has turned into. It started off as a way of managing your music. That’s it. But it has now expanded to include video, music, apps, etc. It is the syncing software that bridges your computer with your devices. But, needless to say, it is completely bogged down in trying to do too much now. It is glitchy and slow. But there are clues as to where it could go. Consider the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library. iTunes doesn’t worry about photos anymore. When you looks at your device in iTunes, under Photos, it just says that iCloud Photo is on and managing the photo syncing. Now with the release of Apple Music and the iCloud Music Library, you see the same type of thing when you look at the Music section of your device on iTunes. iTunes is still a hub for apps, movies, TV shows, etc, but I think this is only for now.
Ultimately, iTunes will be unnecessary as a sync solution, as everything will be managed and synced through relevant iCloud services. We have iCloud Photo Library and iCloud Music Library. The video proposal I set out above would come with iCloud Video Library. And apps are already synced from the cloud, and their data stored on iCloud. All the other sections will ultimately get cloud libraries and syncing, which negates the need for iTunes. Instead, it will be reduced back down to what it originally was: Music.
So, for all the people complaining about iTunes being the beast that it is right now, just relax. We may be heading down the path that simplifies everything, breaks the different components of iTunes into their own apps, and makes them all so much more easy to manage. If I am right, Apple Music is a glimpse of what could eventually turn into Apple Video, and a much brighter future for iTunes.