∞ Content service deal enables hardware sell

Apple the privacy company pushes you by all means to the privacy problem child Amazon Echo to promote their streaming service Apple Music via app store, website and push notification – all to get back their hardware on the Amazon shelves.

It seems that Apple can’t afford not to be on the biggest marketplace in the western hemisphere. In this move the vertical powerhouse sacrifices their own hardware – the HomePod – in favor of their now horizontal service Apple Music and also in favor of a hardware ecosystem that is in many ways contrary to the Apple privacy paradigm.

The strategy shift to content service growth comes without any leverage for the premium hardware maker that appears troubled – or why would they stop reporting unit sales for iPhone, iPad and Mac beginning 2019?

Link: https://www.macstories.net/news/apple-heavily-promotes-the-amazon-echos-apple-music-integration/

The fate of Apples “music DNA” claim

Erin Sidney wrote a polite indictment of Apple about their self-acclaimed DNA full of music. It is a must read if you’re interested in the consequences of cultural de-contextualisation from the perspective of creators. His article from 2015 touches several pain points which are worth exploring in detail.

His final pledge to expand iTunes LP into Apples artist network Connect is comprehensible even today:

But I like to imagine a world with deep-linked album credits — not just who engineered, produced and played on the record, but going much further. Allowing the artist to thank people and bands for their help, to call out charities that they find meaningful, and for the user to experience all of it beautifully.

These “living liner notes” could be supplemented by a time capsule of the period spent working on the album you’re listening to as documented by the artist themselves on Connect!

I can imagine artists adding information as it becomes relevant later.

You could build a whole user experience around liner notes deeply integrated into Apple Music and spur a whole new level of self-motivated music discovery. Human discovery by humans about humans.

A whole new generation of kids like us, opening up records, scouring them for details, seeking out connections only they could make, building a world that inspires them and all of us.

Apple has confirmed that as of March 2018 new iTunes LP submissions will no longer be accepted. If that means Apple will revamp context information for a mobile world or they finally gave up to care is up for speculation to this date.

Lest you think they couldn’t do this, please remember, Apple is the company that decided working with Google wasn’t in line with their core philosophy and so built a team to map the entire planet. They MAPPED THE FUCKING PLANET when they woke up one morning and decided to.

So there’s no way they can’t tackle this. But they need to want to.

I have no idea what’s stopping them or whether they plan to address this in a future update of Apple Music.

Do they need to want though? That is my main concern: if Apple had visionary leadership they knew why and how to address this lack of commitment for responsible music discovery – for the benefit of creators and listeners equally.

I think the chances of a return to the meaning of “music in our DNA” as a fruitful connection between humans are slim to none as the importance of integration of algorithm experts inside Apple grows and grows.

The Wall Street Journal outlined the task of the successor of Jimmy Iovine:

Mr. Schusser takes over as Apple Music is poised to surpass music-streaming rival Spotify Technology SA in the U.S. in paid subscribers. The music unit has become a key piece of Apple’s strategy to boost its services revenue to more than $40 billion by 2020, a critical part of the company’s future as people hold on to iPhones longer and device sales slow, analysts say.

If you play catch up then you can’t skate to to where the puck is going to be.

I think Apple should just drop the claim “Music is in our DNA” as Google dropped their motto “Don’t be evil”.

 

Jimmy Iovine believed in cultural gatekeepers and lost to algorithms

Jimmy Iovine’s role at Apple Music became seemingly redundant because he held onto his vision to present and curate music from humans for humans in an age of rising capabilities of artificial intelligence and thus effective algorithms. In my opinion the final nail in the coffin was the aquisition of Shazam by Apple at the end of 2017. Apple may be felt left behind in the area of AI and Shazam can make articial intelligence products and services like HomePod in combination with Apple Music much smarter than before. It also means that human expert music curation is visible on Beats 1 Radio only.

Let’s look at Eddy Cue (Apple Senior Vice President who oversees Apple Music) in 2014 when he explained the Beats deal:

 

Eddy Cue cited three major reasons for the aquisition of Beats back then:

  1. people: incredible talent of Jimmy Iovine, Dr Dre & team
  2. product: incredible headphones
  3. service: beats music – first subscripition service done right due expert curation

The Wall Street Journal reports recaps 3,5 years later:

Mr. Iovine is one of the last of a team of prominent music executives Apple gained when it bought Beats Electronics LLC in 2014 for $3 billion. Former Chief Executive Ian Rogers, Beats co-founder Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, another top Beats executive, have all left or distanced themselves from the company since the Apple deal, people familiar with the business said. Beats President Luke Wood, who oversees the headphones business, remains.

The headline of the article is subtle as a sledgehammer: “Jimmy Iovine’s Planned Exit From Apple Music Raises Leadership Questions”.

When Eddy Cue talked with CNNMoney’s Dylan Byers at the South by Southwest conference on 12th of March 2018 he didn’t mention anything at all about the strategy change at Apple Music (from 44:19 in the clip):

Dylan Byers: Let’s talk what was formerly the core product of Apple which is music. Spotify is going public. Do you wish that you had sort of nip Spotify in the bud several years ago? I mean they do have a crazy subscriber base I think it’s double what you guys have at Apple music?

Eddy Cue: Look we have 38 million subscribers and we don’t talk about our trials and these are people that given us their payment method, estimated we have 8 million trials I don’t know how quite what the numbers were, that is really not that important.

Dylan Byers: What is important?

Eddy Cue: When you look of the numbers of subscribers that Spotify and us have together and you look at the number of people that are listening to music around the world or even something as simple as the number of people that come to visit our App store every week, we have half a billion people that are visiting the App store every week and now you are talking about just north of 100 million music subs – we’re like THIS big in the scheme of things. So the real opportunity for music and it’s not about Spotify or us or the labels it’s about artists, is how they get their music to everyone around the world and how they get compensated for that. That is what we’re trying to do. We both have to grow by significant amounts in order to get the numbers in which it should.

Eddy Cue didn’t even blink at “formerly the core product” of Apple, says numbers aren’t important but then again are, didn’t explain how Apple is supporting artists in any way better than Spotify let alone how to grow subscriber numbers.

The number one reason why Apple Music is adopted well in the United States is not because of a subscription service done right (formerly known as Beats) but rather it comes pre-installed (WSJ):

Apple’s music business has been gaining momentum and is poised to overtake rival Spotify Technology SA this year in U.S. paid subscribers. That is mostly because of Apple Music’s reach across many of Apple’s 1.3 billion devices world-wide—on which its app is included by default—rather than the exclusive content agreements delivered through Mr. Iovine’s close relationships with artists, according to music-industry executives.

So if it is not the superior user experience of Apple Music that will win people over, what is it? And who at Apple has the vision “to grow by significant numbers”? Jimmy Iovine’s job at Apple Music is vacant (WSJ):

Mr. Cue now will have to determine whether to continue dividing responsibilities between Messrs. Kondrk and Robbin, elevate one to a more public role, or look externally for someone with music-industry ties to assist with artist relationships.

It is really worth watching how many hopes Eddy Cue had in 2014 at the Recode Conference about the aquisition of Beats. He lost the team, he still has the headphones (which are overshadowed by Apple’s HomePod and AirPods), he has a music subscription service that turned from human curation to integrating Shazam’s AI capabilities. There is simply no place anymore for the Defiant Ones at Apple (produced by HBO and not Apple’s video division).

It is also worth reading what Trent Reznor said, one of the championed cultural gatekeepers that Jimmy Iovine tried to introduce to Apple in line with the Beats deal:

For a couple of years, it’s been full time at Apple immersing myself in this extremely interesting stuff, and doing that has helped me realize how much I appreciate being an artist and how valuable time is.

Apple presents the StreetPod

streetpod
StreetPod – the speaker that would make Jimmy Iovine look cool

The new StreetPod offers stereo speakers out of the box, blasting 100 dB SPL with a boomey 50 Hz roll off, 24h battery life, vulcanite rubber enclosure for enduring street life, Bluetooth and Aux-In connectivity and acclaimed voice recognition system “look fam”. It has vertical integration 2020™ (works splendidly in music videos that Apple Music is providing major artists with). Apple RED edition will be presented by U2 on world fairness day. Available now $299.00 everywhere.

The witch is dead but the spell remains

witch
Photo by Neil Delete

Update: Jimmy Iovine denied five days after the rumours appeared that he will step down. 

Jimmy Iovine’s time at Apple Music is coming to an end by August 2018. Hits Daily Double rumoured it first with Billboard confirming it today. Let’s recap Iovine’s self-introduction at the 2015 WWDC:

“This is a revolutionary music service curated by the leading music experts who we helped hand pick,” said Jimmy Iovine, Co-Founder of Beats Electronics and Beats Music. “These people are going to help you with the most difficult question in music: when you’re listening to a playlist, what song comes next.” As stated by Trent Reznor, one of Apple Music’s spokesmen, the overall intent of Apple Music is to grow, nurture and sustain careers, while more specifically shaping one shared conversation around music.

The Forbes article is highly recommended as it reflects exactly his differentiation approach for a flat rate music streaming service that Iovine sold to Apple with the aquisition of Beats Music in the first place:

The service combined algorithm-based personalization with expert music suggestions from a variety of sources.

His only asset was his connection to the major music elite and to install them as gatekeepers. One of the championed gatekeepers was Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), read what he had to say in Vulture about Apple Music in July 2017:

I’ve seen a lot, and it’s interesting to be behind the scenes and meet really cool, smart people that I highly respect. Now, and I’m not talking about Apple here: I’m not yearning to be a tech guy. Being in that world has made me realize the true value of being an artist. The economics of music aren’t what they should be, and the culture isn’t giving the arts its fair due, but humans are always going to respond to emotion and storytelling. I believe that as much as I ever did. More, even. (…)  I had all this shit in my head about how people listen to music and consume music. For a couple of years, it’s been full time at Apple immersing myself in this extremely interesting stuff, and doing that has helped me realize how much I appreciate being an artist and how valuable time is. (…)

Do you feel like you’ve been successful with Beats and Apple Music as far as working on subscription streaming?
Without going into detail, I’ll say it’s been an education. I’ve been on the other side of artists bitching about payments and free music, and I agree with those arguments, but you can sit and bitch about the way things are, or you can try to affect some change. Working under the Apple umbrella, I have a unique opportunity to work on a streaming service from the inside. I thought I could help set a precedent where artists could actually be paid and the fans could feel like they were dealing with a service run by people who actually care about music.

Is it working?
It’s been interesting. Where it seems to have wound up is that free music is here to stay. It doesn’t seem like, with all the different services, artist payments are coming together in the way that one would hope, but the data is valuable.

It’s not that he claimed any accolades as a gatekeeper, does he? More like he as an artist sobered up in the environment of Tim Cook, the technocrat that runs the most successful company on earth.

Bent Thompson wrote in October 2017 a remarkable article headlined Goodbye Gatekeepers, he concluded:

Most importantly, though, the end of gatekeepers is inevitable: the Internet provides abundance, not scarcity, and power flows from discovery, not distribution. We can regret the change or relish it, but we cannot halt it: best to get on with making it work for far more people than gatekeepers ever helped.

Now add the news from December 2017 when Apple bought Shazam and it felt very much, that indeed the time of the gatekeepers where over: Shazam is Apple’s Echo Nest.

Apple’s weekly active user (WAU) penetration is far behind Spotify’s, indicating that Apple needs to do a better job of engaging its users. Better playlists, recommendations and algorithm driven curation all help Spotify stay ahead of the curve. Now, Apple will be hoping that Shazam will provide it with the tools to start playing catch up.

Frictionless, automatic discovery based on user behaviour and massive data is what makes the Spotify world go around and the culture-disconnected individual defenseless.

In a way Jimmy Iovine had it right, when he insisted on the importance of “the most difficult question in music: when you’re listening to a playlist, what song comes next.” He believed in the gatekeepers but the algorithms have won.