If we had to talk about an association that made a lot of noise in 2014 both literally and figuratively, the acquisition of Beats by Apple would surely be on the tip of all tongues. The acquisition of the Dr Dre brand by Apple for the trifle of 3 billion dollars in May 2014 had not failed to provoke frantic reels with the hands of the various players in the world of music. A year later, the result of this collaboration is still not visible but on the sidelines of WWDC this could soon change…
A growing market
It has been now more than 10 years that Apple has approached the world of music by launching in 2001 the first iPod which will still have the success that we know today. The Cupertino company has been able to revolutionize the market while supporting it in its new practices through the digital music sales platform iTunes Store which will make Apple the market leader. While iTunes continues to make record profits, the past few years have seen this model fade away in favor of music streaming embodied by its new players Spotify, Deezer or Qobuz in France.
The phenomenon is not new, but it has just passed a milestone since this week, according to the RIAA, for the first time the turnover of music streaming has become higher than that of sales by download. A symbolic date for a trend that should increase in the coming years, bringing music streaming to the fore in terms of listening and relaying physical media ever further at the edge of the forest (it’s sad but it’s like that).
Although iTunes retains its hegemony over the sale of digital titles, Apple felt the tide turn long before the news broke. Apart from the super cool work meetings with Dr Dre and Jimmy Lovine, the acquisition of Beats is part of this evolution of the market in order to allow Apple to partially catch up on the competition by placing a first foot in this universe… To then jump in with both feet splashing the competition at full commercial power.
What Beats Music offers
If the arrival of Tidal was quite unexpected, the color has been announced for a long time for Beats Music, which has already been present on the American market since the beginning of 2014. In terms of the offer offered, the platform does not offer the possibility of listen to music for free but a subscription at $7.99 per month. A cheaper offer than the competition for listening quality and a catalog of the same ilk as Spotify (20 million tracks, MP3 encoding at 320 Kbps).
Beats Music stands out above all in terms of the sound offered to its subscribers. Whereas Spotify is based on an algorithm that is not always very relevant to offer artists and playlists to its users, Beats Music integrates a more human dimension by offering a real curation of its content. The brand of Dr Dre has thus poached the artistic direction Trent Reznor, the leader of Nine Inch Nails, as well as big names in radio to develop a service closer to what listeners expect while helping them discover new talent. Far from the “Shuffle” model, the idea here is to offer hand-crafted playlists to suit every occasion. A course of action that lays the foundation for what will be the new service from Apple.
Apple’s new music platform
At the beginning of June will take place the WWDC (Apple Worldwide Developers Conference) which should announce the redesign of Beats Music Apple version. This new music platform, whose name we won’t know because we don’t know it, should keep the same philosophy as Beats Music while integrating into the new iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2, giving it an international track. Compared to Beats Music’s current 250,000 subscribers, that will be more than 500 million iTunes users who will be able to access this new mount directly from the software. Suffice to say that this platform will benefit from a first-rate launch pad.
The other big novelty is that this platform could have an application available on Android, which would make it the very first app developed by the Apple brand on competitor Google’s operating system. When we know how much Apple wants to keep its identity, for example by not appearing on Beats products and advertisements, it is because the stakes must be substantial behind…
A synergy of talents and an enormous commercial strike force
I was not so far from reality when speaking above of the work meetings between Tim Cook, Dr Dre and Jimmy Lovine. Apple has always known how to surround itself with the best to conquer the markets it covets. Besides the cool dimension of the thing, the two founders of Beats are key players in music. They have almost forged the world of current music and know every corner of it as producers of the greatest artists of our time from U2 to Guns N’Roses via Pharrell Williams… On the other hand to develop its new platform, Apple poached DJ Zane Lowe in his last months who had hosted a program for the BBC for ten years as well as 4 producers from the same radio station which was literally looted. Proof that the Apple has great ambitions for the music streaming market.
But if Beats Music is a driving force behind Apple’s purchase of Beats, it certainly didn’t justify the $3 billion on the table on its own. Beats is above all headphones top-of-the-range that we find on the ears of just about all the most “hyped” stars on the planet, starting with half of the French football team… Bad example; starting with Serena Williams, Lebron James, Neymar or even Ludacris. A commercial power that few brands can claim to have and which will actively serve the purposes of Apple. We understand better why Beats kept his young man’s name…
Made for iPhone headsets
Speaking of audio accessories, Apple has also decided to open up to competition by authorizing the construction of headphones equipped with the Lightning port certified Made for iPhone. Two configurations are planned for manufacturers of helmets stamped Lightning: the Standard Lightning Headphones and the Advanced Lightning Headphones. The first headset configuration will need to use a DAC Wolfson responsible for bypassing the DAC integrated in the iPhone and iPad, the second will see the appearance of noise reduction systems integrated into the headphones. sony and Phillips are the first to have taken the plunge with the first Lightning MDR-1ADAC headphones and the Fidelio M2L. If Apple has so far only discreetly worked on the design of Beats headphones, we should soon see the launch of the first Made for iPhone versions. We are still far from the disappearance of the Jack cable but Apple is already laying the first stone and will not make any feelings about the connector.
The scenery is set, all we have to do is find ourselves in early June during WWDC to see that Apple has in store for us, but there is no doubt that after a year of behind-the-scenes work between Apple and Beats, the result looks very heavy and could well significantly change the musical landscape.