Teens Talk Apple Music

Someone, a long time ago, said children are our future.

While I remember the artist and song it came from, the demographic that’s going to make or break Apple Music has probably never heard of Whitney Houston or The Greatest Love of All, and if they have it’s because of their unhip parents.

With the three month free trials of Apple Music coming to a close soon, the question is whether people pay for the service. I’m in my early 40s and I’ve been actively collecting music since the late ’80s. While I own a lot of bad music, The Greatest Love of All is not part of that collection. I made the great digital leap forward and transferred all my music to .MP3 in the early 2000s and now I’m getting used to the idea of my music in a datacenter in the middle who-knows-where.

However, people of my age will not make or break Apple Music. Teens with access to anything they wanted to listen to at any time by playing a flat fee will make or break the service. They have no real allegiance to any of the services, like the inhabitants of Adam Smith’s perfect free market. However, companies are keen to earn their business because, as the conventional wisdom goes, they’ll be loyal to those brands for the rest of their lives.

So we’ve talked to four teenagers 16 to 18, all female, who Apple has in its crosshairs for its streaming music service.

For the most part, they named the biggies in the streaming music space as services they regularly used: Pandora, Spotify, occasionally Last.fm, iHeartRadio and Soundcloud; there was even a pre-Apple Music Beats user and someone who actually bought music from iTunes in the mix.

They all listened to a wide variety of music, including ones you wouldn’t expect. Megabands from the ’90s were named, like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and Blink 182 were mentioned, as were classic rock mainstays like Led Zepplin and AC/DC. More contemporary artists were named, of course, like Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.

The genres that were big included the usual suspects: alternative, hip-hop,  EDM. But there were a few very niche categories that showed up: German metal, K-pop and trap.

So, in short, they’re not just the Taylor Swift-listening mob that the popular media would like to believe. In fact, some of them just didn’t care that 1989 was on Apple Music at all.

But what they are into is a very deep, very wide catalog of music that they can access to any time. Some of them actually did own physical music, but streaming made up the bulk of their listening habits.

So will they use Apple Music? Two of the four said yes; the other two haven’t tried it yet. The two that did try Apple Music said they liked it a lot — in fact, one of them was sold within the first two days of using it.

Image via Clive Darra.

California Fines Uber Millions

Uber may be based in the Golden State, but it’s increasingly under more scrutiny by the state’s agencies. First, the California Labor Commission found that one of its drivers was, in fact an employee, not a contractor, and was entitled to all the benefits of a full-timer.

Now the California Public Utilities Commission hit the ride-sharing service with a $7.3 million fine for not providing details about its drivers, riders, the kinds of rides it was giving. The company is also being sued for not providing equal access to disabled riders, with reports of its drivers refusing service to riders with service dogs and those in wheelchairs.

The regulatory body stated, “In adopting these reporting requirements, the CPUC intended to gather information necessary to its oversight of TNCs (transportation network company) on behalf of the riding public: whether TNC services are being provided in a nondiscriminatory manner enabling equal access to all, and whether TNC services are being provided in a manner that promotes public safety.”

Lyft and Sidecar, Uber’s competitors in the rideshare space, were given the same requests and both the companies provided the information that was requested.

The CPUC threatened to shut down ride share companies because of rides given to and from the airports in the state. The company’s also had its commercial carpooling services declared illegal by the government body.

Via re/code. Image via Uber.

Netflix’s Feature Movies set to Premiere in October

Netflix has a name for itself in short time with a roster of series stands toe-to-toe with any cable network — House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. That’s also not counting documentaries they’re released, including The Square and What Happened Ms. Simone?

The streaming video company is gearing up to add a slate of feature movies that are just as impressive as the rest of its lineup. Cary Fukunaga (aka the guy who directed the first season of True Detective) will kick off with Beasts of No Nation starring Idris Elba. In December, Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six will be available (if you’re rolling your eyes, Sandler’s movies actually do well on DVD and VOD). Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend the long-awaited sequel to the 2000 original will be shown in March of next year.

The flicks will also also have brief runs in actual theaters to ensure they’ll be eligible for awards consideration.

Via TechCrunch. Photo by Christopher/flickr.

Prince Won’t Stream — and this is What it Sounds Like When Doves Cry

With the launch of Apple Music, it’s easy to get heady about the state of streaming media. Holdouts like AC/DC are making their music available on streaming services and Taylor Swift made 1989 available on the fruit company’s service.

So, war is over (which is also available on streaming)?

Not exactly. Prince (remember when he was symbol dude?), is making waves about taking his music unavailable via streaming. The Purple One pulled his music from Spotify and Rdio and is so far a no-show on Apple Music. But his tracks are still available on Google Music All Access and Tidal.

TechCrunch is speculating that Prince is removing his work from services with a free tier.

Prince is no stranger to criticizing the music industry and digital distribution. He’s pulled his music from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. He also called Taylor Swift the new Prince for her stand on streaming music.

However, he’s also made curious statements about the internet in general, calling it “completely over…The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

While you consider those words of wisdom, here’s Kevin Smith talking about a project he was supposed to work on with Prince.

Via TechCrunch. Photos by Jessica Watkins/flickr.

Apple Music: What’s in a Name? A Whole Damn Lot

When the iPhone originally launched, it didn’t come with Apple Music. It didn’t even come with a “Music” app. That was years later. Early adopters who can remember that far back will tell you that it came with an iPod app.

Which makes sense. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, the anticipation building up to the event was that Apple put a phone into an iPod. When Jobs unveiled the iPhone, he described it as an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator.

The iPod was the 600-pound gorilla in the early 2000s — the iPhone and its music services had to be put into the context of the iPod. At the time, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t excited at the prospect of an iPod that happened to make calls and access the internet.

As the iPod’s fortunes fell, the iPod app changed. If you owned the first iPhone or its followup, the 3G, you tapped on an app that looked like the familiar and iconic clickwheel device. By the iPhone 3GS, the writing was on the wall. The iPhone was a monster hit that was a phone and internet communicator that happened to also be an iPod…and the app was renamed Music.

Which brings us to the present day. Apple used to announce its iPod sales with the same fanfare they now do with iPhones, but now iPhones outsell iPods by about nine times. The iPod app begat the Music app which today begat Apple Music. The iPod is a fading memory. It’s not even a product you can access on the Apple home page.

In its time, the iPod represented a radical shift in consuming music. Rather than being limited by how many CDs or tapes you could carry, you were limited by how much storage capacity you had. While hard drives of the first iPods were minuscule compared to the 64GB to 128GB iPhones consumers use today, the fact that weeks of music could be carried in a package about the size of a deck of cards was mind blowing.

Over a decade later, Apple Music represents another radical shift — storage space doesn’t matter. Streaming does. Your mobile broadband connection — wifi, LTE — they’re your gateway to more music than you could ever listen to. Granted, Apple was late to this game and didn’t define the streaming market the way iTunes and the iPod defined the downloadable market. But when you consider that you have access to millions of tracks of music, in addition to your own collection of music that you’ve curated yourself and painstakingly ripped and uploaded, it takes the sting out of realizing that you’re now renting your music and not buying music.

You’re going to read a lot about Apple Music over the next few days. I think the access to almost everything I want to listen to (with the exception of bootlegs, small bands that never made it big but should have and my oddball collection of songs from anime movies and series that I’ve uploaded anyway) is astounding. Though I was skeptical of Beats 1, human curation of music through a knowledgeable DJ is a very good thing.

These guys are not the annoying fuckwads that make crank calls in some hick town’s “morning zoo”. The Beats 1 DJs are like the best kind of clerks at that music store you loved in the ’90s who turned you on to all kinds of music. If you’re too young to remember what a music store is, this is what consuming music was like before Clear Channel bought every radio station in America and enforced their “formats” to capture some market-driven demographic.

What Apple Music represents is the deeper philosophical change going on in Cupertino. Apple Music. Apple Watch. While those names seem like simple branding decisions, they’re really deeper, existential milestones in the history of Apple. When the iPod was introduced in 2001, the bad old days and the lean times of Apple weren’t far behind the company. Apple was sixty days away from bankruptcy when Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. If it wasn’t for Bill Gates floating Apple a loan, it’s very likely there would be no Apple, at least not the company we know today.

Jobs launched the iMac — the device that he hoped consumers would gravitate toward because of its design and colors. The “i” was supposed to stand for internet, but it also stood for I, and in the individual. iMacs were not the uninspiring beige boxes PC clone manufacturers were pumping out. It was Jobs’ first hit during his second coming. Then there was the iPod and finally, the iPhone. All of them products that could only exist because of the internet, but they were also Apple’s statement that they were iconoclasts and independents that made products for individuals.

It was marketing of the highest order to appeal to the need to be unique, because Apple needed every advantage it could get at the time.

The turnaround of Apple is the stuff of legend. When Jobs passed, the company reached unknown heights and because the world’s most valuable company. Its base of users increasingly identified with the company — in contrast to the ’90s, when Apple needed to connect to its customers for its continued survival.

The mark of this newly confident Apples is its new products. Apple Watch. Apple Music. Its name alone carries the weight to carry a product with the most generic of names. It seems like a small thing, but Apple Music is a very big deal as to what Apple is in 2015, compared to iTunes in 2000.

(Also, let’s face it — the iPhone’s days as being named as such are probably numbered. Cook, Ive and the rest of the executive team are probably itching to rename it Apple Phone.)

Much was written about Steve Jobs and his involvement with Zen Buddhism. As such, he would have to embrace change.

Apple Music is representative of that change and things to come. Where does your music and the company’s library of tracks begin and end? Does it matter? Do you need iTunes for your iPhone? Yes. No. Either answer is correct. For now.

Acknowledging the internet is passé. The internet is as pervasive and ubiquitous as the wind. What Apple ultimately wants are phones and computers that communicate to each other wirelessly, accessing videos, music and photo through high speed wireless connections to its data centers. Apple wants to kill the sync cable and is inching us to that inevitable future.

But all the while, the “i” of things will still be there. Though the personal connection to your devices that an Apple Watch provides, through the human curators of Apple Music that introduce you to your next favorite band you’ve never heard before or that connection to other people that negates distances the current and future iPhone does so well.

Screenshot by the author.

French Crack Down on Uber, Company Insists its French/Western European CEOs are in a “Hearing”

You know that dream where you punch out that guy you can’t stand? Well French cab companies are living the dream with their recent protests against Uber and the arrest of its French and Western European CEOs.

Mon Dieu!

The arrests, which an Uber spokesperson described as a “hearing”, capped off days of protests against the ride-sharing company which were sparked by the launch of its UberPop service (think UberX). Traditional taxi companies and taxi license holders were incensed that Uber operated their cars under a VTC license, or a tourism vehicle with a driver license.

The government not only scooped up Thibaut Simphal (Uber’s French honcho) and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty (the Western European chief), but it also announced it was dissolving the company and it was under criminal investigation. About 200 police are now tracking down Uber drivers.

Gareth Mead, an Uber spokesman, told Arstechinca, “We are always happy to answer questions the authorities have about our service—and look forward to resolving these issues. Those discussions are ongoing. In the meantime, we’re continuing to ensure the safety of our riders and drivers in France given last week’s disturbances.”

Looks like there’s going to be a whole lot of explaining to do.

Via Ars Technica. Photo by Monika Hoinkis/flickr.

T-Mobile Introduces Smartphone Leases with JUMP! On Demand

No matter what kind of fanboy you are (iOS or Android), chances are you’re the type of person who absolutely, positively needs the latest and greatest phone the moment it comes out.

This can be expensive. If you’re still on a subsidy plan, that means you probably won’t be eligible for an upgrade until the end of your two year contract. If you’re on one of the newer installment plans, you may or may not be eligible for an upgrade, and you may or may not need to put something down against the total balance of the device.

If you’re that guy or girl, chances are you’ve thought about the benefits of leasing. You don’t plan on having a phone longer than a year — and let’s fact it, getting the timing right of selling your old device to get the most you can on the second-hand market is a delicate balancing act. Sell it too soon, and you’ll be stuck without a smartphone for a few days to a few weeks. Sell it too late and you won’t get all you could have.

If only someone offered a leasing plan for phones, right?

John Legere, the maverick CEO of T-Mobile, apparently has heard the cries of smartphone nerds like us. JUMP! On Demand, will allow T-Mobile’s customers choose between “superphones” like the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy Note 4 and the LG G4. Qualified buyers will be able to walk out of a T-Mobile store (not Apple Stores and Samsung stores-within-a-stores in Best Buys) with a new phone for nothing down — not even sales tax — and a monthly fee, according to a press release from the company.

Customers on the JUMP! On Demand program (which begins on Sunday, June 28) can upgrade/change phones three times a year. There’s also fees if the device is damaged, so the company “suggests” that users on the program also obtain insurance for the phones.

Via T-MobileTMoNews. Photo by T-Mobile.

Streaming Heats Up: Spotify Buys Big Data Firm Seed Scientific

With Apple about to enter its space, Spotify is hunkering down and spending money to shore itself up with the purchase of Seed Scientific.

With a client list that included Audi, Unilever, the UN and Beats (pre-Apple buyout, Seed Scientific is an analytics company that will delve into how bands, listeners and brands interact with Spotify — and only Spotify.

Possible uses for the data include identifying where a band’s fans are, aid in Spotify’s suggestions to its subscribers and improve the advertising reach of companies. “Seed Scientific’s team and technology will now become the foundation of a new Advanced Analytics unit at Spotify that combines cutting-edge math, science, design, and engineering to craft insights, models, and tools with data,” Seed Scientific stated on their website.

Spotify’s acquisition follows the announcement that Apple Music will feature exclusive tracks from Pharrell, as well as Google which unveiled a free, ad-supported tier and music to fit mood and activity on its streaming service.

Via Techcrunch. Photo by Sorosh Tavakoli/flickr.

Tidal Interim CEO Leaves After 3 Months on the Job

Music streaming’s come a long way, baby. It’s supplanted downloads as the primary form of distribution for the industry and like the introduction of Napster and file sharing in the late ’90s, the incumbent players are still trying to figure out what it means to them.

Apple, the king of music downloads, is trying to pivot to streaming with Apple Music. The current darling, Spotify, is having its own problems with doubts as to the viability of steaming music as a revenue stream. Finally, there’s Tidal — the streaming service owned by billionaire music talent.

Apple has money behind it. Spotify has a first-mover advantage. Tidal? No one’s really sure. If anything, it’s been the butt of jokes.

This won’t help: Peter Tonstad, the interim CEO of Tidal, left the company. Tonstad, who was based out of Oslo, Norway, was on the job for about three months.

Whoever Tidal’s next CEO is — which may be drawn from the company’s roster of A-list musician/celebrity owners as a bit of stunt casting — they’ll have a big hurdle to overcome.

Its subscription base weighs in at at about 770,000 users. That’s much smaller than Spotify’s membership and despite its star power, it does not have the same marketing sway as Apple.

Via The Wall Street Journal. Screenshot from Tidal.com.

Taylor Swift, Indies and the Cost of Streaming — Thinking about Apple Music’s Recent Reversal

Taylor Swift’s highly publicized tumblr post accomplished something that’s happened a few times in Apple’s history — she made the company change course.

You’ve probably heard about the Tweet storm by Apple’s Eddie Cue over the weekend, saying that the company will do the right thing when it comes to paying artists during Apple Music’s three month free trial — though this was something Apple should have done to begin.

Lost in the signal and the noise of Taylor vs. Apple is the fact that resentment by indie labels had been building about the rate structure of Apple Music. Swift’s post was the right nudge at the right time. (To be fair, others think the whole thing was a PR stunt to draw attention to the service and that its rate structure is slightly higher than other streaming services.)

Headlines like “Apple Music’s royalty-free trial period puts indie labels at risk“, “Apple Music Boycott – Should Indie Artists, Labels Stop Releasing New Music For Next 90 Days?” and “UK Indie Labels Say Apple Music Free Trial Could ‘Literally Put People Out of Business” made their way around the interwebs in the lead up to Swift’s post. The message was clear — the major labels could afford a hit in revenue for three months, but not a smaller company with tighter margins and less coming in each month. Some of the indies even accused Apple of cutting sweetheart deals with the majors at their expense.

I am an Apple fan. I’m a huge Apple fan. I’ve been accused of being a fanboy, and really, there’s no defense. However, what Apple is doing now with Apple Music, post Taylor Swift, is exactly what it should have done to begin with — pay the artists. This isn’t something that should be greeted with applause or praise, because it’s not like they’re dramatically raising the bar when it comes to streaming revenues (again, Apple’s payout is, at best, slightly higher than what other streaming services are paying now).

And that streaming bar could use some serious raising. In a Time piece from December 2013, artists like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and the Black Keys and Aimee Mann all talked about how little streaming makes them and how it cannibalizes the sales of their albums. Smaller artists are working with smaller margins in a landscape where downloading anything from a less-than-legal sources is only slightly more complicated than downloading legally — to call streaming negligible for these artists would be an overstatement.

Apple’s reversal is just maintaining the status quo, which is increasingly squeezing out smaller labels and the innovative performers that usually make up their stables. So if you feel the urge to think Apple’s doing musicians a favor, keep in mind that they really aren’t.

A music industry that counts on flat fees means that poor, struggling artists will be even more poor and will be struggling even more. By embracing this model, the danger is that the only kind of musical artist there will be is the mega-successful variety (like Swift and the ones seen at the Tidal debacle/love-in), and no one else. The future David Bowies, MC5s and Leonard Cohens will all be too busy driving for Uber and working for Starbucks to actually work on music and develop as a performer.

Hold your applause for a company that will pay artists what their streams are worth. Will it be Apple? Probably not. Will it happen at all? In all seriousness, most likely not.

Photo by Steve.N7/flickr.