Metro Weekly

Apple debuts its Music streaming service

At this year’s WWDC, amid a raft of software updates, Apple announced its plans to rule the streaming music world

 

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Another year, another Worldwide Developers Conference.

Apple’s yearly gathering, dedicated to the thousands of developers who create apps and programs for its various products and use its various services, is the tech firm’s equivalent of a religious pilgrimage. The devoted faithful, who clamor for the latest fruity products, flock to Apple’s conference, mingling with tech journalists, developers, and thousands of Apple users around the globe watching livestreams of the keynote speech. It’s Apple’s time to command the stage, to announce the software and services that’ll be proliferated to its millions of users, to provide greater tools to those who craft for their devices, and to further improve existing products.

Unfortunately, this year’s event was hardly the most thrilling in recent memory. With Mac, iPhone and iPad launches (not to mention their new Watch) relegated to their own glitzy events throughout the year, WWDC is left with the unglamorous — yet still essential — parts of Apple’s ecosystem. New versions of OS X and iOS, development tools, software engines and more are par for the course. However, because it’s Apple, there’s always that famous “one more thing” to look forward to. It’s just a shame that this time around, everyone had called it long before it reared its head almost two hours into a 150 minute show, but it still had room to surprise. Yes, Apple is launching its own music streaming service — but it’s not just streaming that the originally titled Apple Music will offer.

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More on that later, though. First, the essentials. For Mac users, there’s a new version of OS X inbound. El Capitan will debut this fall, and is focused on improving the experience for users. Whereas Yosemite, Apple’s current version, ushered in a redesign of many of OS X’s features, El Capitan will instead buff out any imperfections in the software without making too many drastic changes. In terms of what’s new, there’s a host of changes. Gesture controls are onboard, letting users swipe items away — such as emails in the Mail app, just like on smartphones. Spotlight search has been beefed up to better handle your questions, with natural language searches such as asking for a particular file, or a more generic term such as something you were working on last week, supported. Snapping has finally made it to OS X, borrowing a feature that has been indispensable since it debuted on Windows 7 almost six years ago. Users can now snap programs side-by-side, or in split screen views, allowing for easier multitasking (though it should be noted that WIndows 10, which launches in July, will allow up to four apps to be snapped together on screen). Apple’s Metal graphics rendering engine is also included, which will allow games to be more easily ported to OS X, as well as beef up Apple’s Creative Suite and other programs such as Photoshop.

For iPhone and iPad users, iOS 9 will land this fall as well (alongside new iPhones, naturally). Much like El Capitan, this isn’t a massive overhaul to the OS. Instead, Apple are focusing on making your devices safer, smarter and more efficient.

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Siri, which Apple boasted as having a mere five-percent error rate (a vast improvement over its hit-or-miss early days), is receiving some very familiar upgrades. Faced with Google’s Now assistant, which will become essentially prescient with Android M later this year, Apple have beefed up Siri’s capabilities, as well as her UI. Well, girl’s got to freshen her look every once in a while, right? Now, Siri will be getting future-parsing abilities such as contextual knowledge of your schedule, offering up route options for your drive to work, for instance, or knowing that you’re in a certain app and allowing certain actions — such as telling her to share “this” and Siri knowing what you mean. She’ll also remember your actions: listen to the same thing, such as a particular audiobook, while driving and she’ll open it up every time your phone connects to the car.

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Apple are also beefing up several apps. The Notes app will receive features similar to Samsung’s Note smartphones, letting users draw with a finger, or add images to their notes. Maps, which still trails Google’s offering, will now gain transit information, letting users see the next train or the nearest subway station, for instance, as well as the closest entrance to their current position for larger stations. It’s restricted to a number of major U.S. cities (and some in China) for the moment, however. DC is included, though, so don’t worry about missing the Red train ever again. A Flipboard-inspired News app is also on offer, offering easily-browsed, curated content from a variety of newspapers and magazines.

For iPad users, there’s something even better incoming. Well, only if you use an iPad Air 2, that is. The multitasking available in OS X’s latest release is coming to iPad, letting you make the most of all that screen real estate. Much like Samsung and LG’s Android devices (and, of course, every Windows tablet), the iPad will be able to run two apps side-by-side. It’s an addition many users will be glad to see, though it’s odd that Apple have restricted it to its latest iPad, given it’s been available on lesser-powered Android devices for several years now.

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Oh, and for those who constantly worry about their iPhone dying on them before they can reach a charger (that’s 90 percent of iPhone users, one assumes), Apple has also borrowed a battery saver mode from its various rivals. Indeed, every other smartphone OS has offered this for a while — even BlackBerry — so it’s nice to see Apple finally catching on. Plus, enabling battery saver will apparently squeeze an extra three hours out of your iOS device, which is plenty to make it to the nearest wall plug.

Apple’s Watch, which has taken the wearable market by storm, is already getting a hefty upgrade. WatchOS 2 will be launching — you guessed it — this fall, but it sounds like it’ll be worth the wait. Native apps, which won’t require your iPhone to function, are coming, as is the ability to respond to emails — an annoying bugbear, given users could utilize Siri to respond to texts. There’s new watch faces, an area called “Complications” that’ll house specific app info — such as your flight ticket — for easy access, while a nightstand mode will turn your Watch into an expensive alarm clock. Apple’s Digital Crown (the dial) is gaining a Time Travel feature. Turn the Crown to see future appointments and upcoming events — simple, yet useful. FaceTime is also coming, though it’ll be audio only (there’s no camera, obviously), while Siri will gain deeper health integration, so telling her you want to burn a specific number of calories, for example, will start an appropriate workout.

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Apple also touched on CarPlay, its in-vehicle infotainment system, which no longer requires a physical connection to work, but really there was only one big announcement from WWDC. Yes, Apple are finally getting back to where they first found global success with the iPod: Music. Eager to combat seemingly every streaming service available, including Spotify, Rdio and Google Play Music, Apple are launching Music, a $10 a month streaming service that can access iTunes’ 30 million strong song catalogue. Indeed, it will become the new hub for music on iOS devices, covering everything: purchasing, streaming and even radio.

Yes, radio. However, Apple are keen to stress that, unlike Pandora and other sites which auto-generate playlists, Apple’s radio stations will be curated by real people. In fact, they’ll broadcast from L.A., New York and London, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, under the name Beats 1. Who knew, the future of music is apparently radio.

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Aside from that, Music offers everything you’d expect. Absorbing Beats’ ability to generate playlists based on your listening habits and preferences (which, again, Apple stresses will be curated by real people, not a computer), Music will also have music videos, a Connect area which lets artists connect (geddit?) with and share content with their fans, including unsigned artists who might not have another venue for their music. Siri is also here, and will respond to granular requests, such as the top song from a specific month, as well as more banal requests such as a specific artist — though who wouldn’t want to ask Siri to play the top selling artist of September 1990? (MC Hammer, in case you were wondering. Oh, the ‘90s…)

Apple Music will launch June 30th for $10 a month, or $15 a month for a family pass that lets six people share the same subscription. It’ll be coming to OS X, Windows and iOS devices, however, of greater interest is where it’s headed this fall. Android, for the first time ever, will be getting an Apple service in the form of Music. Not content with restricting their dominance to their own devices (and Windows), Apple are looking to encroach on Google’s turf (and presumably, the hundreds of millions of users who operate an Android device). This is capitalism, people, not a softening on Apple’s part to Google’s rival OS. It’ll also land on Apple TV at the same time.

There will be no free, ad-supported tier for Music, unlike other streaming services. This is still Apple, after all.

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