Apple launched its new Apple Music streaming service Tuesday. A $9.99 monthly subscription ($14.99 for a family plan) gets you unlimited streaming of almost all of the iTunes library, curated playlists, suggestions and tailored recommendations, a real-life radio station and a mini music social network.
It's available as part of a revamped version of the standard music app on iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads with an update to the new iOS 8.4, as well as on Macs and PCs. There's an Android app planned for the fall.
That's the fine print. For the fun stuff, Apple gave a handful of reviewers a preloaded iPhone 6 so they could spend a day exploring, testing and most of all listening to the new app. They liked it... mostly. But whether this will shake up on-demand subscription streaming the way iTunes changed the medium of music will have to be proven out as users get it in their hands for the three-month free trial.
From an analyst perspective, Apple's got a good shot here. "Less than 5 percent of the population is currently paying for an on-demand music subscription which means that this market is still a relatively 'green field' opportunity," Dan Cryan, director of broadband and digital analysis at IHS Technology, told CBS News.
"Apple Music has a couple of key advantages to grow this still-nascent market. The first is the expanded radio offer, which has the potential to attract mass market customers. Second is the tight integration with Apple's family of devices, particularly the iPhone. Combined these could help to drive Apple Music to become a mass-market proposition."
From what the reviewers are saying, not every aspect of Apple Music is going to be a homerun. The app is so broad and so deep, though, that some aspects could flop and there'd still be plenty left to offer.
Here's a brief round up of the biggest takeaways from the previews:
Apple is known for its intuitive interface, but some have said there's too much going on here for everything to be as clear and easy as you'd expect.
Walt Mossberg could probably walk through a new app with his eyes closed, but he wrote on Re/code that Apple Music is "uncharacteristically complicated by Apple standards, with everything from a global terrestrial radio station to numerous suggested playlists for different purposes in different places." What's more, he said, "the company offers very little guidance on how to navigate its many features. It will take time to learn it. And that's not something you're going to want to do if all you're looking for is to lean back and listen."
(Sounds a little like the Apple Watch, for which the company offered one-on-one tutorials.)
Kory Grow at Rolling Stone magazine, which is among the expert bodies called upon to create playlists, cautioned that "users will need to play around with it a bit and dig to move past some of the less immediately intuitive facets (i.e., just how deep the "New" tab goes) for it to hook them."
Not everyone found it unwieldy. Mashable's Christina Warren called it "a really well-designed app." She said, "There is a lot in the app -- it's jam-packed -- but Apple has done a really good job of making the app easy to navigate."
Apple might be late to the streaming party, but it's got a major leg up in the fact that most of its users are already packing iTunes libraries full of music. Mossberg liked how easy it was to merge his music with the nearly-full iTunes catalogue you are merely, as he said, "in effect, renting," to make playlists of songs you both own -- via download, or ripped from CD -- and don't.
And bringing Siri into the mix as a voice-control personal DJ seems to be going over well. You can ask Siri to play a particular song next, or the chart topper on the day you were born. "That's not something that's going to be maybe advertised. You will have to play around with it," said CNET's Bridget Carey. But it's unique to Apple Music. "No one else has that kind of ability to have some fun with it."
Good for you
There were across-the-board thumbs up for the "For You" section, which is the heart of the app's customization features. Users tap bubbles with genre names inside them to indicate their tastes, and Apple Music builds a profile and starts rolling out suggestions.
It looks a lot like its Beats progenitor, snagged in Apple's $3 billion acquisition of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine's electronics and streaming venture last year. Warren called it a "more refined," "more fully realized" version.
"It's hard for me to over-stress how much I like For You," she said. "From the very beginning, the recommendations in playlists and albums that the app showed me were dead-on accurate, reflecting my various musical interests."
A great way to find new music
Previewers were fairly impressed by the extensive "New" section, which Grow said makes the arduous task of finding new music "a little easier." Again, though, there were rumblings that more can sometimes be too much.
There's a lot to New: new releases, recent (or, it seems, not-quite-new-but-notable) releases, "hot tracks," top charts, playlists by Apple Music editors, chosen tastemakers and divided by genre -- and by activity (example: "Cuddling, Snuggling & Nuzzling").
"The New section is deep and rewarding, but it's also confusing, and seems to be the place where Apple jammed everything that didn't fit anywhere else," Mossberg wrote. "It could be a streaming music app all by itself."
The baked-in Connect social network is raising more eyebrows than excitement. It's not as though artists have a dearth of ways to connect to their fans (see: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), so it's not immediately clear what Apple is trying to gain here.
Trent Reznor, one of the artists involved in making Apple Music what it is (or could be), told Mashable that the idea behind Connect is to let artists choose what they want behind a paywall and what they want to give their fans for free.
Reznor shared his entire album "With Teeth" sans vocals on the app. And while Warren loved listening to it, it wasn't enough to convince her that Connect is going to, well, connect. "It's a great idea but to work will require that artists actively use it," she wrote.
MTV's all-gif review filed Connect under "We Shall See." Grow called it "the service's biggest uphill battle." For what it's worth, it's available even to nonsubscribers.
An important element of Apple Music -- what Grow called the most likely "sure thing" -- wasn't ready for previews. The Beats 1 radio station will broadcast live, 24/7 around the world -- you know, like a radio station -- with celebrity DJs in New York, Los Angeles and London. It should reflect the music pedigree Dre and Iovine and their pals bring to the project.
Prominent musicians including Dr. Dre himself, Elton John, Pharrell Williams and more will have their own radio shows. The previewers were buzzing about St. Vincent's "Mixtape Delivery Service" in which she solicits input from -- and even chats with -- fans, while creating programming for them.
The downside, Grow pointed out, of Beats 1 being like real radio is that it will be like real radio, that is, not downloadable or on demand. It will, however, be free to non subscribers.