Opinion: Beats Music is actually so good that I’m worried about Apple ruining it (à la LaLa)

Beats Music for iPhone

My first reaction to yesterday’s news that Apple is nearing the close of a $3.2 billion deal to purchase Beats Electronics was one of worry, but not for the reasons that I saw in much of the commentary from others. I’m less concerned with what Apple could have planned for the headphones business or that the price tag is so high; after all, it’s exciting to think that Apple could make a major acquisition (its largest yet) after somewhat of a quiet period. What worries me is what Apple has planned for the not-so-popular-yet subscription streaming service Beats Music…

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I have almost no interest in the headphone side of the business: that’s certainly marketing success but I’m not sure the product offers anything unique outside of branding. This deal for me is about the company as a whole which includes marketing talent, engineering talent, and music industry insiders. It’s not a bad pitch if you ignore that hefty price tag! While I don’t believe this deal is entirely about the tiny subscription music service that is Beats Music, that’s where my concern largely exists.

I’ve been generally opposed to subscription music services for as long as I can remember; the idea of “renting” my music every month instead of just buying it once and owning it forever is not very compelling. I’ve tried services like Spotify and Rdio fairly recently, but it generally feels like I’m just paying to unlock a catalog without much added value. I’d rather just buy an album from iTunes and have access to it forever.

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But I’ve been using Beats Music over the last month and I’ve been really impressed. I’ve even become somewhat of a Beats Music advocate among my circle of friends and family. Beats Music’s ability to recommend bands, albums, and playlists so aggressively and accurately has continued to surprise me more than any other service to date.

One of the pain points for suddenly having access to every song imaginable is the work that goes into having to build good playlists that make use of it all. That’s part of the appeal of the Pandora/iTunes Radio model of “stations” until it gets too repetitive. Beats Music exceeds at having solid playlists readily available including “Intro to” and “Deep cuts” for almost any artist.

Beats Music Playlists

The secret sauce is said to be in the editorial team behind the service. This is how they describe the effort:

At Beats Music, our mission is to create playlists and make music recommendations based on songs that feel right together, at the right time, and for the right person… not just that sound alike.

That can’t be done with an algorithm. It requires a real human with a trained ear for blending genres and styles and a knowledge of what song comes next.

The Beats Music programming team is comprised of qualified music experts with a combined 300+ years of experience representing virtually type and format of music available.

With that being said, I can’t help but worry that this reported deal might mean the end of something that has really excited me: a music service that I actually feel good about paying for.

Apple has been reported to be interested in its own on-demand music subscription service to compete with Spotify and similar services. I’d assumed they would build their own on top of iTunes and iTunes Radio, but $3.2 billion later you have to assume Apple will just adopt Beats Music in a way that makes it native to Apple’s own iTunes Radio and Music apps. I can easily imagine Apple putting the technology and talent behind Beats Music under the umbrella of iTunes Radio and Genius recommendations, and that product might not be the same after it’s all said and done.

That wouldn’t be as bad as what happened with Lala, which was bought, shut down, and integrated as iTunes in the Cloud/iTunes Match (hardly the same product). For $3.2 billion (compared to $80 million)  could Apple see value in maintaining the service as it is for now?

Beats Music has really good apps on both iPhone and iPad as well as Android, the Web, and even Windows Phone so this could be the beginning of Apple’s cross mobile platform approach with iTunes reported earlier this year. Simply build iTunes purchasing support into the existing Beats Music software and I’m sold.

CarPlay Apps

It was even announced as a launch partner with support for Apple’s CarPlay feature. Notice both Rdio and Pandora are absent for now while the overwhelming leader in on-demand music Spotify and the newcomer Beats Music boast support which required Apple’s blessing… hmm. (Admittedly, Apple’s endorsement for Beats Music with CarPlay support is what swayed me into giving the service a serious look after the initial launch.)

What Beats Music lacks is a desktop client of any sort, much less on Mac. I’m less than excited at the thought of that never existing now and instead being technology and features bundled into iTunes.

If Apple largely preserves what makes Beats Music what it is like The Sentence for creating stations based on moods and playlist curation and subscriptions, this could be a big win for iTunes users as a whole. I would actually be very pleased to see more and more friends using Beats Music to have more activity around the playlist subscription and sharing aspect, but I’m hesitant to believe that iTunes+Beats Music will be much like Beats Music. That may just be part of the cost of acquisition.

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And that’s really one the the biggest questions prompted by news of the possible acquisition: what happens to the brand? Apple kept the Siri branding and integrated the software into iOS and has since built upon it, but how would Apple handle a Beats branded line of headphones and a Beats branded on-demand music service when the value is initially in the brand (especially on the hardware side)? I think it’s much less likely that the music service will maintain its branding than the headphones line.

Maybe my position is selfish and based on me being in the early adopter stage (after all, Beats Music is said to only have around 200,000 subscribers), but it’s sort of like that feeling when your favorite band that only you like ends up on the radio and doing TV ads and now everyone is a fan and their music goes more mainstream. I’ll be happy, of course, to see something special be used by more music lovers if that’s the result. Maybe this could make iTunes and iTunes Radio a better product for everyone.

My concern is largely with what will happen the Beats Music in the near future. If the deal is signed, congratulations to the team that built the service, but Apple: please don’t ruin Beats Music.

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  1. Rap is a nightmare that refuses to go away….3.2 B oh my lord …time to fire somebody

  2. Michael Perry - 9 years ago

    Apple doesn’t understand the cloud and they will ruin this like they ruined La’La. They don’t understand the convenience of not having to be tied to a bloody desktop application for services that just don’t have to be. This is why Google is killing them with web services right now.


    iTunes – Tied to a desktop. The app has to be installed on any computer you’re using for you to browse music and your library is downloaded adhoc when you play a track or album. The desktop app is often slow/sluggish and the experience for Windows users is even worse; it’s just an awful Windows app.

    Google Play Music – Available from any web browser so the experience is the same across all platforms. You can browse and play your entire library, make play lists, get suggestions all from the web interface that looks great. You can move from computer to computer without ever having to install an app; just use a web browser. This makes it convenient for people especially who work in an office environment and don’t have Admin rights on there computers so they can’t install application without their IT teams intervention. Additionally you can browse their entire catalogue online through the web browser experience and when you purchase a song you can have it push directly do your device locally right from the web interface (if you have an Android device) or it’s ready and available to stream (if you have an iOS device).


    Apple Maps – Only available for Mac users and only newer or upgraded Macs with the latest OS. And seriously a dedicated maps app??? In 2014??? What is this 1998 with Microsoft Streets and Trip Planner? C’mon guys…

    Google Maps – Available through your web browser regardless of platform with all the features of Apple maps and more including multiple way point trips and directions and way points from the web directly to your device (if you have an Android device).

    App Market

    Apple App Store – Available through iTunes desktop app, again awful experience for Windows users and you have to have iTunes installed. Same drawbacks as iTunes above.

    Google Play Store – Available on the web and is the same experience regardless of platform. You can search your app history or the app catalogue from any browser on any computer and push apps directly to your phone from the web once purchased. Very convenient, no cords required for syncing and no clunky sluggish desktop app.

    Apple just doesn’t get the cloud and more and more this will become a huge gap in the way they offer services to us as customers. I wish Apple would take the cloud seriously and ditch their relegated antiquated and deprecated desktop apps for services. They started a whole modern paradigm shift with the iPhone… why can’t they understand that they need to do the same with their services?

    • degraevesofie - 9 years ago

      Apple doesn’t understand the cloud …


    • Sketcher (@Sketcher0204) - 9 years ago

      The fact that iTunes is a desktop app and not browser based is actually the reason I’m sticking with it over Spotify or Google Music. First, I only buy one album every 3 or 4 months, so it’s actually cheaper than a Spotify subscription. I also like that I can stream iTunes content to my Apple TV. I like having my music in the same place as my movies and TV shows. I like that it’s all off-line; I don’t need internet access to get on a browser to access my media when I’m in a place with no internet connection (or a crappy connection). And since iTunes media is downloaded to your harddrive, I can upload the media files to any cloud service I choose – including Google Play, for even more versatility. And having the physical files means I can do whatever I want with them, including emailing them to people, saving them to a flash drive, etc. And iTunes Match allows you to access you iTunes library on any computer with iTunes installed.

  3. Jordan Kahn - 9 years ago


    • Zac Hall - 9 years ago

      😂 don’t worry Canada doesn’t have to worry about losing anything

  4. Hadn’t heard about Beats Music until today. Listening to it now. Love it.

  5. I’d be a lot more excited if Apple were to buy Spotify!

  6. First Apple has almost 150 billion in the bank probably get 5-10 percent interest. From what I’ve read Beats is profitable and will earn them more on the 3.2 billion than they would have gotten in bonds or treasury bills. Sounds like a good business move to me

  7. Michael Thomas Stehle - 9 years ago

    Just joined Beats with free 7 day trial. The UI is interesting. I like the “sentence.” But frankly the selection, the curation as they call it, left me underwhelmed. Maybe Beats just doesn’t get me.

  8. Kevin Starks - 9 years ago

    For some reason I believe Apple has an partnership with Pandora for iTunes Radio. Apple never believed in a subscription model for streaming music. So it would makes since to partner up with someone who has experience in that field. Plus remember Apple had trouble securing royalty deals, which held up the service for an year so why not partner with then struggling company (Pandora) who already has those deals in place. But iTunes Radio has been struggling which is why there are rumors of them splitting iTunes Radio from the music app so the service can be easier to find. This is where Beats come in to play. The Pandora streaming model is out dated compared to Google & Spotify. Plus Apple loves to own %100 end to end of all its services so why not buy Beats By Dre a company who has the best on demand streaming service. The headphones are bonus. With Jimmy Iovine on-board as an adviser to Apple, that’s basically giving Apple unlimited access to the whole music industry. He’s really that influential to the whole music industry. Apple will have the music business in their pocket with this deal

  9. Dan Rasmussen (@danrazz) - 9 years ago

    Great Post Zac.

    -Dan Razz

  10. Michael Santti - 9 years ago

    I agree.

    Beats is so good that it has millions and millions of users.

    Oh wait………………

  11. jeffstander - 9 years ago

    I was skeptical. Why is Apple buying Beats? So, I signed up yesterday and tried it for 7 days free. After using it for 24 hours now, I have to say that I am impressed. The iPad app is one of the most fluid and beautiful apps i have used. The experience is very Apple like. The design is polished. The thing that really impresses me is the speed of the music downloads to your device. It screams in performance. I downloaded all my favorites, and can listen to the music off-line. Funny thing, is that when i first started listening, i found an album i really liked. So, I went to the iTunes store to purchase it. It was $13.99. (too much for me). Then I went back into Beats… where i discovered i could download the album for free. and even listen to it when offline. That is the kind of model I think will sell !
    One more thing….
    What if Apple used this same App and service to deliver not only music, but also TV shows, movies, books, and more?

    I’m loving it. I encourage you to try Beats today and share your opinions.

  12. Dil Ribeiro - 9 years ago

    For me BeatsMusic is the best service to discover new artists and bands. I’m really disappointed with Spotify suggestions, they keep sending the same bands/artists all the time.

  13. childrenofapollo - 8 years ago

    Too late. They are going to kill it and roll it into iTunes (which if they had been smart would have done with LaLa FOUR long years ago, instead of letting start ups like Spotify and Google Play gain millions of users).


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.