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Posts tagged with "Apple Music"

Apple and Others Invest $50 million into Music Distributor UnitedMasters

Apple quietly acquires companies with products and teams that complement its own offerings all the time, but it’s not often an investor, which makes the company’s recent investment in UnitedMasters notable. As reported by Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, Apple is joined by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and A16z as leads in UnitedMasters’ $50 million Series B round.

Historically, artists’ relationships with music distribution companies have prevented artists from connecting directly with fans. UnitedMasters’ goal is to change that providing artists with access to data and allowing them to retain control of master recordings and sell merchandise, tickets, and more directly to fans.

As Panzarino notes, the investment comes as the music industry is changing:

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry.

UnitedMasters’ mission is to assist artists in making the transition to music’s future. If UnitedMaters’ objective sounds familiar, it’s likely because, as Panzarino explains, it bears a lot of similarity to what Apple Music Connect could have been:

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community.

The streaming music industry is moving fast. Over the past several weeks, Spotify has introduced a long list of features to attract new listeners to the service. Apple Music seems to be evolving slowly compared to Spotify, but Apple’s investment in UnitedMasters shows that the company has its eye on the industry’s future too. Which new features stick with music fans remains to be seen, but judging from the first three months of the year, 2021 will be another interesting one for music streaming services.

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Apple Clarifies Ability to ‘Set Default’ Audio Apps in iOS 14.5

Earlier today, Apple provided TechCrunch with a fascinating clarification regarding the ability in iOS and iPadOS 14.5 to pick “default” audio apps for music, podcast, and audiobook playback.

From Sarah Perez’s article:

Apple has clarified that the iOS 14.5 beta is not actually allowing users to select a new default music service, as has been reported. Following the beta’s release back in February, a number of beta testers noticed that Siri would now ask what music service they would like to use when they asked Siri to play music. But Apple doesn’t consider this feature the equivalent to “setting a default” — an option it more recently began to allow for email and browser apps.

Instead, the feature is Siri intelligence-based, meaning it can improve and even change over time as Siri learns to better understand your listening habits.

For example, if you tell Siri to play a song, album or artist, it may ask you which service you want to use to listen to this sort of content. However, your response to Siri is not making that particular service your “default,” Apple says. In fact, Siri may ask you again at some point — a request that could confuse users if they thought their preferences had already been set.

On the surface, it appears as if Apple’s argument boils down to semantics. Because iOS 14.5 will not offer a proper page in Settings to configure “default” audio apps (like you can for browsers and email clients, as I argued on yesterday’s episode of Connected), then it’s not correct to say you’ll be able to change the default music app on your iPhone or iPad. We could debate why Apple is not building a page in Settings for this but still allowing Siri to integrate with third-party streaming services and apps (competitive advantages vs. antitrust concerns?), but that’s besides the point. What I find more interesting is that Apple explains this feature is actually doing more than just sticking to a default option:

The audio choice feature, of course, doesn’t prevent users from requesting a particular service by name, even if it’s not their usual preference.

For instance, you can still say something like “play smooth jazz radio on Pandora” to launch that app instead. However, if you continued to request Pandora by name for music requests — even though you had initially specified Apple Music or Spotify or some other service when Siri had first prompted you — then the next time you asked Siri to play music without specifically a service, the assistant may ask you again to choose a service.

From this perspective, given the dynamic nature of this functionality, I understand why Apple may be uncomfortable comparing it to the ability to switch default browser and email apps. At the same time, I want to mention how I’ve been using iOS 14.5 for the past month, and after an initial configuration, Siri continued to default to Spotify and never prompted me to pick another one again. I’m giving Apple’s explanation the benefit of the doubt, but I’m curious to see how this feature will work in the final release of iOS 14.5.

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iOS and iPadOS 14.5 Betas Let Users Pick The Default Streaming Music Service Used by Siri

As MacRumors’ Tim Hardwick reported earlier today, the iOS and iPadOS 14.5 betas permit users to change the default music streaming service used for playback by Siri.

The new feature, which originally surfaced on Reddit and reported on by The 8-Bit, appears the first time you ask Siri to play music. Siri displays a list of audio apps installed on your device, asking you to pick one. As you can see from screenshots of Federico’s iPhone above, the feature currently suggests audio apps that can’t respond to music requests like podcast players, but he has confirmed that it works with Spotify for playing individual songs and playlists. Switching streaming services after the initial prompt to pick one can be accomplished using Siri too.

Late last year, Apple introduced the ability to change the streaming service used with the HomePod and HomePod mini, so it’s not surprising that the feature that Apple is expanding the feature to all Siri requests. However, the new iOS and iPadOS 14.5 feature is nonetheless significant because it will reach a far larger audience of iPhone and iPad users that don’t own a HomePod.

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Apple Releases macOS 11.3 Beta with New Safari Features, Reminders Sorting, Music Updates, and Improvements to iOS and iPadOS Apps Running on M1 Macs

Start page items can be reordered.

Start page items can be reordered.

Apple has released the first beta for macOS 11.3 Big Sur, which includes new Safari features, changes that parallel yesterday’s updates to iOS and iPadOS, and more.

Some of the most interesting features of the latest Big Sur beta are in Safari. As I wrote in my Big Sur review, I like most of the changes made to Safari’s start page but wished I could reorder the default sections. That’s now possible, which is terrific, but there’s also a new third-party extension point for developers to build start page integrations, which is very interesting. We’ll have to see what developers do with the new feature, but I expect it will allow RSS clients to list recent articles on the start page that could be opened directly in Safari, for example. There’s a new Web Speech API that allows speech recognition functionality to be built into a webpage too.

Music's new Made for You tab

Music’s new Made for You tab

Similar to iOS and iPadOS, Reminders is gaining the option to print lists. Music adds a dedicated ‘Made For You’ section in the sidebar that includes your annual Replay playlists and Apple’s personalized algorithmic playlists. The Listen Now tab will also suggest upcoming live events tuned to your music tastes. There’s an enhanced News+ tab in Apple News designed to make it easier to access magazines and newspapers and manage downloaded issues. Sony PS5 DualSense and Xbox Series X/S controllers are supported too.

The News+ tab has been redesigned.

The News+ tab has been redesigned.

Finally, the experience of using iOS and iPadOS apps on the Mac got a boost too. There’s a brand new Preference pane in iPhone and iPads running on an M1 Mac that provides more keyboard control over touch commands. Apps can also be opened in larger windows.

The new iOS and iPadOS app Preferences window.

The new iOS and iPadOS app Preferences window.


Apple Celebrates Black History Month with Features Across Its Products

February is Black History Month, and Apple has announced a long list of ways it is celebrating across its products and services. In a press release the company said:

Apple is bringing customers a variety of new and updated collections and exclusive content that highlight and amplify Black creators, artists, developers, and businesses. From curated features across the App Store, Apple Music, the Apple TV app, Apple Books, and Apple Podcasts, to new Apple Maps Guides, the Apple Watch Black Unity Collection, Today at Apple sessions, and more, here is a look at what is in store across Apple’s products and services this February.

In the App Store, Apple is featuring stories with Black developers and highlighting social justice apps along with entertainment and gaming apps. The month-long feature extends to other services too:

  • Music will feature Black musicians and include related content like playlists, essays, videos, and custom artwork
  • Maps Guides, which has seen many updates recently, will feature Black-owned businesses in collaboration with EatOkra
  • The Apple TV App will include ‘Essential: Stories That Honor Black Families,’ plus two free episodes of The Oprah Conversation featuring ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ by author Isabel Wilkerson
  • Apple News will have curated topic groups and Apple Books will showcase a collection of relevant books and audiobooks
  • The Podcasts app will highlight Black voices including Michelle Obama, Joe Budden, Phoebe Robinson, and Baratunde Thurston, plus an extended promotion of shows featuring relevant topics
  • Fitness+ will spotlight songs from Black artists, and the first Time to Walk episode for February will feature author Ibram X. Kendi who will discuss racial justice and resiliency
  • Today at Apple will feature virtual sessions and tutorials moderated by Kimberly Drew with Black artists including typographer Tré Seals, creative director, filmmaker, and photographer Joshua Kissi, and visual artist, photographer, and educator Shan Wallace
  • Shot on iPhone will feature 30 Black photographers
Apple's Black Unity Collection limited-edition Watch, Sports Band, and watch face.

Apple’s Black Unity Collection limited-edition Watch, Sports Band, and watch face.

On the product side, Apple has introduced the Black Unity Collection that includes a limited-edition Apple Watch 6, a Black Unity Sport Band, and a Unity watch face. Apple is also supporting six groups dedicated to promoting and achieving equality and civil rights in the US and around the world. The Watch and Sports Band will be available beginning February 1st and the watch face will debut with watchOS 7.3, which Apple says will be out later today.

The Black Unity Sports Band and Unity watch face, which changes dynamically as the Watch moves, include the green, red, and black colors of the Pan-African flag, and the Sports Band has ‘Truth. Power. Solidarity’ laser etched on the inside of the band’s fastening pin. Similarly, the limited-edition Watch has ‘Black Unity’ etched in the Watch’s crystal back. Apple will also kick off a special month-long Unity Activity Challenge on February 1st that is achieved by closing Move ring at least seven days in a row.


Two Months with the HomePod mini: More Than Meets the Eye

As a smaller, affordable smart speaker tightly integrated with Apple services, the HomePod mini is a compelling product for many people. The mini is little enough to work just about anywhere in most homes. At $99, the device’s price tag also fits more budgets and makes multiple HomePod minis a far more realistic option than multiple original HomePods ever were. Of course, the mini comes with tradeoffs compared to its larger, more expensive sibling, which I’ll get into, but for many people, it’s a terrific alternative.

As compelling as the HomePod mini is as a speaker, though, its potential as a smart device reaches beyond the original HomePod in ways that have far greater implications for Apple’s place in customers’ homes. Part of the story is the mini’s ability to serve as a border router for Thread-compatible smart devices, forming a low-power, mesh network that can operate independently of your Wi-Fi setup. The other part of the story is the way the mini extends Siri throughout your home. Apple’s smart assistant still has room to improve. However, the promise of a ubiquitous audio interface to Apple services, apps, HomeKit devices, and the Internet is more compelling than ever as Siri-enabled devices proliferate.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been testing a pair of HomePod minis that Apple sent me. That pair joined my original HomePods and another pair of minis that I added to the setup to get a sense of what having a whole-home audio system with Siri always within earshot would be like. The result is a more flexible system that outshines its individual parts and should improve over time as the HomeKit device market evolves.

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Apple Recaps Its 2020 Services, Including the App Store’s Record-Breaking Holiday Season

In a press release today, Apple provided an update on its services. According to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services:

Now more than ever before, customers around the world have found inspiration and value in the breadth and quality of Apple’s services, which have impacted their lives in big and small ways every day. We’re incredibly optimistic about where we’re headed, and we believe that the opportunities for developers and the creative community are endless, as are the positive and meaningful benefits to our customers.

Among the highlights Apple shared are App Store revenue numbers for the 2020 holiday season, which were greater than 2019 for the same period and once again set an all-time record for single-day sales on New Year’s Day:

The trend continued over the holiday season, with App Store customers spending $1.8 billion on digital goods and services over the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, driven largely by spending on games. Customers ushered in 2021 by setting a new single-day spending record of over $540 million on New Year’s Day.

Apple also noted that developers have earned more than $200 billion since the inception of the App Store in 2008 and that it kicked off the App Store Small Business Program at the end of 2020.

In addition to apps, Apple recapped its other services:

  • Apple Music, which added several new features in 2020 that Apple says have been used by more than 90% of iOS 14 users
  • The Apple TV App, which debuted on new smart TVs and videogame consoles in 2020 and is now available on over 1 billion screens in more than 100 countries
  • TV+, which gained a dedicated tab in the TV app and was nominated for 159 awards, receiving 45
  • Apple News, which added local news for certain cities, included special coverage of the pandemic, the racial justice movement, and the US election, and added audio to News+ in 2020
  • Fitness+, which debuted just before the New Year
  • Apple Pay, which Apple says is accepted by more than 90% of US stores, 85% of UK stores, and 99% of Australian stores
  • Apple Arcade, which now has more than 140 games with games that have received more than 50 award nominations
  • Apple Books, which has over 90 million monthly active users
  • Apple Podcasts, which is available in 175 countries and 100 languages
  • iCloud, 85% of whose users have enabled two-factor authentication

Every year I’m struck that the App Store continues to set holiday season records for sales. The success of the App Store has been nothing short of remarkable, but as Apple’s press release demonstrates, Apple’s current services story today extends far beyond apps.


Year-End Music Insights From Apple’s Replay 2020 and Top 100 Playlists, Plus MacStories’ Apple Music Wrapped Shortcut

Apple’s annual Replay playlists are available and updated throughout most of the year by visiting replay.music.apple.com. However, as of this week, if you visit the site, you will see your year-end statistics too, which provide insights about your listening habits in 2020.

When you click or tap the ‘Get Your Replay Mix’ button, a webpage is generated with:

  • The total number of hours you’ve listened to Apple Music in the past year
  • Your 2020 Replay playlist of top-played tracks, including the number of times you played each song
  • The number of artists you’ve listened to this year and a list of the ones you’ve listened to the most, including the hours you spent listening to each
  • The number of albums you listened to along with a personal top 10 that shows how many times you listened to each album
  • Links to past annual Replay playlists

I find these statistics fascinating and wish that they didn’t require you to visit a special website. I understand there is a privacy angle here, which undoubtedly is why Apple doesn’t generate these statistics for you automatically. However, the Replay playlists are still a feature that should be built into the company’s apps.

Spotify does a much better job with the year-end Wrapped playlist and related statistics it creates for users. In addition to the playlist, Spotify breaks down the year in music, reporting on trends on its ‘For the Record’ podcast and the company’s blog. For anyone interested in where the global music scene is heading, these Spotify features and articles are a terrific resource.

The report created by the Apple Music Wrapped shortcut. It's true, I really like [Kyoto](https://music.apple.com/us/album/kyoto/1504699857?i=1504699860).

The report created by the Apple Music Wrapped shortcut. It’s true, I really like Kyoto.

If you’re looking for a way to approximate Spotify’s Wrapped playlist for Apple Music and extend Apple’s Replay report, check out the Apple Music Wrapped shortcut that Federico created a couple of years ago and has updated for 2020. The shortcut, which is part of the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, generates a report on your music listening for the past year that can be viewed in Safari, creates a PDF you can save to Files or Dropbox, and can build a Top 25 playlist that it saves to the Music app. You can read more about Apple Music Wrapped’s features here.

Apple Music Wrapped

Create a detailed report for the music you’ve listened to in the past year. The shortcut can optionally create a Top 25 playlist for your most played songs and generate a PDF report. The shortcut is primarily designed for Apple Music subscribers.
To calculate number of plays, the shortcut looks at songs that have been played in full without skipping and added to your library in any given year.

Get the shortcut here.

Apple's many Top 100 playlists.

Apple’s many Top 100 playlists.

Apple has also debuted a series of Top 100 year-end playlists. There are global, Shazam, most-read lyrics, and country-specific Top 100 lists for a total of 51 playlists available to US Apple Music subscribers. The Top 100 I find most interesting is the Shazam list, which is generated from 9.2 billion songs identified by the app. The top song, Dance Monkey by Tones And I was identified by Shazam a whopping 24.6 million times in 2020.

I’ve enjoyed looking through my Replay statistics for 2020 and checking out a few of the Top 100 lists, but there’s so much more Apple can do to extend its year-end lists for individual users and in aggregate. The issue is part of a broader Apple Music discovery problem that extends from the inability to track Apple Music 1 radio shows to the almost non-existent promotion of Apple Music TV. Although the situation has improved, Apple Music still needs better discovery and personalization tools to compete effectively with Spotify.


Winners of the Second Annual Apple Music Awards Announced

Last year, Apple announced the winners of its first-ever Apple Music Awards, honoring artists in five categories who received a unique award featuring a 12-inch silicon wafer suspended between a sheet of glass and anodized aluminum. The announcement of last year’s awards was followed by a performance by Billie Eilish at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California.

The Apple Music Awards are back for 2020 with the same award categories as 2019. According to Apple’s press release:

The Apple Music Awards honor achievements in music across five distinct categories, and winners are chosen through a process that reflects both Apple Music’s editorial perspective and what customers around the world are loving most. The winners for global Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Breakthrough Artist of the Year were hand-selected by Apple Music’s global editorial team of world-class experts and tastemakers, and the awards for Top Song of the Year and Top Album of the Year are based on streaming data that is reflective of what Apple Music subscribers have been listening to this year.

The 2020 Apple Music Awards winners are:

Apple has more in store for music fans in December. To celebrate the Apple Music Awards, the company has it will kick off “a week of special performances, fan events, interviews, and more, streaming worldwide on Apple Music, Apple Music TV, and the Apple TV app” beginning December 14, 2020.

The Apple Music Awards strike a nice balance between editorial picks and awards based on streaming statistics. I’m eager to see what Apple has planned for December because last year’s performance by Billie Eilish was excellent. Although Apple’s press release is short on specifics, it suggests music fans are in for a treat with an expansion of last year’s festivities.