The Verge has a story today by Micah Singleton in which he wonders whether Apple still cares about Beats, the company it acquired in 2014. As Singleton notes, no new products have been released under the Beats brand in 2018, and The Verge’s sources say we shouldn’t expect that to change at Apple’s keynote tomorrow.
Nonetheless, Beats continues to have marketing successes, like recently becoming the official headphones of the NBA and USA Basketball. However, the dearth of new products coupled with competition from Apple’s wireless AirPods and rumored premium over-the-ear headphones puts Beats in a tight spot, which Singleton argues is a mistake:
Apple has its eyes set on the high-end audio market to compete against the likes of Audio-Technica, Bose, and a rapidly improving headphone ecosystem. But neglecting the team that has been able to sell slightly above-average headphones at a breakneck pace for nearly a decade doesn’t seem like a smart business move for either party. If you are the official headphone company for United States Basketball, it seems wise to continue releasing new headphones. And if you are Apple — and your history with headphones and speakers has precisely one win, despite many attempts — you should lean on the company you own that hasn’t missed yet.
Beats jump-started Apple’s music streaming efforts, but other than adding the W1 chip to its wireless headphones in late 2016 and 2017, there have been few signs of Apple’s plans for Beats. I hope Singleton is wrong about Apple neglecting Beats because it would be a shame to squander the company’s valuable brand, though I suspect he may not be.
In an update rolled out last night following the release of global top charts, Apple redesigned artist pages on Apple Music with separation of different kinds of music releases.
Today Apple introduced the latest addition to its Beats lineup of premium headphones: the Beats Studio3 Wireless Headphones.
The Studio3 headphones differ from the existing Solo3 option in two primary ways. First, they sit over your ears rather than on them – an important distinction for prospective buyers. Second, related to the over-ear design, they include Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling (Pure ANC), which works to shut out external noise while also optimizing audio for the precise fit of the wearer and calibrating music to top-quality.
These wireless headphones join the existing lineup of Beats options that adopted Apple’s W1 chip late last year. Also seen in Apple’s AirPods, the W1 chip provides improved connectivity and power efficiency. With Studio3, the W1 chip enables battery life of up to 22 hours with Pure ANC enabled, and up to 40 hours without it. The Studio3 headphones also charge quickly, with up to 3 hours of playtime after a 10-minute charge.
The last noteworthy design note is that on-ear controls allow you to control playback directly from the Solo3 hardware, enabling audio control and even Siri activation.
You can order the Studio3 headphones today in a variety of colors for $349.95, but they won’t ship until mid-October.
Today Beats revealed in a tweet that its BeatsX Earphones will be available for purchase this Friday, February 10th. BeatsX come in a variety of color finishes, including the previously announced white and black. CNET also reports that gray and blue finishes are in the pipeline, though it's unclear whether they'll be available at launch or a later date.
Announced in Apple's September keynote alongside Apple's AirPods and two other Beats products, Beats Solo3 and PowerBeats3, Phil Schiller described BeatsX as "affordable, light, comfortable headphones for all throughout your day."
BeatsX contain the same W1 chip found in those other products, which improves power efficiency and enables easy connections with Apple devices. Unlike those other products, however, BeatsX did not see the light of day in 2016; they stand alone in being delayed into 2017.
BeatsX are the lowest cost earphones Apple announced in September, barely edging out AirPods' cost with a $149.95 price tag, nearly $10 less than AirPods. BeatsX claim better battery life than AirPods, with up to 8 hours on a full charge versus AirPods' 5 hours. BeatsX may also appeal to anyone who is uneasy about the possibility of wire-free AirPods getting lost more easily.
Steffen Reich ran some tests to determine range differences between AirPods, W1-equipped Beats headphones, and older Beats models:
Much has been said about the virtues of the W1 chip Apple started baking into their latest wireless Beats line-up and of course the AirPods. By now we know for sure that W1 facilitates a much faster pairing process, as do we know that the chip significantly amplifies both battery life and conservation techniques. What’s less prominently talked about – at least from official sides – is the operating range of these wireless headphones and the presumed effect the W1 chip addition has had on that benchmark.
Obviously, walking a straight line in a park is no replacement for the kind of wireless interference you'd have on a train, in a crowded street, or in an office with walls and other Bluetooth devices nearby. Also, the AirPods are a new category altogether – I'm not sure how relevant a comparison to non-wireless Bluetooth buds can be.
However, these base results are in line with the excellent range I also experienced with the Beats Solo3, which makes me wonder how impressive (range-wise) future Studio Wireless headphones will be.
I keep wishing Apple would license the W1 chip to third-parties – especially on large headphones, it makes pairing and range performance so much better than regular Bluetooth.
Rich McCormick at The Verge:
Swedish streaming service Spotify is launching two new radio shows today, both of which feature musicians talking about the kind of music that they like listening to while they're making their art. The first, AM/PM, will feature artists like electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre and Terry Hall of ska icons The Specials talking about the music they listen to in the mornings before work, and in the evenings after a day spent creating. The second, Secret Genius, speaks to the songwriters and producers behind major songs, and features the actually-pretty-well-known James Blake, among others.
Looks like Spotify's "In Residence" radio shows which launched last year were successful enough for Spotify to commission these two new shows. The comparison to the radio shows on Beats 1 is unavoidable, but it's a good move on Spotify's part. They may not be for everyone, but those Beats 1 shows are one of the best benefits of the launch of Apple Music. Spotify's radio shows aren't live like some of those on Beats 1 are, but I don't think that makes a great deal of difference to their appeal to listeners.
Speaking of live radio and Beats 1, I'd be very interested to find out how many people listen to Beats 1 live, compared to how many just listen to the recorded radio shows when it is most convenient for them.
The first new Beats product under Apple has been announced today, and it's a new version of the Beats Pill speaker called Beats Pill+.
The Beats Pill+ is slightly larger than the original Beats Pill speaker, allowing for a bigger and fuller sound. The stereo active 2-way crossover system creates an optimized sound field for dynamic range and clarity across all genres of music. Tweeter and woofer separation uses the same acoustic mechanics found in professional recording studios around the world.
The Beats Pill+ can charge devices with USB and Lightning ports, and the refreshed look has an Apple-like feel to it. Sean O'Kane, writing at The Verge, likes its sound:
Whatever it's doing, it works. I listened to a handful of different tracks from a few different genres: one from The Weeknd and his alt-R&B, some bassy hip-hop from Kendrick Lamar, a standard rock-and-roll track from Tom Petty, and some punk rock from PUP. Everything came through full and clear, and all the music sounded much better than I expected from yet another portable Bluetooth speaker. The bass in Lamar’s "Swimming Pools (Drank)" didn’t muddy up his vocals. I could hear piano parts in Petty’s "Here Comes My Girl" that would be inaudible on most cheap speakers. For lack of a better way to describe it, there was space in between all the sounds coming out of the speaker, whereas most others tend to crush all the different frequencies together.
In addition to the speaker itself, there's going to be a companion app:
There's a DJ mode that'll allow multiple phones/tablets/etc. to pair with the speaker so more than one person can control the playlist. It also helps you add a second Pill+ to either make the overall sound louder or to use 'em as a stereo setup with left and right channels. If you've already opened your wallet to buy Dr. Dre's latest, you'll have to wait until next month to drop $230 at an Apple store and other places Beats' goods are sold.
I'm a happy Bose SoundLink Mini user, but I'm intrigued by the Pill's look and software features.
In a profile published today, The New York Times' Ben Sisario has shared some interesting details ahead of the debut of Beats 1 on Apple Music next week, with a focus on Zane Lowe.
Compared with the mild-mannered corporate executives who usually represent Apple in public, Mr. Lowe is a new kind of animal for the company. A motormouth both on and off the air, he is an irrepressible advocate for the music he chooses to promote. And like that of the legendary BBC announcer John Peel before him, his endorsement carries major weight: Among the artists Mr. Lowe got behind early are Adele, Ed Sheeran and the Arctic Monkeys.
Interestingly, artists and other celebrities will have their own shows on Beats 1, including Dr. Dre and Elton John:
“Zane is a genuine enthusiast; this is not a fake thing,” said Mr. John, whose Beats 1 show, “Elton John’s Rocket Hour,” will be an eclectic mix of old songs and new. “He’s a fan, and he’s a fan who’s got the opportunity to make his position in the world work for other people. He genuinely loves music, and that’s my kind of guy.”
To keep Beats 1 sounding fresh around the world, the station will alternate one- and two-hour programming blocks by established broadcasters with those by musicians and celebrities, who will host and plan the shows themselves. Among the names on board: the teen actor Jaden Smith, the alternative singer St. Vincent, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and the British electronic duo Disclosure.
Between Lowe, Adenuga's eclectic career, and original shows from a variety of artists, it sure sounds like Apple is willing to experiment with Beats 1.
Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:
Apple-owned headphone company Beats by Dre today announced the launch of several new Solo2 Wireless headphones, in colors that match Apple's iPhone, iPad, and new MacBook. Available in Gold, Silver, and Space Gray, the headphones are otherwise identical to the company's existing Solo2 Wireless headphones.
I don't think it's surprising that Apple hasn't rushed to redesign the Beats product line – Beats headphones are clearly popular as they are, and I suspect they would make for a good complementary purchase once the company's new rumored streaming services launches, presumably later this year.
The timing of the new colors is spot-on – I bet those headphones would look good next to a new gold MacBook or while controlling music from an Apple Watch.
(Note how the Beats link says “Apple Color”, not “iPhone Color”. Silver, Space Gray, and Gold are increasingly becoming the colors of modern Apple devices.)