Last night saw quite the kerfuffle in digital music circles thanks to TechCrunch’s uncompromising headline: ‘Apple Plans To Shut Down Beats Music’.

The story set out its stall confidently too: “Apple will discontinue the streaming music service Beats Music it acquired in May, according to five sources, including several prominent employees at Apple and Beats. Many engineers from Beats Music have already been moved off the product and onto other projects at Apple, including iTunes.”

Cue clarifications from multiple sources. Apple spokesperson Tom Neumayr told rival tech site Recode that the story was “not true” – no refusal to comment on ‘rumours and speculation’ here – with Recode’s own sources suggesting that while Beats Music isn’t closing down, it may be rebranded.

TechCrunch, meanwhile, moved quickly to point out that its story was really about shutting down the Beats Music *brand* – “It seems quite possible that the Beats Music product could be rolled into iTunes rather than being ‘shuttered’, but that’s semantics,” wrote journalist Josh Constine.

Some clarity, then. It would be perverse for Apple to spend $300m on a streaming music service – that’s how much of the $3bn Beats acquisition is thought to relate to Beats Music – and then shut it down before having a replacement up and running.

Let’s make some assumptions: a.) Apple intends to maintain iTunes as its digital music brand; b.) it’s not quite ready to flick the switch on an iTunes streaming service yet; c.) when it does, it will likely migrate over Beats Music subscribers and ‘shutter’ that brand. We suspect we’re looking at early 2015 (at the earliest) for this to happen.

Apple’s evolving streaming strategy is being watched eagerly / anxiously (delete as appropriate) by the music industry, which is fully aware that despite the emergence of Spotify with its 40m active users, Apple is still a crucial actor in the tricky transition from ownership of music to access.

Yes, the company could have done something aggressive with Beats Music and its new iPhones – the company sold 10m iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus handsets in their first weekend: now imagine if a long Beats Music trial had been bundled with every single one – but clearly decided to keep its powder dry for now.

More time to prepare iTunes as Apple’s streaming brand looks a logical explanation.

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