By now, you’ll have heard the big news from Cupertino last night. Yes, an official first-party polishing cloth to keep all your Apple screens spiffy can now be yours for a mere $19! But there were some other announcements too: new HomePod smart speakers, new AirPods earphones, and a new half-price Apple Music tier revolving around the Siri voice assistant.
The new AirPods have a tweaked design, sound-tech improvements and a longer battery life, while the HomePod news is about new colour options for the HomePod Mini speaker: orange, yellow and blue. At its press event, which you can watch here, Apple did not announce a new figure for Apple Music subscribers. Instead, it updated its public catalogue size – 90m tracks.
(Which nerds like us can do calculations with, using past press releases. In January 2020, Apple Music had more than 60m tracks, and this grew to more than 75m in May this year. Five months later it’s now 90m – meaning the catalogue is growing by 3m tracks a month, 100k tracks a day, 4.2k tracks an hour, or – this may be the one to show off with – more than 69 new tracks every minute…)
But of course, with apologies to keen screen-polishers, the new Voice Plan is the big news from last night. At first glance, it may seem just a copy of what Amazon Music did a few years ago with its $3.99 single-device plan, but there are some key differences.
Apple Music’s version costs $4.99 a month, and is tied to the Siri voice assistant rather than to a single device. So, people can use it across “all of their Siri-enabled devices” including iPhones, HomePod Minis, AirPods and more. It seems playlist-focused too: Apple Music is launching “hundreds” of mood and activity-based playlists to accompany its launch, sitting alongside its existing curated selection.
However, users will be able to access the whole Apple Music catalogue, and skip songs as often as they like – this isn’t a limited personal-radio tier in other words – although they won’t get features like spatial and lossless audio, lyrics or music videos, which are reserved for the $9.99 individual and $14.99 family tiers.
At a time when part of the debate around streaming royalties involves calling for higher-priced streaming subscriptions, cheaper tiers could draw some flak. “$4.99 …Hey Siri , play me some chill songs to help me forget I’m a broke songwriter,” tweeted Ivors Academy chair Crispin Hunt last night, before suggesting that if the Voice Plan is “more like a radio than a sale” it might bolster calls for radio-style ‘equitable remuneration’ in the UK.
The flipside to this is the question of whether cheaper, limited streaming subscriptions can actually grow the royalties pie, by attracting people who aren’t yet ready to pay $9.99 a month. The argument being that to bring in the maximum money, we need a wider range of options – pricier and cheaper included. It will take time to parse the data from Apple’s new plan to understand its impact though.
A last thought on the impact on Apple Music’s fiercest rival, Spotify. You could argue that Apple’s launch of spatial and lossless audio for no extra cost to its premium subscription had one eye on nobbling any attempt by Spotify to charge extra for its soon-to-launch hi-res tier. A half-price Apple Music voice plan is similarly aggressive, although in this case, Spotify is already testing a cheaper ‘Spotify Plus’ tier
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