During the last four quarters, Apple sold over 217 million iPhones globally. In comparison, these numbers are bound to be modest in India. The success seen by iPhone in major economies can be attributed to two key factors–being the first to market, and having a really strong ecosystem. In the US, most people use iMessage to send text and FaceTime for video calling. That kind of ecosystem tie-in is definitely not easy to replicate in India where we use WhatsApp to text and now video calling as well.
The prominence of services
During the quarter ended June 30, 2018, Apple announced that revenue from services reached a new all-time high. The company reported revenue of $9.54 billion, which was 4 percent higher over previous quarter and 31 percent higher from a year ago. The services business includes iTunes and Apple Music, the App Store, iCloud, Apple Pay among others. In India, Apple does not support Apple Pay just yet but it’s App Store is available on all of its hardware while Apple Music is available across iOS, Mac, Android and Windows.
While the App Store is still relatively small in India due to the relatively smaller install base of iOS and macOS, it is Apple Music that has the potential to drive Apple’s services business in the country. The iPhone maker recently confirmed that Apple Music has surpassed 50 million paid subscribers, making it the second largest music streaming platform after Spotify. It also has the biggest music catalog of 45 million songs. Apple is also taking actions to make the service more appealing to Indian audience.
Apple Music and intelligent, curated content
Apple Music is home to 45 million music and whether you listen to classical music by MS Subbulakshmi or Bollywood music by Arijit Singh, there is something for everyone. As Shirshendu Banerjee, a veteran in the music industry told BGR India, “Radio is dead or dying at best because of shallow content. The content on the radio is also unintelligent.” He says streaming services can fix that gap by not only offering a wide variety of content but also offering better curation and search experience.
Apple Music categorizes music into five tabs for enhanced user experience: Library, For You, Browse, Radio and Search. The listening experience starts with Library which stores music across platforms based on your preference, while offering offline access. The For You tab further segregates your preferences into playlists, albums, artists spotlight and recently played. The browse section lets you look for new music, top charts and music videos while radio tries to marry modern for of music with a radio host. Search is self explanatory.
Curation on Apple Music is partly algorithms and partly human-driven. Machine learning-based playlists may well be good, but human impact can make a playlist where you don’t skip even a single track. This becomes prudent inside playlists such as Essentials that curate top tracks of a single artist or a band. With Essentials, Apple Music editors seem to be looking at a tight playlist with literally no skipping of tracks. Then there are, of course, options such as Top 100 Global, Top 100 India and options to sort tracks based on genres.
Going Platform Neutral
Apple’s biggest challenge in the past has been to build a platform neutral product. It has tried to make iTunes available on both Windows and Mac and is trying something similar with Apple Music. The music streaming service started on iOS and quickly expanded to Android, which enjoys over 80 percent market share in a market like India.
Apple is aware of this scenario, and has brought parity between its iOS and Android apps. The experience is consistent across both Android and iOS, although the design seems more appealing on the iPhone. I have a few friends who consume Apple Music on their Android smartphones.
Music As A Commodity
Music was once a really personal thing and distribution and access was indeed a challenge. The gig economy has not only made music accessible on multiple devices but also easy to discover and distribute. As Banerjee likes to call it, “Music is now a commodity.”
With the introduction of Reliance Jio’s 4G-only data service and the consequent decline in cost of per gigabyte of data, streaming is the only way forward for music. It becomes a real commodity when you look at the free streaming platforms available from operators like Jio, Airtel and Vodafone. If you like listening to music then there is some kind of streaming platform for you.
“Telecom companies are using music as a tool for customer retention. Music business is making money but it is now part of telecom revenue,” Banerjee told BGR India.
Artists Come Front And Centre
As I wrote before, the Apple Music experience is centered around playlists and curation, but Apple does a few things that benefit artists. In order to ensure Indian artists don’t get lost in the crowd, Apple offers options such as new artist spotlight, where an upcoming artist gets visibility up front in the Apple Music app. If you opened the app recently then you would have seen two such artists: Kavya Trehan and Nikhita Gandhi. Kavya‘s new electronic pop single titled Underscore was the first thing most people saw on August 24, the day she released the track exclusively on Apple Music. Apple has released over 40 such exclusives in the past 12 months.
It also runs a section called ‘Here It Here First’ which basically means that the music won’t be available on any other rival platform. This is one area where India needs Apple since it has the massive reach to take Indian artists to global audience.
Ankur Tewari, a popular Pop Music artist, recently told BGR India that he found his music trending in Bulgaria while one of his song was featured between Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber on the charts. Trehan said she decided to launch her single exclusively on Apple Music since the platform was approachable, both for the listener as well as the artist. This also shows how artists, once sceptical of these streaming platforms, are widely adopting the new method of music distribution.
With the release of iOS 12, Apple will further amplify such experience with options like Friends Mix, which curates 25 songs that your Apple Music friends are listening to. It will also introduce top 100 songs worldwide as a new playlist in addition to 14 local radio stations. These radio stations will join current efforts such as Apple Music Top 25 by Radio City, hosted by RJ Divya.
Pricing And Challenges
Apple Music is the most expensive music streaming platform in India right now. While Gaana+ and Saavn Pro start at Rs 99 per month on Android, Apple Music is priced at Rs 120 per month for individuals. However, the real deal is in the student and family plans.
Apple Music for students is priced at Rs 60 per month while Family subscription costs Rs 190 per month for up to six people. No other streaming music platform offers group subscription and on Apple Music, it technically costs Rs 32 per month per person.
On the other hand, Jio Music and Airtel Wynk gives access to music for free with their mobile plans. They lack in one key area: content. Their playlist can be described as a laundry list, without offering any differentiating content. Apple Music’s curated playlist on Independence Day, for example, has been unique compared to radio or other music services.
Gateway To Apple Devices
Apple Music checks the boxes on areas such as content and curation. But it is also a lynchpin to Apple products. In the past two years, Apple has expanded to start an Apple Maps Developer Centre in Hyderabad and an App Accelerator in Bengaluru. This ties into Apple’s plan to expand its ecosystem of services in India.
As one explores Apple Music there could be a serious intrigue to try other Apple services as well and probably buy an Apple device altogether. This could be the stepping stone for Apple in India, where it aims to expand its services revenue and eventually sell as many iPhone as it does in the United States.