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How Beats 1 can take on SiriusXM

Michael Simon | July 14, 2015
Apple Music has exploded out of the gate. Thanks to a generous three-month trial period, music lovers all around the world rushed to take the newest streaming service for a spin, and there isn't much not to like. Tens of millions of songs, hand-picked playlists, offline listening, and easy integration with your existing music library put it at least on par with its big-name rivals, if not slightly ahead.

beats1 primary

Apple Music has exploded out of the gate. Thanks to a generous three-month trial period, music lovers all around the world rushed to take the newest streaming service for a spin, and there isn't much not to like. Tens of millions of songs, hand-picked playlists, offline listening, and easy integration with your existing music library put it at least on par with its big-name rivals, if not slightly ahead.

But the real gem of Apple Music is something that isn't all that modern: a censored radio station. Streaming services have turned music listening into a very individualized experience, so it was somewhat surprising when Apple announced Beats 1 as one of the main features of its new service. But what's truly surprising is how great it is.

I'll admit that I wasn't all that interested in the prospect of an Apple-helmed Internet radio station, but Beats 1 does a fantastic job of capturing everything that was once revolutionary about radio. Gathering around a boom box with your friends to hear the latest Taylor Swift single may be a romantic, old-fashioned notion, but Apple has hit on something truly special with the communal nature of Beats 1. Ever since it launched I've been reading tweets about how people around the world are discovering new music, and as a longtime satellite radio subscriber, I've actually begun to consider the prospect of switching full-time, a feeling my turns with Spotify or Pandora never elicited. And I don't think I'm alone.

Playlist culture

While the idea of listening to any song we want, whenever and wherever, is still pretty mind-blowing, there are a lot of times when we just don't know what we're in the mood for. Apple Music is built for those moments; while it gives you access to millions of on-demand songs, its main draw is the hand-curated playlists and radio shows that pay particular attention to the organization and grouping of songs, far more so than a computer-created Pandora or iTunes Radio station.

The best program directors are able to walk the line between what people want to hear and what they should be hearing, and based on its first impressions, Apple has done just that with Beats 1. It's impossible for an algorithm to understand the peaks and valleys of a great playlist; mechanically assembling a stream of songs tersely related by genre will rarely elicit an appropriate emotional response, but the ones Apple has curated take you on a journey with natural highs and lows and seamless transitions.

But Beats 1 takes it to another level. The beauty of traditional radio has always been the sense of discovery and the element of surprise, an aspect Apple has embraced since the iPod's shuffle feature. But even more than that, there's an specific type of excitement that comes from hearing something unexpected. At any given moment on Beats 1 you can hear a hip-hop or EDM track that you're unlikely to hear on any other formatincluding satellite radio. SiriusXM puts such an emphasis on compartmentalizing its stations, a lot of them end up being extremely predictable.

 

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