Ever since Apple paid $3bn for Beats Electronics and online music streaming service Beats Music last May, music lovers, the Apple faithful and analysts alike have been waiting to witness the fruits of a partnership between the two American mega-brands.
That wait looks set to be over as Apple prepares for its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday, presented to a rapturous audience of some 5,000 developers who have paid $1,599 for the privilege of having a front row seat to hear the company’s latest program and system developments.
Chief executive Tim Cook and vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi - affectionately nicknamed Hair Force One by fans thanks to his silver bouffant - are popular figures within technology circles, and have the art of delivering an engaging keynote speech down to a fine art.
However, the exact details of the new software, features and services Apple is planning to present to the world remains a closely guarded secret until the four-day conference opens, with session titles on the official schedule including such gleefully enigmatic monikers as ‘We’ll never tell’, ‘Ready. Set. Surprise!’ and ‘Too good to tell’. Yet one of the most persistent rumours is that this year’s WWDC will see the launch of the company’s all new streaming service, the so-called ‘Spotify killer’ which could see Apple transition from digital download giant to fully-rounded music behemoth in its most disruptive musical move since the introduction of the iTunes Store in 2003.
If true, Apple’s decision to enter the streaming sector is a timely one. For the first time last year the music industry’s global digital revenues matched that of physical format sales, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). Revenues from music subscription services, such as Spotify, Deezer and US-based platform Pandora, grew 39pc throughout 2014, while the number of paying subscribers rising to 41m, up from 8m in 2010.
The new service is likely to use a $10 per month subscription model, and if rolled out to all iPhone owners via a software update, could guarantee the company hundreds of millions of potential customers in one fell swoop via a tempting three-month free trial.
Reports the company has approached internationally acclaimed artists including Drake, Pharrell Williams, Taylor Swift and Florence and the Machine to guest DJ on a revamped iTunes Radio service or enter into exclusive streaming partnerships are also gathering weight, and negotiations with record labels are apparently still ongoing.
Another highly likely launch will be iOS 9, the latest version of the software which runs on the 1bn iPhones, iPads and iPod touches Apple has sold over the years. New features reportedly include a new security system called Rootless, improved search function Proactive and split-screen mode support that allows you to run several apps simultaneously on-screen removing the need to flick between. They may not sound particularly groundbreaking, but such incremental improvements are all part of Apple’s hopes of locking customers into its iOS and OS X Mac ecosystems through their ease of use and carefully-orchestrated harmony with each other, and not Windows or Google’s Android systems.
Given this is the first WWDC since the Apple Watch has gone on sale, new details on how developers can create watch-native apps (meaning they will run directly on the Watch and not on its paired iPhone) are another safe bet.
Rumours have been circulating for some time that Apple Pay, the company’s contactless payment system for iPhone and Apple Watch, could be rolled out to the UK, Europe and Canada in the weeks after the conference. The service, which uses near-field communication (NFC) technology, allows customers to pay for goods simply by waving their device over a card reader, and has been available for US users since October last year. A form of rewards programme to incentivise users is also allegedly on the cards.
"If Apple announces that they will integrate a rewards programme and coupons in a combined check-out experience, they could add value simultaneously to brands and consumers,” said Forrester analyst Thomas Husson.“That would be a smart move beyond payments and a way to deliver a better shopping experience."
This year’s WWDC slogan is ‘The epicenter of change’, prophesying the kind of innovation that only a technology company of Apple’s stature can lay claim to. This June event is the summer warm-up for the expected September iPhone launch, which, although predicted to be less of a spectacle than last year’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, still promises to be a highlight in the consumer calendar. The relative indifference which greeted Google’s developer conference I/O last month shows the potential pitfalls in trying to dress up software to be as exciting as shiny new products. In that sense at least, Apple proves that some rumours are worth holding out for.
Apple quietly killed off the click-wheel iPod last September and a generation of devotees mourned. What would we do once it packed in? Would we have to rely on the cloud and/or the iPod Touch, or similar, which offers all manner of superfluous features at a price when what we only want is a dedicated music player? For the past month or so, my fears have become redundant and, dare I say it, so too has the fifth generation iPod Classic I used daily for years.