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Apple Music launches 'into the unknown'

DJ Zane Lowe launched his Apple Music radio show with a phrase that may have struck a chord with fellow music and tech industry insiders: "Into the unknown we go." 

Apple on Tuesday debuted its new, long-anticipated streaming service to take on the likes of Spotify, Pandora and Google. It features a $9.99-a-month on-demand streaming service, a AM/FM-like radio station and a social media component called Connect.

It marks the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant's official entry into the growing subscription music market, which it hopes to turbocharge by getting a significant number of its 800 million iTunes users to sign up. Apple is getting into streaming at a time when music downloads are in a downturn. 

Users can test the service through a 90-day free trial. Apple has not said when it plans to release data on how many people sampled the service's many features. 

Early reviews were mixed, with tech pundits like Re/code's Walt Mossberg praising its robust offerings while also describing it as "confusing." 

The on-demand service, which lets users play their choice of 30 million songs, tries to recommend albums and playlists based on users' tastes. It's based largely on Beats Music, the streaming service Apple acquired last year when it bought headphone maker Beats Electronics for $3 billion.

Apple Music Connect lets users follow certain artists, who can then upload new videos, tracks and other materials for their fans.  

The radio option, dubbed Beats 1, functions like a terrestrial radio station with regular hosts, including Lowe, Pharrell Williams and Beats cofounder Dr. Dre. There are also separate Internet radio stations based on genres.

Lowe, the face of Beats 1, warmed up his audience with sound-scapes from Brian Eno and soundcheck chatter, and officially debuted his show with the song "City" from the British rock group Spring King.

The playlist fittingly served up "For Those About to Rock" by AC/DC, who have long withheld their music from streaming services. The Australian band's discography is now available for the first time on Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, Rdio and others.    

Apple is touting exclusives from the likes of Pharrell, though it's unlikely the presence or absence of certain tracks, albums or artists will make or break the service. Dr. Dre made his 1992 album "The Chronic" available on Apple Music after years as a no-show for digital retailers and streaming libraries. 

In another coup, Apple Music is also the streaming home of Taylor Swift's "1989," which she made available after Apple agreed to pay rights fees during the free trial. 

Some users on Twitter complained about encountering difficulties while trying to enable their iCloud Music Library. Some had difficulty getting the voice command app Siri to play songs. 

But Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White, who covers Apple, said the service generally launched smoothly. 

"The company again proved today with the launch of Apple Music that mobile device competitors will increasingly find it difficult to keep up with the rapid innovation occurring on 'Planet Apple,'" he said in a note to clients. 

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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