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Apple Music: Five things to know about the major iTunes revamp

Major Apple Music overhaul unveiled by Tim Cook, Jimmy Iovine, Trent Reznor, Drake and others.

A year after Apple revealed the purchase of Beats Entertainment, the company unveiled its new generation music service, called Apple Music.

Announced Monday at the company’s annual developer’s conference in San Francisco, it will integrate offerings including a new on-demand streaming service, a beefed-up radio portal anchored by a global station called Beats One and an artist-relations area called Connect.

Revealed as the kicker to a presentation that also touted updates to other Apple offerings, Apple Music's rollout featured Apple CEO Tim Cook, music executive and Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine, musician Trent Reznor and Apple vice president Eddy Cue. They combined to explain the most drastic overhaul of the iTunes platform since it upended the music industry in the early '00s. Cook called the new version “one complete thought around music.” It will be available on June 30.

A more in-depth exploration of Apple Music is in the works, but here are five takeaways from Monday’s announcement.

1. Details are scarce. The worst-kept secret in the music industry has been Apple’s forthcoming music streaming service, but the specifics have been sparse. Turns out the monthly cost is identical to Beats: $9.99 or a $14.99 family pack that allows for up to six user accounts. Taking an unnamed swipe at Spotify, Iovine bemoaned services that don’t offer the family plan.

Unlike Spotify and YouTube, which offer free, ad-supported tiers, Apple Music's streaming component will require a subscription, which many will see as cost prohibitive. Alongside Spotify's relatively tiny reach, though, the financial impact of Apple drawing even a small percentage to the service could be huge. Tens of millions of users in 100 countries will be informed of the new streaming service in less than a month. The company is offering a free three-month trial period. (Spotify CEO Daniel Ek's two-word response, which was since deleted from Twitter: "Oh ok.")

As for fidelity or how much of that monthly fee artists will see? Stay tuned.

2. The human element remains. Iovine spent most of his time touting the new service’s “human touch.” Its many playlists (some likely inherited from Beats) are hand selected. The executive described it as “a revolutionary music service curated by leading music experts,” which is pretty much what Jay-Z and his posse said during the rollout for Tidal earlier in the year. “Algorithms alone can’t do that human task,” said Iovine. “You need a human.”

Later, Apple vice president Eddy Cue demonstrated the service by moving through music purchases and playlists, highlighting a search engine that finds both local and streamed files. He touted a new release page as “all human curated,” describing it as “fun and easy.” He created a Cuban-based playlist and did a little dance.

3. Global radio. Iovine’s swipe at algorithm-based music selection was an implicit indictment against Pandora, which delivers music based on pre-selected parameters. With Apple’s new radio offering, which will be free, the company is looking to direct the conversation. As such, it announced the arrival of Beats 1.

A worldwide station that promises 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-per-week live radio by a batch of DJs headed by Zane Lowe, Beats 1 will broadcast from studios in Los Angeles, London and New York. Lowe, who gained fame at the BBC1, is considered one of the best interviewers and music curators in the world. An accompanying ad showed listeners in cities across the world all vibing to the same song. (Whether this is good for multi-culturalism is another thing.)

4. Apple looks to Connect for fans When Apple bought Beats, they also built a bridge to Reznor, who served as Beats’ creative director. Reznor helped announced the third component of Monday’s roll-out, called Connect. It allows artists to interact directly with fans with what Reznor described as “tools to grow, nurture and sustain careers.”

One career that doesn't need a boost got another one on Monday: Drake, who discussed the artist pages. Individual pages will allow creators to upload videos, lyrics, images, outtakes all in the same place, allowing instant Twitter and Instagram-like communication with fans.

5. Questions remain Questions prompted by the announcement include: What will happen to the perpetually buggy feature Apple Match, which allows shared libraries across computers? Chances are it’s going by the wayside, replaced by streaming. Ditto “Genius,” the (ahem) algorithm-based recommendation program that has been a (mostly unused) mainstay of iTunes for years. Also missing was any mention of a social platform in contrast with Spotify, which allows followers shared playlists and endless discovery based on what in-network connections are listening to.

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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