What Beats Music Brings to the Table

Here’s a provocative question about the Apple acquisition of Beats Music: What does Apple want with a streaming music service when it could theoretically just build its own—and why is it interested in a service that is, by all accounts, second fiddle to the almighty Spotify?

There are plenty of theories. I’ve blogged previously about the name recognition that Beats brings—about how this purchase may be more about Apple buying coolness/street cred than anything else. There are other theories out there about how Apple was trying to launch a true contender with its iTunes Radio, but just couldn’t get it off the ground—which I suppose may be true.

For all of this, though, let’s not lose sight of one important factor, which is that Beats Music actually is a pretty good product on its own. It’s nowhere near as popular as Spotify, but some say it’s technically and creatively superior. They may well be right.

So what does Beats Music have to offer to consumers? Consider the following:

  • First there’s the music library, which absolutely stacks up against Spotify—both services advertise somewhere around 20 million tracks. There are a few Spotify exclusives that you won’t get with Beats—like Led Zeppelin!—but all things considered, the two are evenly matched as far as musical options.
  • Pricewise, Beats is—again—pretty similar to Spotify: You have to pay to get the ad-free experience. Actually, Beats doesn’t offer a free version, save for the trial, but it does offer family plans that give it an edge over Spotify.
  • The big thing that gives Beats its edge is curation. While Spotify offers playlists determined by computer algorithm, Beats has playlists handcrafted by human beings—musicians, critics, and tastemakers—as well as some complicated algorithms that match your mood and current activity to different songs that fit the mood. The cultivated playlists are really excellent and creative, and the system does a shockingly good job of picking stuff that fits your preferences.
  • Finally, and not insignificantly: Beats is designed for mobile use, which means its desktop client leaves something to be desired but its mobile app is aesthetically and navigationally superior to Spotify.

So why hasn’t Beats caught on to a greater degree? That’s a question for another day. For today, I just want to make it clear that, whatever Apple’s motives here—and however desperate a move it may seem—the company has not invested in a shoddy product. That’s not for nothing.