iRadio: Apple could do streaming really well, but they don't have to do it at all

The rumors of an Apple iRadio music streaming service just won't go away. With WWDC just around the corner, many think that we may see something announced in San Francisco—in the very same room Google recently announced All Access. Apple could knock it out of the park if they entered this space, and I'm sure a lot of us would love to see just such an Apple branded service. But a couple of questions still present themselves. Does Apple really need to do music streaming, and what form could it take if they do?

Does Apple need to do a music streaming service?

The tl;dr version is; no. Apple doesn't need to do anything. Should, or even would, they is a better question. Apple reinvented the way we listen to music, making digital tracks work for record labels and consumers alike. For many, the iPod and iTunes were their first foray into Apple products. That's exactly where I began 9 years ago. The iPod brought with it the iTunes Store, and in the present day digital downloads have almost completely replaced the sale of physical media. And still, to this day, the largest source of digital downloads is the iTunes Store.

The iTunes Store is well established and does good business for Apple. It's also easy to understand. You give them money, they give you music. It comes with a sense of ownership. Apple currently offers iTunes in the Cloud, which lets you re-download previously purchased music, and iTunes Match, which lets you upload your local music to an iCloud locker and then re-download (but not really stream it) from any of your devices. In both cases, it's music you've already bought or acquired, Apple's just helping you access it. A streaming service, one with a subscription, is something else entirely.

Competitors who offer streaming also have music stores, like Google for example, but none are anywhere close to as established as iTunes. Google was late to the music store party, and has since thrown a streaming service on top of this. But, it's limited to the U.S. only—officially.

The leading streaming services have been designed to be that from the ground up. iTunes was built to sell music. Apple runs iTunes at just above break even, which granted at that scale is a lot of money, but they're not risk-adverse to obsoleting it. Their goal is to sell hardware. Music just encourages people to buy more hardware. Would subscription be even better at that?

What could Apple do with a music streaming service?

Apple being Apple, I can't believe they would move into the market simply offering the same as the competition. They've achieved their success by offering simpler, easier, and quite often, better.

The rumors point to some sort of iRadio service, and I think that would be a better place to start. Spotify and Google have radio features slapped on top of search systems for tracks, artists and albums. You find something you like, and you start a radio station based on that. Apple could do it better.

Over the years, customers have bought a ton of music from the iTunes Store, all of which Apple has the records of. They already use it for Genius Recommendations and Mixes. So, in theory, they could offer up a similar recommendation service that captures what you like to listen to. Twitter #music is a good example, and Apple could sit perfectly in the middle between Twitter and Spotify. Use all the iTunes information they already have, send you a radio stream of music they think you'll like, with an instant link to the iTunes Store to purchase the track, see more by the artist and so on.

Integration is something key to consider too, since a lot of this music would be listened to on mobile devices. If it needs to be a separate app, then it isn't done right. Apple already has a music app on iOS devices, so for something that they want their customers to adopt, it would need to be integrated into what they already have. And that could work, I'd be quite happy to open up the Music app on my iPhone and have the choice to listen to something new alongside my existing collection.

At the moment I live in Spotify and Twitter #music, but that's two additional apps on top of the stock music player. If Apple could bring all that under one roof, similar to how Google is trying to play it with their mobile apps and All Access, it could be a hit.

What's on your stream?

So, there's a few of my thoughts on the subject. I rely heavily on streaming services for my music, but I rely on the recommendation and discovery aspects even more. It's a competitive market, but what say you guys; are you pulling for an Apple music streaming service? What form would you most like it to take, and would you switch from an existing service if Apple helped you keep all your music in one place?

Richard Devine

Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy. Follow him on Twitter and Google+