Chinese music streaming giant lays out four ways AI is going to affect music streaming, but Apple should only pay attention to one

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There’s one thing on every tech publication's lips at the moment — and as much as Apple wants it to be ‘new iPads!’, it’s closer to ‘what does AI mean for the world at large’. I am not big enough, tough enough, nor clever enough to talk about what it will mean for humanity as a whole, but I can share how we see it affecting the media that we consume, be that a TV show on Apple TV Plus or a piece of music on Apple Music.

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Now Playing is a weekly column from iMore's resident audiophile Tammy Rogers, looking into the state of the media streaming landscape. From headline-grabbing Apple Music exclusives to Oscar-baiting blockbuster Apple TV+ films, Apple is becoming a more recognized part of the media, arts and entertainment landscape. Now Playing will help you make sense of Apple's place in the industry.

Some streamers have already gotten started with the AI ‘revolution’, most notably Spotify with its AI DJ tech that listens and watches your play habits, and then builds ‘up next’ playlists with your choices and likes in mind. It even has a voice. Apple Music is yet to dip its toes into the AI-inclusive pool as yet, but if it’s looking at how it can get started, it should be aware of some key points from Tencent Music Entertainment, China’s premier streaming platform which has embraced AI in its streaming model. The streamer has given four different pain points in AI and streaming in its most recent annual report for 2023 — although there’s really only one that Apple actually needs to pay any attention to.

The problem with artificial intelligence

Apple iPad Air 5

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Apple’s AI journey might not take it too close to the sun when it comes to Apple Music, but given the rest of the streaming landscape, it's impossible that Cupertino isn’t thinking about how to get artificial intelligence into its music streaming service. It likely isn’t going to go quite as far as Tencent however, which includes the likes of an AI-aided lyrics generator, AI-curated playlists, a Karaoke app with AI singers for duets, and a predictive model that Music Business World tells us “can how predict the ‘next hit song.’” Take that, bookies.

Apple Music on the other hand prides itself on its human-curated library, with playlists created by like-minded music fans and experts and ‘For You pages’ with music selected by real people. In this way, Apple doesn’t have to worry about most of Tencent’s warnings, which mostly fall in the camp of ‘we use AI for almost everything, and we’ve found problems with algorithms, ethical issues, and legal ramifications’. Apple can help how it uses AI in Apple Music, and most of those issues only arise if you use AI to create new music or use the tech in more nefarious ways. What Apple has less control over, however, is what kind of music people upload to the service.

Apple Music on iPhone beside HomePod mini

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One of the concerns raised by Tencent is copyright issues that stem from AI-created music. While it’s unlikely that Apple will be adding a feature that will let users create their own tunes, there is a chance that users might upload their own AI-generated music to the platform, with all the included AI copyright issues in tow.

See, AI uses music that already exists as a part of its learning model in order to make something new. Sometimes, with ethically iffy creation engines, there’s a massive chance that the music the model has learned from is copyrighted by the original artist, and given there’s then a little bit of that artist's music in whatever the plagiarism engine makes, to sell the music made would be to break copyright. 

There’s already a legal precedent that says AI music artists don’t own anything they create using AI, but there’s little stopping them from uploading it to music streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify. What would this mean legally for Apple Music? As a virtue of it being streamed on the platform, Apple would be making money on what could be copyrighted content, uploaded to Apple Music without the express permission of the original artist. That could open a whole new can of worms for Apple — one that it likely isn’t going to want to see kicked down the road.

It wouldn’t, in theory, be hard to stop this from happening. There are certain things that you can use to tell AI music apart from human-made music, such as the way that it sounds and digital artifacts, so it might not be too hard to add a vetting process to music that is uploaded to Apple Music. If it doesn’t get the problem sorted, however, there could be some hefty legal fees and intellectual property issues that could rear their heads — and those are never fun.

The Spotify problem, and the EU law that’s making life hard

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Also likely not fun is Apple’s ongoing war of attrition with Spotify, which seems hellbent on taking up everyone’s time and brain power.

Earlier this year, Apple was made to pay a massive, $2 billion fine by the European Commission, which claimed that Apple should allow apps to advertise their own websites as payment options, in a bid to encourage competition on the App Store. Where many saw it as a government intervention in something it knew nothing about, Spotify instead saw it as an opportunity to finally avoid Apple’s App Store fees, and stick a link to its website in its app so that users can more easily head over and grab a subscription there, avoiding the fees Apple levies on apps and companies for using its platform.

Since the court decision, Spotify has been sending proposed updates to Apple’s App Store with the link in place — and every time, without fail, Apple has rejected it. Until Thursday, April 25, that is, when Spotify finally changed the contents of its update, which now only tells users that they can go to the Spotify website to get a subscription, along with a price list so that they can see how much their subscription will cost. Along with this, the firm took to X to share a tweet that logged their increased irritation with Apple and how the latter is ‘breaking European law’ by continuing to get in the way of Spotify’s need for a link to its website in-app.

The email was clear: Apple wasn’t allowing the update because Spotify didn’t agree to Apple’s Music Streaming Services Entitlement, rather than any specific design element.

In response, Apple released the rejection email it sent to Spotify around its previous updates to outlets — including to us. The email was clear: Apple wasn’t allowing the update because Spotify didn’t agree to Apple’s Music Streaming Services Entitlement, rather than any specific design element. This is, apparently, a requirement whether there is a button or not, so even this new update will need to go with the requirements that Apple has set out, and that “We will, however, approve version 8.9.33 after you accept the terms of the Music Streaming Services Entitlement and resubmit it for review.” The ball is now once again in Spotify’s court — let’s see what it decides to do.

New Beats in the hands of LeBron James

LeBron James with a Beats Pill

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The hardest of hardware leaks as LeBron James is pictured on the Laker's Instagram wielding a new, as yet unseen, Beats Bluetooth speaker. Hanging from a chord on his finger, the Beats oval seems to be a new version of the now discontinued Beats Pill speaker line, replete with new color and… well, you can’t see much in the zoomed-out portrait video beyond the fact that it’s there. 

We did have as close a look as possible, looking for anything that sticks out as drastically new or different. He’s carrying a bag in the other hand, although it’s likely a shoe bag because it is much larger than the speaker itself. There’s a chord, loop, hanging thing so you’ll be able to hang it from stuff… and that’s about it. Otherwise, it's a tantalizing look at what could be a return to a product category for the Beats line.

Even though I called the Beats Studio Pro “the death rattle of a dying brand” in my review, the brand seems to be going through a renaissance in recent months. There were new versions of the Beats Studio Buds in the form of the Buds Plus, along with the aforementioned Studio Pro over-ear headphones. The Solo4 are rumored to be coming soon, and this new Beats pill could round out the product line. Under the caring wing of Apple, Beats could well be back for good.

Apple's AI worries, and Spotify's fight

In the next few months, Apple is expected to make some big announcements about AI and how it's going to implement the tech into its most popular devices, such as its best iPhones. It's likely going to have some form of AI inclusion in the likes of Apple TV Plus and Apple Music, although what form that inclusion is going to take is yet to be seen. Whatever happens, there are some significant bumps in the road that Apple will have to contend with before it can consider a full investment in the technology — not least of all the legal ramifications that come from others use of AI that might end up in its services.

The firm is facing its struggles against Spotify as well, highlighting the exciting legal time that it's having across the board. In this case, it's now back in Spotify's corner to get sorted, but continued legal drama isn't good for business.

Either way, the crux of Apple's media woes could be and are currently legal issues — and it looks like they're not going to end any time soon.

What to watch

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The Bloody Hundred

Did you enjoy Masters of the Air? I did. I loved its visceral, sky-based action that left me covered with imaginary airplane oil, and the characters did a spectacular job of pulling me into the story. If nothing else, before you go and watch The Bloody Hundred, you should go watch the short series from the creators of Band of Brothers if you’ve even the slightest interest in well-written and spectacularly well-realized war stories.

Masters of the Air

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Once you’ve finished there, you should go watch The Bloody Hundred, a documentary that tells the real, undramatized story of the US bomber group stationed in the UK. It’s narrated by Tom Hanks, and it’s only an hour long so it won’t take up too much of your time. It’s the perfect companion to Masters of the Air, and a great way to learn some more personal history that you might not have known otherwise. It’s available on Apple TV Plus to watch now.

Argylle artwork showing two actors

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The most controversially terrible movie of the year is now available on Apple TV Plus, and while many aren’t massive fans of the spy thriller, there are still some things to like about the otherwise abject failure. Henry Cavil manages to prove that he has the range to play around two different character archetypes, while John Cena continues to be one of the biggest surprises to come from WWE who isn’t Dave Bautista. Dua Lipa… tries, and Bryce Dallas Howard seems completely tuned out the entire time — which does little for the story.

The narrative itself is a confusing mess of made-up events within the world of the story melding with events that are supposed to be actually happening to the characters, making for a jarring watch. In the long run, what could be an interesting deconstruction of narrative structure becomes a mess of ideas that don’t really work together. It is, however, in the same universe as the Kingsmen movies, which might work for some people in the audience. It is a bad, bad movie — but sometimes, curiosity can get the better of you. As it did me, and my Saturday afternoon. Best watched with liberal lashings of something strong. Like Sauerkraut.

What to listen to

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Tortured Poets Department — Taylor Swift

This exists, with the extra 15 tracks Swift released just as the album came out. It’s in Spatial Audio. You can listen to it on Apple Music.

Only God Was Above Us — Vampire Weekend

Or you could listen to something new that isn’t by the biggest megastar in the world, whose reach is only matched by her obscene carbon footprint. Vampire Weekend's blend of Indie Rock and pop makes for a compelling recipe. This latest album has more edge than previous outings, but manages a more optimistic outlook despite the state of the world around them.

Banished By Sin — Deicide

AI cover art aside, the Floridian masters of the death metal riff return for their thirteenth album with all the anger and devilish tendencies dialed up to 11. Riffs for days, blistering blast beats and galloping, wailing guitars for a solid forty minutes to get the blood pumping and the horns in the air. Not for everyone by any stretch of the imagination, but one for the lover of all things heavy.

Tammy Rogers
Senior Staff Writer

As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.