What it is: Beats 1 is Apple’s 24/7 Internet radio station that’s absolutely free for anyone to listen to using OS X, iOS, Windows, or Android.
Anyone remember when record stores used to be around? When MP3 files became popular and peer-to-peer sharing grew, pretty much everyone abandoned traditional CDs and switched to digital audio downloads. Not only were such audio files easy to share, but they were also convenient to carry around. If you wanted to carry your music library with you in CD form, you had to lug around cases filled with CDs. Even then you had to listen to songs on the Cd you might not care for so you could hear the songs you did like.
Digital audio files like MP3 files changed that forever, because that let you store thousands of songs in a single location (such as an iPod) and let you play only those songs you wanted to hear. With the ability carry your entire music library with you in an iPod, the idea of lugging around bulky CD cases seemed downright primitive.
But then something happened. When Apple introduced iTunes and the iPod, people had long accepted the idea of buying individual tracks off an album. Then streaming audio became popular, and sales of iTunes songs started to fall. Suddenly iTunes looked as primitive as the CD record stores it replaced.
Since buying digital downloads of music is never going to make a comeback and dominate the music market like it once did in the past, Apple dished out $3 billion dollars to acquire Beats. With Beats’ streaming music service, Apple created Beats 1, an online Internet radio station playing music curated by popular celebrities and DJs.
The idea behind Beats 1 is to let people listen for free so they can hear a variety of music. Then if they like what they hear, chances are good they’ll either subscribe to Apple Music or buy songs through iTunes. Beats 1 is simply a way to let people sample different music for free in hopes of getting them to pay money for it later.
For many people, Beats 1 won’t play the type of music they like. For others, it will play the music they like but they’ll see no need to buy anything. For the remainder, Beats 1 will convince them to pay for a subscription to Apple Music or buy individual songs though iTunes. Either way, that means more money coming to Apple.
Where rivals have to offer free trial periods for their music subscription services, Apple can rely on their free, unlimited Beats 1 Internet radio station to continue attracting people to new music. This will simply continue attracting new customers where a certain percentage will always opt for Apple Music subscriptions or iTunes downloads.
The question is whether the sales of Apple Music subscriptions and iTunes downloads can justify the cost of running Beats 1. Even a company as rich as Apple can’t afford to keep throwing money away on a money-losing venture. Given its worldwide reach 24 hours a day, Beats 1 targets the entire globe of music lovers. With Beats 1 available for practically anyone regardless of their operating system, it’s likely that Beats 1 will become a major force in shaping the tastes of music for a whole new generation, and that simply translates into more money for Apple Music and iTunes.