SAN FRANCISCO — Apple on Monday served up a veritable smorgasbord of digital delights for its fans, unveiling at its annual developers conference upgrades to its mobile and desktop software, showing off a gussied-up Siri with a new bag of tricks and firing a shot over Spotify’s bow with its new streaming Apple Music subscription service.
“This is a truly revolutionary music service,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, told the crowd of several thousand developers, designers and product managers at the 26th Worldwide Developers Conference, the annual Apple love fest at Moscone Center in San Francisco. “Apple Music will bring you all of your music all in one place.”
Revealed toward the end of a nearly three-hour extravaganza, the music feature was clearly Apple’s rabbit out of a hat. It had been widely expected for months, ever since May last year when Apple bought subscription streaming music service Beats Music and Beats Electronics, which makes the popular Beats headphones, speakers and audio software.
To kick off the music segment, Apple CEO Tim Cook even brought to the stage Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine. The scrappy music industry veteran told the crowd that when he first met with Cue and Apple founder Steve Jobs years ago and heard about their new iTunes service, he was blown away. “They showed me something brilliant: a simple, elegant way to buy music online,” Iovine said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, the ad is true — these guys really do think different.’ ”
Since then, the world of online music has degenerated into what Iovine called “a fragmented mess,” precisely the sort of problem, he suggested, that’s been looking for a solution like Apple Music. “Apple can help move culture the way art moves culture,” Iovine said before turning the stage back over to Cue.
Pitching the service as a complete ecosystem where a user of any Apple product can access not only music they love but also new music recommended to them by Apple’s curators and even by the artists themselves, Apple says the new feature will be offered free for the first three months. And, said Cue and others, it will bring musicians closer to their fans and essentially shift the online music experience from the iTunes model of buying one 99-cent song at a time to having access to millions of songs at anytime and for one recurring fee.
“This will give artists direct access to listeners who, in turn, will help those artists get discovered and get even better at what they do,” said analyst Tim Bajarin with Creative Strategies, who was at Cook’s keynote address that kicked off the five-day event. “This represents a significant new chapter for Apple and for online music.”
Bajarin said Apple Music will “force Spotify and Pandora and other streaming-music services to become even more innovative and, therefore, more competitive. So this service really raises the bar for everyone.”
The first two hours of the presentation, much of it emceed by Craig Federighi, Apple’s point person for both the OS and iOS teams, consisted of the latest iteration of that software, with a laundry lists of gee-whiz improvements to Siri, Apple Maps, Apple Pay and more. The new features, many of them dazzling, some of them less so, came fast and furious.
Mac users, Federighi said, can now ask Siri to “bring up documents I worked on last June.” They can drag photos into emails and notes. And to the great delight of the cheering developers in the audience, the new software allows people to work in split-screen mode. Apps will launch twice as fast as they do with the current OS version called Yosemite, which will be replaced by a version called OX X El Capitan. Upgrades to Apple’s graphic-design tool called Metal will mean improved gaming performance and better battery life.
This year’s keynote was interesting for what it did not reveal. Despite widespread rumors on the blogosphere that Apple would unveil a new Apple TV, the set-top box for televisions, that did not happen. A report in The New York Times last week, quoting “two people briefed on the product,” said the plans were postponed in part because the product was not ready for public release.
Apple TV has not seen any updates since 2012, even as Apple watchers speculated that a new model was in the works and might be unveiled this week at the developers conference. Rumors have included a plan to add Siri support to Apple TV. And Apple did recently release details on how developers can incorporate the device as a HomeKit hub for linking and controlling other in-home tech products.
The annual event attracted some 5,000 developers from around the world, each paying $1,599 for a ticket to the five-day love fest of panels, workshops and parties. Events include Safari labs, presentations by a guest astronomer on searching for new planets in the solar system and workshops on designing for the Apple Watch and “internationalizing” your app so that users around the world can access it. There are sessions for developers to learn more about coding for Apple features like AirPlay and CarPlay as well as HomeKit, a database that lets developers create software that can link together and control devices around the house, an increasingly important focus for app builders as the Internet of Things begins to gain traction in people’s everyday lives.
Before the conference opened Monday morning, many of the workshops were still wrapped in mystery, with simple titles like “Pins and Needles,” “Surprise!” and “Shhhhh!” WWDC also offered its annual award ceremony, where developers are feted for their latest achievements in “state of the art iOS, OS X, and Apple Watch apps that reflect excellence in design and innovation.”
While many of the software upgrades announced received hearty rounds of applause by the audience, the Apple Music product was clearly the best saved for last. After the presentation, Marc Schlottig, a product manager for a German software company, raved about the service.
“I really like Apple Music,” said the 37-year-old, attending the so-called “dub-dub” — for WWCD — conference for the first time. “I’m a longtime Spotify user, but I’ll now consider switching.”
Why? Schlottig, like others, said while the song-recommendation feature on Apple Music mimicked that used by Spotify, two other features — a 24/7 Beats 1 live and worldwide radio show and another that allows musicians of all ilk and levels of notoriety to reach out online to share their songs, lyrics, videos and photos with the audience they hope will follow them.
“The whole service left me with a good feeling,” said Schlottig, who also loved the new feature that lets a user control music by speaking to Siri on an Apple Watch, another product that will soon work on an upgraded operating software. “I’m looking forward to discovering new music and new ways of listening to music with this feature.”