Apple prides itself on thinking and being different to everyone else. It acknowledges competitors like Microsoft and Google only grudgingly, and usually in a way that only illustrates how much nicer and more prosperous its own Mac and iPhone platforms are. It will have hurt that pride, therefore, to have to announce today that the big new Apple initiative, Apple Music, will be available on iPhones, iPads, Macs, PCs, and Android.
Until today's announcement, Apple's presence in the Google Play Store was only a technicality of its $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics, which had already released Beats Music on Android. With the unveiling of its ambitious new music subscription service, however, Apple is now a fully fledged Android developer. The only previous occasions when Apple had made an effort of this kind was when it brought iTunes and Safari (which has since been discontinued) to Windows. Besides iTunes, QuickTime, and iCloud Drive on Microsoft's desktop OS, Apple software lives only on Apple devices.
Apple Music is on Windows because it has to be, and the same is now true of Android
Android's extraordinary scale and reach is reaffirmed by Apple's news today. Just like Windows on the desktop, Android commands too big a presence in the mobile realm to be ignored. As much as Apple would prefer to constrain its software and services to augmenting only its own devices, it is now pragmatically accepting that it has to play ball on Google's court as well. There's too much competition in the streaming music space for Apple to limit its chances of success to only iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Apple Music is on Windows because it has to be, and the same is now true of Android.
This need not necessarily signal a sea change in Apple's way of doing business. When iTunes became available on Windows in 2003, it may have been interpreted as a sign of a more inclusive and collaborative Apple, but over a decade later, that software remains only an isolated example. The same will likely be true with Apple Music: it will be available on Android in order to properly compete with the likes of Spotify, but it's unlikely to be joined by other new software from Apple like the good-looking Apple News app.
Apple hates making software for others, but it will do so when there's profit in it
An important commonality between iTunes on Windows and Apple Music on Android is that both are services that generate direct revenue. Apple enhances the choices available to Windows and Android users only when it's able to profit from that directly, whether it be through music sales on the iTunes Store or music subscriptions in the new Music app. Other than that, the only reason Apple would make an Android app is quite literally to help you Move to iOS, which is the title of an upcoming app to assist smartphone users switching from Android to the iPhone.
Beyond Apple's narrow set of interests, the cross-platform availability of Apple Music illustrates a positive trend happening across the tech industry. Whereas we once lived in a world where BBM was only on BlackBerry, Microsoft Office was only on Windows, and Nintendo games were only playable on Nintendo consoles, the present and the future look to be increasingly device-agnostic. That's the subtext to Microsoft's current mantra of cloud and mobile first, which is the strategy that Google has been pursuing for a long time already. And now Apple is joining them, bearing the gift of Music.
Whether it succeeds or fails as a service, Apple Music is already significant in cementing Android's mobile predominance. What could have been a point of differentiation for Apple has been turned into a more inclusive service by embracing Google's smartphone platform. Even Apple can't resist the allure of Android's massive audience. The ultimate beneficiaries of these competitive dynamics are the users, who'll get a broader set of services to choose from and should also find it a little easier to switch between devices.
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