Apple Music just rebranded – is it enough to win the Spotify war?

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Chris Schulz

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Apple music streaming

Less than a month ago, Kiwi DJ and Apple bigwig Zane Lowe had something to announce. It sounded big. It sounded huge.

“Big day,” Lowe, 47, wrote on his social media accounts. “All the hard work paid off … incredibly excited about all that’s to come.”

But was it really that big? In a press release headlined ‘Apple announces Apple Music radio,’ the phone giant revealed Lowe’s “big” news was simply a name change.

Apple’s flagship radio station Beats 1 would now be referred to as Apple Music 1, the release confirmed, along with the addition of two new stations, Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country.

In terms of size, it felt about as big as your favourite brand of chewing gum updating its packaging, then adding a couple of new flavours.

So fans are waving goodbye to Beats 1, the radio station that made Lowe leave his high profile UK job at BBC Radio 1 five years ago and relocate to Los Angeles.

And they’re saying hello to Apple Music 1, which appears to be exactly the same service as Beats 1. Aside from the new radio stations and a couple of new presenters, it’s got mostly the same shows, the same presenters, and the same format.

Those services are pretty decent. If you love finding new music, Apple Music 1 is the place for you. Some of its celebrity radio shows are a must-listen. Elton John plays hardcore UK bands one minute, underground New York rap acts the next. Frank Ocean has a show, so does Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Billie Eilish hosts a weekly listening session with her dad.

What’s more important, possibly, are those new stations, Apple Music Country and Apple Music Hits. Country music, while perhaps not as big a genre in New Zealand, has huge appeal in America. Nostalgia, too, is also doing big business. One of New Zealand’s most popular music festivals over the past few years is Friday Jams, a concert that turns ageing R&B stars back into the headliners they once were.

So, Apple’s radio stations now have broader appeal, which might help reveal exactly why it bothered repackaging them in the first place.

It’s at war against Spotify. And it’s losing.

According to, Spotify had 130 million subscribers worldwide in March, nearly double that of Apple’s 72 million.

In New Zealand, Spotify remains the dominant music streaming platform, according to NZ on Air’s recent NZ on Air Survey, Where are the Audiences.

Spotify might be winning that war for several reasons. It offers a free streaming service, which Apple does not. Its subscription package often comes bundled free with phone contracts, or with new phones.

And Spotify’s been doubling down on podcasts lately, gobbling up major exclusives and podcasting companies like Gimlet.

Podcast popularity is exploding, so that’s a solid move.

Apple, on the other hand, has diversified. It focused on launching a TV streaming service, Apple TV+, which grabbed big names like Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, but has so far delivered middling results.

So, what’s in a name change? On the surface, not much. Perhaps Apple should save its press releases and hyped social media posts for major reveals.

But Apple has a battle on its hands, and this simple name change might be the smartphone giant’s way of signalling there’s more to come – possibly in tomorrow’s virtual launch of the iPhone 12.

Either way, watch this space, because whenever Apple has its back against the wall, things always get interesting.

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Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz has 20 years experience writing about New Zealand's technology and entertainment industries. He lives in Auckland.

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