Apple Music was launched for iOS devices as part of the company’s iOS 8.4 software update, which was due to go live at 4pm BST.
The service will also be available for PC and Mac computers through Apple’s iTunes software, with Android to follow later in 2015.
The launch represents a major upheaval for Apple’s digital music business, which until now has focused on selling music downloads through the company’s iTunes Store.
The store remains open, but Apple is beginning the process of migrating digital music buyers to paying a monthly subscription for access to its entire catalogue of music.
While some elements of Apple Music will be free, full access will cost £9.99 a month once the three-month trial ends, with a £14.99 option for families of up to six people.
Apple’s plans not to pay royalties to labels and music publishers during that period had sparked controversy, before interventions by independent labels and Taylor Swift triggered a u-turn.
Apple Music has three distinct components, with the first being on-demand access to a catalogue of more than 30m songs, with paying subscribers able to store songs for offline listening.
This is the direct competitor to streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer, Rhapsody, Google Play, Tidal and Rdio. Subscribers will be able to create their own playlists to share with friends via Facebook, Twitter and Apple’s messaging app, as well as listening to those created by Apple’s team.
The second component is “radio”, which includes live radio station Beats 1, and will broadcast round the clock – albeit over the internet rather than the airwaves – from studios in Los Angeles, New York and London.
DJs Zane Lowe – poached from the BBC’s Radio 1 earlier in 2015 – Julie Adenuga and Ebro Darden will be joined by an array of guest DJs including fellow Apple employee Dr Dre, Elton John, Disclosure, St. Vincent, Pharrell Williams and Drake.
Apple’s definition of radio includes streaming “stations” created by DJs based around specific genres and themes – a feature that’s already prominent on rival services, including being the core for Spotify’s recently-introduced “Now” homescreen.
Despite advance speculation suggesting Apple would be making its streaming service paid-only after criticism of Spotify’s free tier, people will be able to listen to Apple’s radio for free too – although they will have restrictions on how often they can skip tracks, which will be lifted for paying subscribers.
The third component of Apple Music is Apple Connect, which blends elements of SoundCloud, YouTube and Facebook. Accredited artists will be able to upload songs, videos and photos for fans who follow their profiles, as well as posting status updates and playlists.
“We wanted to give artists a place where there’s a rhyme and a reason: where there’s an ecosystem where it feeds off each other. Where there’s a payoff,” veteran music executive Jimmy Iovine, who has been working on Apple Music, recently told the Guardian.
The base for Apple Music was Beats Music, the streaming service bought by Apple as part of its $3bn acquisition of Dre and Iovine’s Beats Electronics company in 2014. They, as well as Beats Music chief executive, Ian Rogers, and chief creative officer, Trent Reznor, have been prime movers in Apple Music along with longtime iTunes boss Eddy Cue.
The new service’s roots go further back than that, however. In 2009, Apple bought a streaming music startup called Lala, and used its technology for the launch in 2011 of its iTunes Match cloud locker for storing music and accessing it from multiple devices.
That service continues as a part of Apple Music, although its maximum storage limit will increase from 25k songs to 100k songs later in the year, as part of Apple’s iOS 9 software update.
Meanwhile, Apple’s non-live radio stations made their debut in its iTunes Radio service, which launched in the US in 2013, but never expanded overseas. By contrast, Apple Music will launch in more than 100 countries.
Apple faces considerable competition in the streaming market which, according to industry body the IFPI, had more than 41 million paying subscribers in 2014, and a further 100 million accessing free tiers of streaming services like Spotify.
That company is the largest player in the market, having recently announced that it has 75 million active users, with 20 million of them paying for its service.
Deezer claims 16 million users including 6 million subscribers, while paid-only service Rhapsody reached 2.5m subscribers early in 2015.
Apple Music’s launch will intensify competition in the market, including a battle to secure exclusives on big albums or artist back catalogues. Pharrell Williams is debuting his new single on Apple Music for launch, while Swift is making her latest album 1989 available to stream for the first time on it.
Other artists are supporting the full range of streaming services. AC/DC made its back catalogue available to stream for the first time on Spotify, Deezer, Rdio and other services earlier on Tuesday, and was expected to do the same for Apple Music.
All these companies will be trying to crack the biggest challenge in the streaming world: convincing musicians and songwriters that their model can more than make up for the decline in sales of their music both in physical and download form – with a number of artists having complained about paltry streaming royalty cheques.
The streaming services’ efforts to bring them round are complicated by the fact that they do not pay artists directly, but rather the labels that represent them, and whose contracts with those creators dictate the percentage of streaming income that finds its way to them.
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 30th June 2015 16.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010