Apple continues to talk high praise of Apple Music, most recently leaking that the service has 10 million paying subscribers, but it has remained somewhat quiet about its Beats 1 online 24/7 radio station. Beats 1 launched to much fanfare with Zane Lowe leading the effort, and while it seems to be doing decently, it isn’t a sensation in the music business yet. It’s especially timely to talk about Beats 1 now that Apple has retired the iTunes Radio ad-supported stations, leaving Beats 1 as the only way to get free streaming music from Apple. I’m intrigued by the uptake of the station — there’s a poll to find out how often you tune in below the break — as it seems Beats 1 has an awareness issue.
I tend to like the music that is played but I just forget to tune in. I think Beats 1 is good but Apple needs to support it better within iOS and iTunes to make it stickier. Here are some suggestions …
Use the poll above to give your input on Beats 1 usage. Even in the best case, I think it is pretty evident that Beats 1 could use some more features. At a high level, Beats 1 feels like an analog station. What follows are some ideas to make it more modern and approachable plus my thoughts on how Apple could make Beats 1 better in general.
At the top of my list of wants is some kind of push notifications or alerts system for Beats 1 shows. The station is meant to be worldwide and always-on but the only way to know what’s coming up is to check the schedule on the Beats 1 pages. Apple should add a feature to iOS so you can subscribe to hosts or particular shows, alerting you to when those shows goes live. For instance, I want to be alerted every time Zane Lowe goes live. Another example: I really like the chart show where the host recaps the top songs at the moment and gives some commentary. I have no idea when it’s on though and a push notifications feature would help me tune in to listen.
Going further, Apple has this Connect social networking feature where you can already follow artists that you want to learn more about. Beats 1 regularly features some fantastic interviews with musicians. If I explicitly follow them on Apple Music Connect, I want to know if they are on the air. There’s no affordance for that stuff today. Connect may not have set the world on fire as a social network, but at least try to make it better and more integrated with the rest of Apple Music and avoid yet another Ping.
You know the Handoff app shortcut spot on the lock screen? Apple could add a way to permanently set a shortcut app there. This would benefit all iOS users really as you could just put your favorite or most-used software in the slot for quick access, but it would personally help me get to Beats 1 more often. It’s a chore to drill-down from the Home screen into the tabs of the Music app just to start some music in the morning. Putting it on the lock screen makes it eminently more instinctive to start listening. The latest iPhones add 3D Touch shortcuts, but lock screen access would reach all devices. Even as I sit here writing this article, I want some background music playing but I can’t be bothered to navigate to Beats 1 …
Apple is competing against traditional radio and right now Beats 1 is slower. With a home radio, you press the power button and music starts playing. Apple has to get closer to that ease of use for it to be more compelling. It’s a modern electronic digital device — there are even opportunities to be smarter, like only showing my Music app shortcuts when I plug in headphones or connect to Bluetooth speakers. Apple started some of this with iOS 9’s Proactive shortcuts, but it should be expanded to be more explicit and less hit-and-miss.
I have even considered whether Apple should break out Beats 1 into a dedicated app. Right now, it’s stuck beneath a tab inside the Music app but thinking about it, it doesn’t really fit in. It’s free form radio with few user controls. The other Apple Music ‘Radio Stations’ are really dressed-up playlists, as you can skip tracks and thumbs up songs you like. If Beats 1 was a separate app, I honestly think I would use it more. I would at least remember that it exists.
I’m generally resistant to Home screen stock app creep but in this case, it seems justified. Maybe it would be an optional download from the App Store or a default app that you can uninstall. It would contain the live streaming service as well as UI to access information about the schedule and past broadcasts for replay. I think when Apple inevitably expands the initiative to include more stations (to use the obvious name, ‘Beats 2’), breaking the service out into a dedicated app makes a lot of sense to streamline the experience. It would also make the Music app less confusing: it could refine the UI with less features to worry about accommodating into one screen.
Moreover, there are some obvious low-hanging fruit opportunities to improve listener interaction with Beats 1. You could have some voting options for the Best Of roundups or add a facility for listener shoutouts directly from the Beats 1 app. Right now, this interaction happens over Twitter but the @Beats1 account only has ~300,000 followers, so it’s not a huge attention driver. Beats 1 includes a Mixtape segment where you can submit songs: there is the space to do these recommendations right within Music. Currently, Beats hosts ask for user participation by sending in iMessages to a special iCloud address. That feels antiquated. Ultimately, these features would drive engagement and increase the Beats 1 audience.
There’s always marketing to fall back on too. There is a lot of advertising for Apple Music as a service but Beats 1 is generally left alone. I think the idea of a freely available 24/7 radio station is a very compelling idea for prospective iOS customers. Apple should feature it more prominently in its TV commercials as a way to sell iPhones and iPads. When I casually mention Beats 1 to friends or family, they almost universally don’t know it exists. There is an obvious need for more awareness that the radio station exists.
Aside from traditional media marketing, there could also be hooks in the iTunes Store to push Beats 1. Contextually, people who go to listen to an artist usually like following their work and want to hear more of them. This enables some opportunities for Apple to do tasteful in-app marketing. For instance, searching in iTunes or the Music app for music featuring Drake or Dre would show banners promoting their respective shows on Beats 1. In one tap, you could add a calendar reminder so you remember to tune in when they are on next.
Although this will help drive people to Beats 1, I got the idea from the Proactive suggestions. It is marketing but it isn’t really that intrusive or forced in your face. The Music app already includes ‘Related’ suggestions for other albums to buy — this is the same concept but applied to live radio. Naturally, Apple could include a settings toggle to disable the recommendations feature for people who don’t want it.
Finally, you can never beat having more content available for people to listen to. We did a poll a few weeks ago about new stations, and there is clearly demand for diversification into new areas like sports and news coverage … as well as people wanting more specialized music channels for certain genres. Although Beats 1 is advertised as a 24/7 station, it isn’t really true. The schedule is set up on a 12 hour basis, so for the other 12 hours it plays a recording of the last 12 hours.
This is frustrating for me, being based in the UK. If I listen in the afternoon and in the following morning, I am likely to hear the same shows repeated. Apple has done well in getting a huge roster of well-known talent on board with shows (including famous names like Elton John and Pharrell Williams) but they need to fulfil their promise of it being a truly ‘always-on’ station.
In summary, Beats 1 as a concept is great. I was skeptical back when Apple running a 7-day radio station was just a rumor. It was a pretty crazy move, but I think they’ve proven it’s a valid idea. It needs some work on the software side and the production side to make it really shine and motivate users to come back and listen on a regular basis. Let us know your thoughts about Beats 1 in the comments below …