Apple Music will dominate with the power of the preinstalled app

Apple's current Notes and Maps apps aren't as good as their competitors, yet they're used far more. Why? Because they're there.

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Credit: Apple

Apple Music enters a streaming-music market that’s full of tough competition, from market leader Spotify to longtime stalwart Rhapsody to international player Deezer. And yet Apple Music has a single, huge advantage that makes it a most formidable competitor: It’ll be standard issue on just about every iPhone in use.

Just as incumbency is a powerful force in politics, being preloaded on every device is a huge advantage for apps. Preloaded apps are one tap away, meaning users tend to try them before even considering an alternative. It’s a long way to go from trying an app, finding it wanting in specific ways, considering that there might be alternatives, launching the App Store app, searching with appropriate terms, sifting through the search results, and downloading or buying a replacement.

Popularity contest

Last week at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple leaked a couple of tiny bits of information that emphasize this point. According to Apple’s Craig Federighi, the built-in iOS Notes app—never a darling of tech observers given its limited feature set and curious commitment to paper textures—is used regularly by about half of iPhone users.

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It’s there. It’s free to try. They already have your credit card number. Who isn’t going to give it a whirl?

Half of iPhone users use Notes, and use it regularly. It doesn’t matter that it’s mediocre or that there are dozens of better options, because it’s on the device and does a good enough job at what it’s designed to do–namely, be a place where you can jot down the number of the space you parked in or an idea for a plot twist in that novel you keep promising yourself you’ll write.

Then there’s the case of Apple Maps. Hey, remember when Apple switched away from Google’s map data and started using its own? Remember how everyone was simply furious that Apple’s map quality wasn’t up to the same standard as Google’s? Even Apple admitted it, though the company has worked hard for years now to improve its data sources. Still, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t admit that the entire transition was a debacle, and I still hear from people who can’t believe anyone uses Apple’s Maps app instead of Google Maps.

Guess what? According to Federighi on stage at WWDC, Apple Maps is used 3.5 times more often than the next most popular mapping app on iOS, with more than 5 billion requests per week. Google Maps is known and loved, Apple’s mapping data is derided, but…the proof is in the usage. The stock Maps app wins, and by a wide margin.

Simply irresistible

These statements make me wonder about the future prospects of Apple Music–and, for that matter, the new News app. Will Apple Music be as good as Spotify? I don’t know, though I’ve been using Beats Music this last year and liking it a lot. Even if Apple Music is a good service, though, it’s got to compete against an entrenched competitor with millions of subscribers.

Except Apple’s going to put access to its streaming service on every iOS device. And what’s more, Apple’s going to give everyone a three-month trial to explore what it feels like to have hundreds of thousands of music tracks available to you with a couple of taps. It doesn’t necessarily follow that Apple is going to demolish Spotify and its ilk, but if Apple Maps can end up with 3.5 times the users as Google Maps, it’s not unreasonable to guess that Apple Music might end up being the dominant subscription music service on iOS.

(It’ll be a tougher road on Android, but the fact that Apple Music will be available on Android is a sign of the company’s larger ambitions here.)

Then there’s the insidious nature of services that make your life more convenient. It might be tough for Apple to make Spotify users to switch to Apple Music, but what about the millions of people who haven’t ever tried a music subscription service before? They’ll have access to a streaming library, many for the first time, and some percentage of them will find that it’s not an extravagance after all. Instead, they’ll come to find it essential–and when the trial period ends, they’ll be there to give Apple a little bit more of their money. (This is how Amazon Prime got me, by the way.)

So is Apple Music a surefire hit? Absolutely not. But if you listened closely to the WWDC keynote last week, it was clear that Apple is well aware of the power it wields by choosing what software is built in to every one of its devices, apps that are ever-present and undeleteable. Couple that with a summer-long free trial, and I sure wouldn’t bet against it.

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