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Apple gets into the Android app business with Beats

The acquisition of Beats Music gives Apple a foothold into the music streaming market. Cupertino may have led the way with iTunes, but iTunes Radio was late to the music streaming party. Apple only jumped in after Spotify, Google, and others proved that there is a real demand for a monthly subscription music service. Now, Beats Music presents a chance for Cupertino to restore the balance. To sweeten the deal, Beats comes with the bonus of new hardware, a relatively sexy brand and apps on two competing platforms.

The main question on many people’s minds is this: Will Apple keep the Beats Music app on Android and Windows Phone? Well, now we know.

“It’s on Android now, and we want to keep it that way.”

There it is, straight from the horse’s mouth, or more accurately the mouth of Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior VP of Internet Software and Services, during a speech at the Code Conference. But why is Apple keeping the Android and Windows Phone apps alive, you might ask.

Crossing the platform divide

There are many compelling reasons why Apple finally decided to spend some of its gold on an eye-catching purchase like Beats, but the deal has garnered plenty of criticism as well. Still, one of the most important implications of the purchase may have just flown under the radar. Apple is now the proud owner of Beats Music apps on Android and Windows Phone devices.

In the immediate aftermath of Apple’s $3 billion Beats acquisition, few would have raised an eyebrow if the apps on rival platforms quietly disappeared, but they’re still there – for now.

In the past, Apple moved quickly to shut down the Android versions of the apps it purchased. It eliminated the app discovery service Chomp in 2012 for that very reason. But then, Apple is in the habit of shuttering everything it buys and folding it into the ecosystem, like it did with Lala back in 2010. However, it looks as though Beats could be the exception to the rule.

And the Beats go on

Streaming music is a numbers game and Apple needs every subscriber it can get if it really expects Beats Music to compete with the likes of Spotify, which is now home to more than 10 million paying subscribers. It’s a tough space for Beats to break into and apparently the numbers have not been impressive so far. Cutting Android out wouldn’t help Apple turn that around, but that’s not the only reason why Apple is keeping the Android version of Beats around.

Beats_Android_screenshot

“Keeping [Beats] on Android is similar to when Apple launched iTunes for Windows,” suggested Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin, in an interview with Tom’s Guide. “If you think about what iTunes meant to them in terms of selling iPods, it made sense to be on Windows. With the billion-plus Android users, some of which are in smaller markets, using a service from Apple leads to a long-term line of thinking.”

Apple isn’t a complete stranger to the charms of a cross-platform service. If you’re going to be pragmatic about it, then it certainly makes sense to keep supporting the Android and Windows Phone apps, but even if Apple does keep them, there’s no guarantee it will actively develop them. The apps may be allowed to wither slowly away. As Eddy Cue also claimed at the Code Conference, “Everything is better on iOS,” and with Beats, Apple can make sure that’s true.

The times they are a-changin’

“We put iTunes on Windows in order to sell more iPods,” Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson. “But I don’t see the advantage of putting our own music app on Android, except to make Android users happy. And I don’t want to make Android users happy.”

We’ll never know what Jobs would have made of this deal, but Apple is moving beyond WWSJD thinking. There is actually a good reason to keep Beats Music on Android and it’s not to make Android users happy.

Bajarin expanded on his longer term thinking idea on his Techpinions blog suggesting that, “Much great research exists that points out that once a customer tries one of your products they strongly consider more in the future. What is Apple’s halo product for billions of mid-low end Android users that could sway them into the Apple ecosystem? Perhaps Beats Music, or even the headphones, are a step in that direction.”

The grass is greener

When Cook was asked about porting an iOS app to Android at D11 last year he said, “”We have no religious issue with doing that. If we thought it made sense for us to do that, we would do that.”

The interviewer was talking about iCloud, but you could apply the same logic to iMessage or other Apple apps. Putting out a version on Android could potentially tempt users to switch to Apple, but it’s a fine line to walk because you don’t want to give away the crown jewels, in terms of what makes the iOS experience good. Beats could be a chance for Apple to dip a toe in the water and see if it’s warm. There are parallels here with Microsoft’s hope that a cheap Nokia Android device with an inferior Windows Phone-like experience might encourage owners to upgrade to full-fat Windows Phone.

wwdc-2014-tim-cook

Could a good experience with Apple-owned Beats bring people into the church of Apple? Cook certainly spent plenty of time criticizing Android in his WWDC 2014 keynote, claiming that the 50 percent of new iPhone owners in China switched from Android because “they wanted a better experience.” Let’s be honest, though, it probably had something to do with the fresh availability of the iPhone through China Mobile.

The point is still important. If there’s a natural progression from a budget phone, which is probably going to be an Android because Apple doesn’t do budget, to a premium phone, then Apple needs to get better at tempting Android users to jump ship. Beats Music could be the gateway drug it’s looking for.