Apple is planning an early launch in Russia for its upcoming music streaming service, according to a report in Billboard--indicating that it is likely to see a large-scale global launch.
The Cupertino company is widely expected to relaunch its Beats Music streaming service later this year, after acquiring Beats in a high-profile $3 billion deal in early 2014.
The Dr. Dre-backed music company was best known for its headphones, but the real prize for Apple seems to have been its music streaming product--offering it an entry point into a rapidly-growing sector of the music industry.
Apple has historically dominated digital music via its iTunes store, but paid downloads are now in decline, and revenue from ad-supported music streaming is now greater than those from downloads for the first time.
Billboard now claims that Russia will be "among the first countries where Apple will launch its music service," basing its report on a story in the Russian-language paper Vedomosti. Russia has a rapidly growing streaming market--growing 214 percent over the last year--but also has significant economic difficulties. This suggests that if Apple has selected Russia as one of the first countries in which the service will be available, it will likely be a particularly large-scale global roll-out.
After all, in December 2014 Apple was forced to halt online sales in Russia altogether because of the instability of the Ruble, and bumped up prices in its app store by 100 percent in the country. (Sales have since recommenced.) And Apple CEO Tim Cook is openly gay, and the company has previously been criticised in Russia. The country has passed laws outlawing what it classes as the "promotion of homosexuality"--and a Russian politician slammed Apple's free giveaway of the new U2 album as "gay propaganda." A monument to Apple was also demolished in November 2014 after Tim Cook came out as gay, which the Guardian reports "was widely viewed as a direct response" to Cook's announcement.
For the moment, Apple is staying tight-lipped about what its streaming service will include. It enters an increasingly crowded market, with Spotify recently launching new video functionality, and Jay Z-owned service Tidal is trying to differentiate itself by offering ultra-high-quality audio.
Reports suggest that (unlike Spotify) it will be paid-subscription-only, but may offer free trials of up to three months to entice new users. And it is expected to have curated streams and playlists put together by high-profile artists, as well as content exclusive to the platform. It will also reportedly include some social elements, similar to Apple's now-discontinued music social network Ping.