Apple is taking a flying leap toward giving the iPhone 6 a killer feature or two by acquiring Beats by Dre, the speaker and headphone company founded by Dr Dre. Most tech pundits think the merger is all about the Beats streaming music service. Those pundits are wrong. While Apple has launched iTunes Radio as a way of putting its hand in the game with the likes of Pandora, Apple knows better than anyone that music subscription services lose money no matter how popular they get, and the only way to make money with digital music is to sell it, as it does dominantly with the iTunes Store. No, this Beats acquisition is all about the iPhone 6, in two fundamental ways.
One is that the earbuds that come with the iPhone 6 will shift from Apple’s standard EarPods to something more along the lines of the in-ear buds popularized thanks in part to Beats by Dre. Whether the stylized flat ribbon cables or stark red and black color schemes will survive the Apple makeover are another matter. But the iPhone 6 just went from coming with boring traditional earbuds no one cares about, to coming with serious earbuds that Android users can only get their hands on if they pay extra to buy them separately. But the more fundamental, if less flashy, change will be how the Beats by Dre speaker technology is incorporated directly into the iPhone 6 internal speakers. And for the first time, users will be tempted to use their phone’s built in speakers for more than phone calls or the occasional tinny sounding song.
The acquisition gives Apple other decisions to make. Does it keep the over-ear headphone lineup intact as it is, or does every Beats products get a Jon Ive Apple-ized makeover? And will Dr. Dre himself become a key person within Apple, or is he set to simply become a large shareholder who sits back and allows Tim Cook to make him wealthy? But for now, at least one thing is about to be settled once the deal is finalized: the iPhone 6 just got a whole lot cooler.