LONDON -- Apple has made its music streaming service available in its second-biggest market, China, for the first time, offering free three-month trials.
Apple said customers in what's fast becoming the most important market for the world's most valuable company would be able to access Apple Music, iTunes and iBooks as of Wednesday.
“For the first time, customers in China will have access to Apple’s entertainment ecosystem, with music, movies and books right at their fingertips,” Apple said in a statement.
Customers in China will be able to get the same three-month trial Apple has offered to customers in other markets. Following the trial, customers will have to pay 10 yuan ($1.57) a month, which is a fraction of the $10 monthly subscription U.S. customers have to pay. Films on iTunes will start at 5 yuan for a HD rental and 18 yuan to buy a new release.
"Customers in China love the App Store and have made it our largest market in the world for app downloads," said Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. "One of the top requests has been more great content."
The launch in China is happening on the same day many people will see their three-month trial come to an end, with Apple sending emails to urge them to subscribe rather than cancel. Apple said it signed up 11 million subscribers in just five weeks, but that includes those who signed up for the free trial, and that number is likely to drop significantly once the trial ends.
Apple said in August that just 21 percent of users would not continue to use the service after the free trial ran out, but independent research from MusicWatch puts that figure at almost 50 percent.
Apple Music's main rival, Spotify, currently has 75 million users, 20 million of whom are paying subscribers.
The challenges Apple faces in China include tweaking the content on Apple Music to Chinese tastes as well as replacing the content portals Chinese users already use on their iPhones and iPads. There is also a significant portion of the market that is used to illegally download music and movies for free, despite the seemingly low price of under $1.60 a month.
"People definitely buy Apple's phones and tablets, but it's not such a big brand in media," Sandy Shen, a Gartner analyst, told CNBC. "People already have local services installed on their Apple devices. Unless they have exclusive content craved by local users, it will be difficult to establish [the service] in such a crowded market."