Both sides could be right. Here's why.
MusicWatch surveys only consumers the United States. Apple's figure covers all 100 markets in which Apple Music is available. The original statement given to The Verge was not specific, but an Apple spokesperson told Billboard its figure is global.
One explanation might be U.S. users have already switched back to another streaming service. MusicWatch says "very few" Apple Music users say the service has caused them to stop using other streaming services. It's entirely plausible that some Apple Music users were curious interlopers willing to register for a free trial in order to experience a new service. Indeed, MusicWatch says 28 percent of Spotify Premium customers also use Apple Music (and 11 percent of free Spotify users).
Apple Music could simply be stickier outside the U.S. -- it's available in 100 markets -- than in the U.S. Consumers in other countries may not enjoy some music streaming options available in the U.S. In addition, subscription services are relatively new in many markets. Apple Music arrived in the U.S. four years after Spotify but competitors probably have less brand awareness in many other markets.
T-Mobile Adds Apple Music to 'Music Freedom'
So how many people have used Apple Music? How many will Apple retain? MusicWatch provides some insight. It says 11 percent of iOS users in the U.S., or roughly 8.6 million people, are currently using Apple Music. But MusicWatch's Russ Crupnick points out people always share streaming service accounts at a rate of 1.2 or 1.4 (the average number of users per account). This means there are fewer account holders than streaming service users. A sharing rate of 1.4 corresponds with about 6.2 million current Apple Music users.
Continuing the calculations, MusicWatch also says 52 percent of all Apple Music users are currently using the service. Again using a sharing rate of 1.4, there are about 11.8 million people in the U.S. have ever used Apple Music.
Now compare MusicWatch's numbers, the only number Apple has given for Apple Music registered users -- 11 million, released August 6. The numbers can be reconciled. For starters, Apple's figure covers all markets, not just the U.S. And it's possible millions of iOS users have tried Apple Music without registering, perhaps to listen to Beats 1 or simply browse around.
The burning question is how many Apple Music users will remain past the end of their three-month trials. MusicWatch's survey found that 61 percent had already turned off the auto-renewal option but 64 percent of current users say they are very likely or extremely likely to subscribe. Based on the numbers above, that would mean 3.9 million of current Apple Music users will become subscribers when the free trial ends. (The global number would naturally be higher.) If that happens, Apple Music would have quickly become a top-three subscription service (behind Spotify and Deezer) and could quickly reach number two.