By Harry McCracken | Friday, December 4, 2009 at 4:32 pm
Rumor on the Internet today has it that Apple is in “advanced ” talks to buy one of my favorite music services, Lala. Even if the conversation is real, it doesn’t mean it’ll amount to anything. But anyone who’s ever used Lala can grasp why Steve Jobs & Co. might be tempted to make it their own.
The company has an oddball history that includes a period as a CD-swapping service and a foray into radio, but for over a year, it’s focused on pretty much being what iTunes might be if it were an entirely Web-based service. You can buy streaming-only songs for a dime apiece, but the first listen to any song is free. Like the late, lamented original MP3.com, Lala replicates your music collection on its servers so you can listen to it anywhere–but Lala does so much more easily…and it does so legally. It wraps everything up in a user interface that looks like iTunes’ browser-based twin brother, and adds hooks to services such as Facebook and Google.
After much delay, the company recently finished work on a new product that would make its ties to Apple even closer: an iPhone app that brings most of the Web-based service to Apple’s smartphone. Lala has submitted it to Apple but it’s not yet approved for App Store distribution. However, it gave me a prerelease copy for review, and it’s as spectacular as the Web version–all of a sudden, the iPhone’s relatively skimpy memory isn’t nearly as much of an issue, since you can stream all the music you’ve got in iTunes on a PC or Mac to your phone. You can also listen to and buy songs from Lala’s 8-million song store. It’s all surprisingly fast for a streaming service, and it even caches recent music you’ve listened to so you’re not completely out of luck if you don’t have an Internet connection.
I’m fond of multiple iPhone music apps (Slacker is one favorite), but Lala is the most interesting one to date.
So why, specifically, might Apple want to snag Lala? Cnet’s Greg Sandoval gives two reasons: Lala founder Bill Nguyen is a smart entrepreneur (true) and Lala’s billing system might save Apple a ton of cash (possibly true, but profoundly tedious). I’d love to think that Apple might merge all of Lala’s goodness into iTunes itself, creating a seamless experience across Mac, PC, iPhone, and iPod. But I’m also concerned that if the service itself isn’t what has Apple excited, it might just go away. (It may be the first iPhone music app that’s good enough that it could cut into sales of songs on iTunes.)
After the jump, some screen shots of Lala for iPhone in action. One way or another, I hope you get to try it soon…