By Harry McCracken | Monday, April 26, 2010 at 3:32 am
Rhapsody’s new iPhone/iPod Touch version with offline listening is live in Apple’s App Store. I’ve been giving it a whirl, and the new features are pretty darn straightforward–and overall, they do a good job of filling in a major hole in the original iPhone edition of the music service. It’s the first music service for the iPhone that offers both streaming and downloading. (For U.S. users, at least–in Europe, Spotify has has both. And maybe Apple will see fit to unleash the wonderful unreleased LaLa app it now owns in some form someday.)
As before, whenever you’ve got a 3G or Wi-Fi connection you can search for albums and artists, pull up playlists (including ones you created on a PC or Mac), and stream an unlimited quantity of music from Rhapsody’s millions of tracks. But now your playlists have a Download button–tap it, and all the songs in that list get downloaded so you can listen to them when you don’t have an Internet connection (or have one that can be spotty, which is often the case when you’re driving).
Once you’ve downloaded tracks, they’re available for local listening; downloading can go on in the background while you’re listening to Rhapsody music (but it stops, of course, if you leave the app altogether).
Minor quibble for album fans: As far as I can tell, there’s no way to simply download an album on demand. Instead, you need to add all its tracks to your queue, then create a playlist from the queue, name it, and download it. It’s only a minor annoyance, but I wish that the iPhone app, like Rhapsody’s Web-based version, filled in the name of the album as the playlist’s title.
Along with Rhapsody’s recent introduction of a $10-a-month plan, offline capabilities make the service worth a look again, even if you’ve considered subscription music in the past and rejected the notion: You could fill your iPhone or Touch to the brim with music for what you’d pay for ten or so songs a month on iTunes. (Of course, the usual gotcha applies–if you cancel your Rhapsody account, the music all goes away–but the app has built-in iTunes buying for anything you want own rather than rent.
(The $10 plan, by the way, covers unlimited listening on computers, but only includes music downloads for one mobile device–a $15 version permits downloads to three devices, and might be the one you want if you own, say, both an iPhone and an iPad.)
The last Rhapsody shoe should drop this summer, when Apple releases iPhone OS 4–an upgrade that should permit Rhapsody to build a version that can both play music in the background and continue on downloading music even when the app isn’t active. The company says it’s also working on a true iPad app and on an Android one with downloads as well as streaming.
Once Rhapsody has downloads and multitasking on iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android, the major limitations that have perennially hobbled it as a mobile music option compared to iPod/iTunes will be largely neutralized. Owners of these mobile devices will get to choose between owning a little music or paying the same price for subscription access to a vast supply of it. And it’ll be fascinating to see if subscriptions look more appealing to more people than they have to date.
Assuming you’re not already a Rhapsody subscriber, are you any more intrigued than you have been?