Friday, September 11, 2009

Introducing Rhapsody on the iPhone (and other music options)

In the states, I have a Rhapsody To Go subscription for $14.99/mo.

Rhapsody is an unlimited online streaming music service that allows you to select any song or album to play on your computer or approved mobile device. I previously owned a Samsung Blackjack II and could copy any song from Rhapsody to my Blackjack II for offline playing. I had to re-license the songs by syncing with my computer once a month while connected to my online Rhapsody account through the Rhapsody player.

When I switched to the iPhone before my trip to Paris (primarily due to its wi-fi capabaility on the mistaken assumption that Paris was all wi-fi -- topic for another post), my biggest concern was no Rhapsody app. Therefore my Rhapsody collection of albums could only be played on my computer, not my mobile device. (A second issue with iPhone, which hopefully will be remedied soon, is lack of MMS - multimedia messaging - support.)

However, much to my pleasant surprise, I received an email from Rhapsody yesterday indicating that their iPhone app has been approved! This is the first time Apple has allowed an on-demand streaming program on its devices in the United States.

So these are the mobile music options for iPhone/iPod users as I see it for an American in Europe.

1. iTunes - Purchase the songs and download them to your PC and mobile device. Only requires an internet connection to purchase and download, not play, as the song are resident on the device. This is the best but most expensive option because you must buy everything you listen to but you don't need to be connected to the internet to play.

2. Pandora - Streaming internet radio. The application and music are free for up to 40 hours per month on both your PC and mobile device, although you will have to tolerate ads. A $36 annual subscription removes the ads and the time limitation. Pandora does not play the songs you select but instead plays "channels" based on artists you say you like or based on pre-selected genres. You must be connected to the internet to use Pandora and it only works in the United States. However, as I described in an earlier post, you can get around this by purchasing a mobile VPN subscription from Secure Tunnel for $5.95/mo. This routes your European internet connection through a US Server so that it appears that you are in the US. I use it and it works perfectly.

3. Rhapsody To Go - streaming library of music. This is like iTunes except that you do not purchase the music or download it to your device. You stream your selections which requires an internet connection which means you cannot play your music off-line. This makes it different than Rhapsody To Go for non-Apple devices such as the Blackjack II I used to own. However, it is Rhapsody's intent to have an update out by the end of the year that will let you cache tracks for later off-line playback. So, for $14.99 monthly fee and you can play unlimited music from their vast library and create your own library and playlists but you have to be online. Also, while they hope to migrate the service to Europe, it currently only works in the US. However, the same trick I use with Pandora appears to work here -- using a VPN service based in the US. (My guess, however, it that this will only work if you have a US account with iTunes; non-US iTunes accounts will not be able to download the App from Apple and use a US VPN service to get around the US-only restriction. I base this guess on my experience with Spotify... see next comment.)

4. Spotify - The same model as Rhapsody To Go but only available in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, France and Spain. It has the added advantage of allowing caching of 3,333 songs (why 3,333?) for off-line playing, something Rhapsody does not yet offer but is obviously a big plus. A blog reader referred me to this service but I discovered I could not download the app because I am a US iTunes customer. I tried changing my country in my iTunes profile to France but Apple is apparently too smart for that trick and probably uses my credit card for country identification. So while this initially appeared an attractive option, unless I figured out a way to create an iTunes account in one of the approved countries (and I think it would require a bank account in Europe!), this option won't work and would be too much of a hassle anyway. A European traveler in the US could probably use this service in the US by obtaining a European VPN service, essentially the same strategy I am using for Pandora and Rhapsody while in France.

So for now, if you want to play your music off-line, your only option appears to be purchasing songs from iTunes, something I am not willing to do, having become accustomed to unlimited music monthly from Rhapsody.

Rhapsody will now be my online streaming music source although I like Pandora a lot if I just want to play a music I like without having to worry about making selections.

Does anyone else know of any other options?

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