Apple Taps Rhap’s App*

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(*Sorry for that NY Post-style hed; I’ve been in NY all week.)

Apple just approved that Rhapsody app that everyone’s been so excited about. Now anyone with an iPhone or WiFI-connected iPod Touch can get virtually any music they want, streamed to them, wherever they are, whenever they want.

It’s the first time Apple has approved a music-on-demand application for the iPhone. I am so happy.

The service, which I’ve been testing on my iPhone for the last week, is $15 a month, or, as Rhapsody likes to say, costs about as much as a CD. (It’s free to download the app, which comes with a free 7-days-but-you-gotta-cough-up-a-credit-card-first trial.) While you might expect perfection for that kind of dough, the Rhapsody app still needs a bit of work. Its biggest problem is the music streams at a miserly 64K bps and sounds a little thin. A Rhapsody spokesman said the company is “hoping” to push it to 128K bps “later this year.”  Welp, that’s good enough for me: I’m going to upgrade my account so I can use it in the meantime…Yes, I have a music problem. I can’t help myself. And I hate these Rhapsody guys for exploiting my weakness. For years, I’ve subscribed to Rhapsody’s $12 a month service, which pipes music (at perfectly fine 128K bps) to my Sonos system at home. In fact, I would rather give up cable and never watch Battlestar Galactica  again, then part with Rhapsody’s “music dial tone.”

I actually thought that Apple might reject the Rhapsody app on the grounds that the subscription service is so competitive with the iTunes Music Store.  I haven’t purchased a song or CD for years.  But Apple, which is facing anti-trust scrutiny from the Feds for rejecting a potentially competitive Google voice app is clearly trying to behave.

Then again, perhaps they approved the app because they think the whole idea of a subscription service is a nonstarter. Americans aren’t like me; they overwhelmingly prefer to buy, rather than rent, music. Rhapsody has fewer than a million subscribers, after all, and it launched nearly eight years ago. Of course, IF the iPhone app takes off, all that could change. I guess if that happened, Apple could always enter the market with its own iTunes product and probably blow it out of the water.

But in the near term, satellite radio could take some, er, Sirius collateral damage. Thanks to my music problem, I also subscribe to satellite radio, but after using Rhapsody on the iPhone, I  will probably give that up (if the bit rate on the iPhone app really does double.) I had exactly zero problems with the Rhapsody app while driving around Northern California all week—I plugged my iPhone into my stereo system and listened to whatever I wanted. Which was mainly the complete works of Jimi Hendrix, especially some of the more obscure stuff. The music was buffered nicely and never so much as stuttered over days of use on AT&T’s plain, old EDGE cellular data network.

Another interesting side benefit of the service is you can download as much music as you want from Rhapsody to your MP3 player. (And in very high bit rates, too!) The catch, sadly, is that Apple will NOT allow you to download music from Rhapsody to its iPods—streaming only is permitted. So I’ve been using a 16 GB Go Gear Aria, from Rhapsody for that purpose. It’s an OK little device, though the on-off switch is a ghastly, gummy thing. An iPod Nano would be so much better. But that’ll never happen. Or… will it? Something has got to give here. I have a problem.