Rhapsody, the online streaming music service, just launched its iPhone and iPod touch app (iTunes link). While there had been some discussion about whether Apple would actually allow this 'iTunes competitor' on the iPhone, the approval process looks to have been relatively smooth for Rhapsody. The app feels very similar to Apple's own iPod app. From within the app, you can search Rhapsody's library of 8 million tracks, surf genres, create playlists, or find new music released this week. Overall, we came away quite impressed after testing the app out for a while, though the $14.99/month subscription fee (after a free 7-day trial) will surely keep some potential users away.
In our tests, the app was very responsive though we should point out that it also crashed a few times during our tests this morning. Songs generally started to play after just a few seconds, though your mileage may vary depending on your local network.
Rhapsody has all the features you would probably want from a streaming music app. Browsing by genres, charts, or simply searching for artists and specific tracks is easy and fast. Once you have found something you like, you can also easily add it to your 'library' so that you can find it quickly at a later point. Rhapsody also offers radio stations based on genres or artists, similar to what the Slacker Radio and Pandora apps offer on the iPhone.
One thing we especially like about the app is how easy it is to manage and create playlists. While this feature is somewhat hidden - you have to keep pressing the name of a song or album for a second or two for the right menu to pop up - it does give you the ability to create a library of songs you like and to manage playlists.
We are not quite sure at what rate Rhapsody is actually streaming this music to the iPhone, but at least over Wi-Fi and the AT&T 3G network, the sound quality is quite good.
Rhapsody vs. Spotify
In the US, Rhapsody is currently the only game in town when it comes to on-demand music streaming. Unlike Spotify, Rhapsody doesn't offer an offline mode, thanks to the arcane licensing restrictions the music industry still favors, and is only available in a select number of markets in Europe at this point. Maybe later versions will feature this ability - especially given that Apple has now allowed the Spotify app into the App Store.
Once Spotify launches in the US App Store, however, Rhapsody will come under a lot of pressure, especially if Rhapsody doesn't offer offline storage at that point. Currently, Rhapsody does offer more songs (8 million vs. 4.5 million) and the prices are similar (9.99 vs. $15).
Signing up for the free 7-day trial is easy and doesn't require a credit card, so if you are on the fence about trying Rhapsody out, just install the app and follow the instructions from the home screen. Apple just pointed out that it doesn't believe in music subscriptions during its annual iPod event yesterday, but depending on your listening habits, a $14.99 subscription per month might actually turn out to be a pretty good deal.