Real Rhapsody’s iPhone App
Release Date:September 9, 2009
Summary:Instantaneous access to 8 million songs and your playlists through an iPhone app that can use a lot of refinement.
I have a confession to make. I do not have a single song in the iPod app on my iPhone. About four years ago when I heard of a service called Rhapsody offered by Real Networks (Nasdaq: RNWK) I decided to stop buying CDs and downloading songs for the privilege of listening to a library of over 1 million songs for about $10 a month. That library has now expanded to over 8 millions songs covering almost all the mainstream artists from Bob Dylan to Coldplay with a few notable exceptions like The Beatles.
Despite a desktop client that sometimes crashed and sometimes would not connect I retained my Rhapsody service for the convenience of being able to access my playlists and saved artists from multiple machines, from a browser and also from an MP3 player with the Rhapsody To Go service, a privilege that costs an additional $2 per month beyond the base plan of $12.99.
However after I started using personally tailored radio service Pandora and waxed eloquent about Pandora’s free iPhone app, I realized that my Rhapsody usage had declined considerably and I was able to fulfill my craving to listen to specific songs through YouTube playlists. I even considered signing up for lala.com, a website that allows you purchase songs for as little as 10 cents per song with the caveat that you can only listen to them online.
The last nail in Rhapsody’s coffin was struck when the latest update to their desktop client made my numerous playlists built over the years vanish into this air. Frustrated with this experience, I decided to end my long-term love/hate relationship with Rhapsody and cancel the service. I learnt that while you can sign up for the service online, you had to call to cancel the service. In the few days that elapsed between my decision to cancel the service and making the call, I heard that Real Networks was planning on releasing a free iPhone app.
The decision to wait a few days and try out the iPhone app saved Real Networks a subscriber as the Rhapsody iPhone app has now become the app I use the most on my iPhone. By no means does this mean that it is my favorite app (the AOL Daily Finance iPhone app still holds that spot) as the app leaves a lot to be desired. However this is a really good first effort and for some odd reason I can access my playlists from the iPhone app even if I can’t from the latest version of their desktop client.
Getting to the specifics of the app, you can use the My Library, Browse and Search icons at the bottom of the app to find a song, album or previously created playlist and add them to the “Queue”. The Rhapsody iPhone app then plays music from the queue when you select a song from it. You can edit the queue by deleting songs from it, changing the order in which they are played (a shuffle mode would have been nice), clear out the entire queue or save the queue as a new playlist.
The Browse function also allows you explore and listen to new music; check out staff picks from the Rhapsody team, browse by genres and view charts. There is precious little to fiddle with in the settings tab.
- The reason I use the Rhapsody app constantly is the immediate access to music and the near limitless supply of new music.
- It is nice to see that the app by default opens to the queue so that you can start playing music immediately.
- The app seems to load faster than Pandora and the sound quality is very good.
- I have been able to play music both from the iPhone app and my computer simultaneously. In contrast if you try to use the desktop client or the web client on two computers simultaneously, one user will get kicked out.
Areas That Could Use Improvement:
- Allow users to play songs directly from their playlists instead of making them go through the additional step of adding the playlist to the queue.
- Retain history about what the user was listening to when they quit the app or receive a phone call. In contrast the Pandora iPhone app pauses your music and lets you continue where you left off after a short break. With Rhapsody you have to pick the song once again from the queue and listen to it from the beginning again.
- Allow users to download the songs onto their iPhone even if it is on a temporary basis in a fashion similar to the way Rhapsody To Go works with SanDisk Sansa MP3 players. This would eliminate the need to stay constantly connected to AT&T’s network or Wi-Fi and would allow people to listen to music in Airplane Mode, in areas with spotty AT&T service (the dead zone on US 101 next to South San Francisco comes to mind) and would free up precious bandwidth in AT&T’s already saturated cellular network.
- If temporary downloads are not possible fix your buffering system. At this point when an iPhone cannot find the network for a few seconds while listening to a song, it looks like the song continues playing on the Rhapsody server and the listener misses those seconds when the song starts playing on their end again. If the network outage is more than a few seconds, the song starts from the beginning. Neither approach makes for a pleasant listening experience and reminds me of early Discmans that would skip a few seconds when used in a car or while jogging.
- The app crashes from time to time but thankfully it does not commit the cardinal sin of making the iPhone crash like earlier versions of the game Blowfish were prone to do.
- The app is slow to respond when browsing for new music or playlists, albums or songs from the library.
If Rhapsody can fix some of these issues, the iPhone app has the potential of reducing churn amongst existing Rhapsody subscribers who are thinking about jumping ship (those Napster Unlimited plans look very attractive at close to half the cost of Rhapsody) and potentially generate new interest in the service from music lovers like me who are not interested in purchasing individual songs or albums nor managing large music libraries.