Six Streaming Music Apps for the iPhone: Free Choice, But at What Price?

by Reads (110,621)

Just about everyone likes music, but your list of favorite tunes is pretty much unique to you. An ever-evolving breed of streaming music services for iPhones and other devices is now allowing more freedom of choice over what you hear, although not necessarily free of monetary charge. In this roundup, we’ll drill down into six music services you might want to try (it you’re not already listening to all of them): iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Slacker Radio, Last.fm, and Rhapsody.

MusicMusic can transport us. It can make us happy or sad, anxious or excited. It communicates to us on a very deep level. Traditionally, though, we haven’t gotten much choice over which music is beamed at us.

While we’ve always been able to flip the dials on our radios. broadcast radio playlists have been outside of our control. TV commercials have long used music. The same goes for television shows and movies. Again, though, viewers have been locked into pre-selected tunes. Buying CDs is another option, of course, yet you might find yourself paying a ton of money for a CD which only has one or two tracks that you really enjoy hearing.

Music streaming services can fill a big need for freedom of choice. Some let you listen to 30-second clips of a song before deciding whether you want to buy that particular track. Others let you search for particular tracks. Another common feature is the ability to create ?stations? based on a single song or artist. From there, continuing selections are shaped by whether not you like the next song presented. Over a number of tracks, the services tries to give you songs in the same style as those tracks that you’ve indicated you like.

Many streaming music services are available as both free and paid subscription memberships, although the relative benefits of paid subscriptions vary from service to service.

For mobile users in particular, pricing can be a major gotcha. While the mobile apps themselves are free, you’ll often (although not always) find that you need a paid subscription if you want to use the service with mobile devices.

Beyond the Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X PC support provided by most, you can find iPhone apps for any of these music services. Earlier this month, Spotify released an edition of its iOS app which adds optimization for iPads. For all of the services in this roundup, except iTunes, Android OS apps are also available. Some services also support other mobile platforms, such as BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and WebOS, for instance.

Many streaming music services integrate with Facebook, Twitter, and/or other social networks, letting you share your playlists with friends and import playlists created by other users.

Don’t expect, though, that your listening experience will necessarily be smooth sailing all the way. In Apple’s App Store, users have pointed to a variety of glitches in various apps. App updates which include bug fixes can be frequent.

Before you put on your earbuds or headphones, let’s take a look.

iTunesiTunes

If you’re already familiar with Apple’s iTunes, you know that it can serve as your main music player, a streaming Internet radio system, or a way to listen to and/or purchase songs through the music store.

Available for Windows and Mac as well as iOS mobile devices, iTunes makes it easy to share your playlists across multiple devices. You can also use the Genius feature to generate playlists based on similarities in the songs you hear.

The iOS app itself is free. Apple, however, generates revenue when you purchase music tracks or albums from the iTunes store. (You can listen to 30-second music clips for free. If you want the full track, however, you’ll need to buy it.)

Apple is now earning money, too, from an iCloud service called iTunes Match. Priced at $24.99 per year, iTunes Match gives you access to your music library stored in the cloud. You can then share the library across up to ten computers and iOS devices.

PandoraPandora

Next to iTunes, Pandora — one of the very first Internet radio stations — is probably the best known of the streaming music services. Pandora offers both a free version and Pandora One, which costs $36 a year.

Yet one thing that’s great about Pandora is that you don’t need to subscribe to the paid service in order to download apps and listen to music on mobile devices. Pandora offers apps not just for iOS but for Android, RIM BlackBerry phones, and WebOS. The iOS app currently supports only iPhone and iPod touch.

The free version is supported by advertising, both video and audio, though I didn’t find this particularly intrusive. Initially, the free version came with a 40-hour monthly which was raised last year to 320 hours. If you exceed the 320-hour cap, you might be charged, although few listeners actually reach it.

The paid subscription eliminates both the cap and the ads. It also lets you listen for up to five hours without any interruptions — and it supplies you with higher quality audio.

I’ve found Pandora to be pretty good at creating stations with tracks that actually do follow the specific artists that interest me most. For example, starting with Kenny Wayne Shepard, Pandora asked for another artist I liked. When I entered Gov’t Mule, it picked blues player Walter Trout (who?s already on all of my playlists) for my next track.

SpotifySpotify

Spotify first hit U.S. shores last year, but it?s been a popular service in much of Europe for a long time.

Spotify offers not just one or two but three levels of service. Specifically, the costs are free, $4.99 a month, and $9.99 per month. Going for either of the paid subscriptions cuts out the advertising.

However, only the $9.99 per month Premium subscription lets you actually listen to music on iPhones and other mobile devices. (You can do so either online or offline.) Spotify also allows Premium subscribers to create playlists and share songs with others. You can listen to genre radio stations — and if you hear a track you like, you can simply drag it over to one of your playlists.

In contrast, without a Premium membership, you can’t do much more from a mobile gadget than search the listings.

Spotify, though, is now offering free trials of the Premium service, good for 30 days.

Within Spotify’s database of more than 15 million tracks, chances are you?ll find what you want — although as with all of the services we’ve tried, Spotify?s search feature occasionally fails to turn up tracks.

(Each streaming music service contracts for the rights to offer music tracks, and not all services license all artists, albums, or tracks. There are, in fact, a fair number of artists or groups that just don?t want to make themselves — or particular tracks of theirs — available through any of these services.)

Spotify is currently accessible from Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Telia Digital-TV, and mobile devices running iOS (iPod/iPhone/iPad); Android OS; BlackBerry (in limited beta release); Windows Mobile; Windows Phone; S60 (Symbian); WebOS; MeeGo; Squeezebox; Boxee; Sonos, and WD TV.

Part 2 covers Slacker Radio, Last.fm, and Rhapsody as we continue our round-up of great iPhone streaming music apps.



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