With Apple not leaking a whisper of evidence as to whether it plans to bring any sort of music subscription service to iTunes, iPhone and iPod Touch owners have had to rely on third-party apps to fulfill their dreams of unlimited, on-demand tunes. However, there has been one big caveat: the available services relied solely on streaming, which means mobile Touch users and airborne (or underground) iPhone users were out of luck. Until now.
Rhapsody's iPhone and iPod Touch app is fresh out of beta, and version 2.0 of the software comes with at least one key advantage over the competitors: It's the first major music service to cache music on the device for offline playback. The capability is limited in that it only lets you save playlists, not individual songs, albums, or artists. However, it's a big step forward for those who prefer an all-you-can-eat approach to an a la carte model, which has become even less financially appealing with many popular songs selling for $1.29 apiece.
Of course, playlist caching is only part of the story for Rhapsody 2.0. Another compelling point is the services updated pricing scheme that likely will be more appealing to a wider range of mobile users. You can select between two subscription types: Rhapsody Premier, which costs $10 per month and can be used with one mobile device; or Rhapsody Premier Plus, which adds two additional devices for an extra $5 per month--a great option for housemates or families with multiple devices. Better yet, not all of them need to be the same, so you can feasibly have an iPhone, a Nexus One, and a BlackBerry Curve all under one plan. (Nonwireless players such as the Sansa Clip+ and Sony Walkman are also included in the new plans, though you must use the desktop client for music transferring.)
I put the updated Rhapsody app to the test on my iPod Touch. Those who've used the beta and liked the interface will be happy to know that it hasn't really changed. If your device is connected via Wi-Fi or 3G, there are five main menu options. You can view your queue and save it as a playlist, if you so desire. There's also My Library, where your Rhapsody music collection is sorted into the usual suspects (artist, album, playlist, and so on). The playlist page provides download arrows next to each selection that lets you cache whichever ones you want. You can also browse editor-maintained content, as well as search for specific music. It's all pretty standard and very easy to navigate, and the plentiful album art makes the interface visually-pleasing as well.
What's interesting is that Rhapsody provides a different, more limited interface for offline use and distinguishes the two even further with color (online is blue and offline is orange). In this mode, you are limited to viewing and navigating your queue and accessing saved playlists. I did experience a couple of glitches in this mode, including an initial error message that indicated offline playback was not actually available (apparently a leftover bug that Rhapsody is working on), a song with playback glitches, and a playlist that stopped playback at the end of each track. Still, despite these minor annoyances, which I am confident Rhapsody will address, it's definitely cool to have subscription music on the iPod Touch while on-the-go.
Now, this isn't quite the same as what Slacker has been promising since CES earlier this year, as Rhapsody is more of a "build your own" destination for music, but it does clearly indicate that Apple has approved device caching--a big step in the right direction. The Rhapsody 2.0 app is free and available now, and if you don't already subscribe to the service, you can try it out for 14 days at no cost.