Apple allows streaming music apps on to its App Store for iPhone and iPad, but digital music stores are given short shrift. That's the reason you won't find an Amazon MP3 store app for iPhone, unlike and BlackBerry. UK store 7digital has found another way on to iOS devices though: a new HTML5 mobile Web version.
We've been trying it out today, and while the mobile Web experience is by definition not quite as slick as the native iTunes and iPod apps, it has other advantages.
You access the store by pointing your Safari browser to m.7digital.com, although if you want to buy music, you'll need to have a credit card registered on the main 7digital website. The homepage lets you search for an artist, song or album, or browse the charts and the latest releases. The design is clean and clear, and you can play preview clips of songs, before deciding whether to buy them.
Buy? Yep. Every track and album has a clearly displayed price, and with a couple of taps it's yours -- having a card registered makes the process quick and easy.
What you can't do is download your purchases. There's a button provided to do this -- the HTML5 site isn't just for iOS devices -- but if you tap it, a message pops up saying, "Unfortunately, due to Apple's iPhone policy, it is not possible to download music files to your device other than through iTunes..."
This is where 7digital's locker feature kicks in. Whenever you buy from the store -- both online and on your phone -- the tracks are added to your locker, and made available for streaming whenever you're logged in from any compatible device.
We bought the James Blake album on our PC, and the new PJ Harvey album on our phone, and both were instantly available to stream on both the Web and mobile sites. Tracks in your locker can also be downloaded as DRM-free MP3 files on your computer later, meaning that you can buy from your iPhone or iPad, and then when you're next at your desktop, download the MP3s and sync them on to the device for playing in its native iPod app.
It's a neat system. Prices on the two stores are broadly comparable, so while you will find some £5 bargains on 7digital, we wouldn't claim that the main reason for using it is to save loads of money. It's more about the convenience of being able to access your locker across a bunch of devices, iOS and non-iOS. Not least if you might switch from iPhone to, say, BlackBerry or Android in the future.
You could argue that on-demand streaming services such as Spotify and We7 are more appealing than pure download stores like 7digital, especially as they let you cache playlists and albums on your iPhone. If you like to have choices when buying digital music, however, 7digital's new HTML5 store is well worth bookmarking on your phone.
The company has also launched updates for its Android and BlackBerry apps. Version 1.5 for Android now lets you play music stored on an SD card, scrobbles to Last.fm, has a new landscape mode for playback, and automatically resumes downloads if your connection drops. Meanwhile, the BlackBerry version has been updated to support the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and Bold 9780 handsets.