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Grooveshark comes to iPhone

The long-awaited Grooveshark app for iPhone gives you unlimited on-demand music for only three bucks a month--less than one-third the price of the competition.

It's been more than a year (!) since I first tested an early alpha version of the Grooveshark app for iPhone, and now the company has finally jumped through the necessary hoops to get it into the App Store.

Grooveshark's Web site has for several years offered on-demand streaming of just about any song in existence, and it remains one of my favorite destinations. The iPhone app is also free, and it gives you a 30-day free trial, after which you'll have to sign up for a VIP subscription. Still, that subscription costs only $3 a month or $30 a year. That's less than a third of the monthly fee you'll pay to competitors like MOG, Rhapsody, Thumbplay, and Rdio (which just launched last week.)

Grooveshark for iPhone
Here's a song you don't hear every day: "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" performed by the Chocolate Watch Band, streaming to my iPhone via Grooveshark's new app. Screenshot

The app is dated August 5, but Grooveshark began publicizing it on Wednesday, following the company's legal settlement with Merlin, which handles digital distribution for small labels such as Beggars Group and Rough Trade. Grooveshark has previously settled a lawsuit with EMI, but it still faces one from Universal Music.

In my past conversations with Grooveshark, the company has claimed that users post all content to the site, after which it tries to work out any necessary licensing deals with content owners. This has never seemed like a legally airtight strategy to me, but the company has managed to survive for several years and release regular updates and improvements, so it's not like it's sitting around waiting for the axe to fall. Neither should you--if you have an iPhone and love music, there's no better way to see the power of a subscription service.

I downloaded the app and have been checking it out for the last hour or so, and they seem to have fixed the search engine, although it still displays results in an annoyingly random order, and the user interface bugs are gone. It compares favorably on a feature-to-feature basis with other subscription services on iPhone, with features like queuing (so you can add a search result to your current playlist) and a radio function that picks songs similar to the currently playing selection so you don't have to do the work of building your own.

The only place where it doesn't quite stack up is song selection. On one hand, because content is posted by users, it's got songs that don't always show up on other subscription services--full complements of Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, obscure gems by Roy Harper, various one-hit wonders of the 1960s, and even a few clandestine Beatles songs. At the same time, there are occasional gaps: only one song from Pink Floyd's "Animals" album showed up, for instance.

But you don't have to take my word for it: the Grooveshark iPhone app is a free download, the 30-day trial is free, and it doesn't require a credit card.