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HomePipe music streaming works but isn't pretty

HomePipe, a service that lets you access files on your computer remotely via your iPhone or Android phone, adds music streaming from computer to phone.

In the wake of Google's acquisition and temporary burial of Simplify, Seattle-based HomePipe has launched a similar free service that lets users stream their full iTunes library over the air to their iPhone or Android phone.

Music playback in HomePipe's iPhone app. This is the album "You Are Free" by Cat Power, but it's hard to tell--there's no album art or information shown in the app. Screenshot by Matt Rosoff/CNET

HomePipe launched in March with a new take on remote computer access. While consumer services such as LogMeIn or corporate technologies like Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services offer full keyboard-video-mouse, or KVM, access to your computer, HomePipe reasoned that mobile-phone users mainly want their data--for example, to show pictures or read documents locked away on a home PC.

On Thursday, HomePipe updated its service and the associated iPhone and Android clients to support music streaming from a user's home computer. To get set up, you have to create an account on HomePipe's site, then download a small agent that runs on your computer, and exposes certain files and folders for remote access.

I tested it on the Windows XP PC that contains my music library, and the results were mixed. The install took almost no time, but the agent exposed only the "My Documents" folder associated with the account I was logged into (you can add other folders manually).

Unfortunately, I have most of my important documents in the different "Shared Documents" folder so I can easily access them from multiple computers on my home network. HomePipe also has some mislabeling issues--it called "My Documents" by my full computer's name, giving me the mistaken impression that it was actually offering access to my whole computer's file system. (HomePipe also works on the Mac, and may offer a smoother experience with that platform, but I didn't test it there.)

Once you have HomePipe sharing set up on your computer, you'll need to download and install the free iPhone or Android app. (There's also a premium version of the iPhone app that costs $2.99 and doesn't have in-app advertisements--otherwise, it's identical to the free version.)

I tried the iPhone version, and indeed, I was able to stream every song on my PC, over the Internet, to my phone, with only a short buffering delay before songs started playing. But the experience is clunky: you have to navigate through your PC's file tree to access albums or individual songs, and the HomePipe app shows songs only in a particular file folder--usually a single album. You can shuffle the order of those songs, but there's no way to create playlists, play iTunes playlists, or shuffle all songs on your computer. There's also no album art or information about the song other than the file name. If you're used to iTunes, it'll leave you scratching your head.

HomePipe boasts that it's the first company to offer this type of computer-to-phone music streaming for Android. But Google is building Simplicity's functionality into Android, and Melodeo--another Seattle company--is promising an update to its Nutsie app to bring iTunes streaming to Android phones.

As far as the iPhone goes, I don't know what Steve Jobs is planning to announce on Monday, but I wouldn't be surprised if Apple uses technology acquired from Lala to offer a very similar type of service.

HomePipe is pretty convenient for using your phone to access documents and other information stored on your home PC. Music, for now, seems like more of an afterthought.