What do you get when you cross Facebook with iTunes and Slingbox? A big fat trainwreck of an application, you'd have thought. So it's something of a surprise to see a company produce a different result to this equation: Phling, a "free" music streaming service for mobile phones, with social-networking elements built in.
Silly name aside, Phling's service is simple: An application sits on your desktop computer and creates a library of your MP3, AAC or WMA collection. A Java app then sits on your mobile phone (downloaded over the air) and lets you browse and stream your entire library over GPRS or 3G.
There's also a social-networking aspect of the service, which lets you share your collection with up to six friends (or strangers, should you agree). You can also stream an unlimited amount of music from other peoples' collections (again, as long as they agree to your request) and leave messages on other people's profiles. Simple, no? Record labels shouldn't complain, Phling claims, as the usage of digital audio in this way is legal under fair and private use regulations.
So how does it work? Phling is to strike deals with network operators across Europe to split the profit of data charges between the operator and Phling, promoting the idea that streaming music in this way can co-exist alongside operators' existing over-the-air music-download services. Such deals are already in place in Switzerland. Currently, before any deals are in place, users can stream as much as they like over GPRS or 3G, though they'll incur normal data charges as they do, unless they already have an.
In theory, this all sounds very appealing. We saw it in action last week on ahandset. Music was indeed streaming over the air from various libraries stationed in the US, and others in the UK. The quality, over 3G, was akin to a 64Kbps stereo MP3.
Back in our office, however, we ran into a hurdle immediately, when the installation software told us Windows Media Player 10 wasn't installed on our PC, despite WMP 11 sitting there quite happily. Still, we have seen it working, and in fairness, the software is still in its early stages.
In principle, the system will work on over 100 handsets, anywhere in the world. Just make sure you've got an unlimited data bundle before you hemorrhage your earnings on a gargantuan phone bill.