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Sony Music Unlimited to expand offline listening to iOS

Sony's online music service for Apple devices will soon look more like its competitors' services -- and its own Android app -- by allowing downloads, as well as offering high-quality streaming sound.

Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Sony's online music service soon will make its iPhone app look much more like its competitors' apps -- and its own Android offering.

The subscription service's app for the iPhone and iPod Touch will join its Android counterpart in allowing downloads for offline listening plus offering high-quality streaming sound in an upcoming update that coincides with a discounted membership rate.

The field of players in online streaming music is crowded, and offline-listening features are already available from the likes of Spotify, Slacker, and Rdio with paid subscriptions.

Sony's updated app is awaiting Apple approval before going live.

Those with iOS devices will be able to download albums, tracks, and playlists to listen to without a connection or to save on battery or data usage. The files aren't permanently stored on the device, but are available indefinitely without interruption as long as users continue to subscribe and connect once every month or so. The version 1.3 update also has the option for high-fidelity audio while streaming.

Sony Music Unlimited has two tiers of service. A premium level works out to about $10 a month for use on all devices -- and roughly matches the cost of most other online music options. A less-expensive option allows only for listening on a PC or a PlayStation, at about half the price.

Sony is running a special for a limited time that cuts the price of the premium subscription that iOS users -- and any mobile device user -- need to run the Music Unlimited app.

Members of PlayStation Plus, a video game service for the Sony console, can get a year-long Music Unlimited premium subscription to $41.99, or about $3.50 a month. That brings the price below Slacker's low-end subscription allowing offline listening -- though PS Plus members are already paying about $50 a year for the gaming service.

Those without PS Plus can still get a $59.99 special rate for a year, or about half off.

But with a bevy of competitors, Sony Music Unlimited acknowledges price is only part of the equation.

"The issue is not getting people to pay for stuff, it's getting people to pay attention to stuff," Anu Kirk, the director of music services for Sony Network Entertainment, told CNET.