Rhapsody is a dinosaur. The recently emancipated (disenfranchised?) and price-cut child of Real Networks, Rhapsody has been around for a long time. Since they’ve started, dedicated Mp3 players have rapidly become less important, as smartphones – all-in-one convergence devices – have found their way into more hands. The mobile revolution has also brought stiff competition in the music subscription space. From bargain basement offerings like grooveshark with it’s $3.00 a month subscription, to upstarts like Rdio and Mog. Let’s not forget about Spotify, the once and future king of subscription services that is almost/any day now/never coming to the U.S. At the other end of the spectrum are the custom radio sites like Slacker and Pandora. Finally, let’s not forget that Rhapsody is also competing with Zune on both the subscription and store sides, and Amazon and iTunes.
But this article is about why Rhapsody still beats them all. So let’s get to it.
First, let me qualify something. I have tried, and subscribed to all of these services. I have owned/still own a Zune and an ipod touch, tested the beta of Rdio, signed up for a month of Mog, used grooveshark extensively on the Palm Pre and evo, and even figured out a way to play with Spotify in the U.S. (thank you proxy servers). So, lest anyone think I’m just a rabid Rhapsody fanboy… I’ve tried really hard to replace Rhapsody, because what it gets wrong, it gets so mind-shatteringly wrong that my choice has frequently come down to “run away” or cry in the corner. The failings are for another post though. I’m going to talk about what Rhapsody does right.
One word – convergence. Rhapsody takes the best features of all of the streaming services and bakes it together in a delicious treat. Start with an all-you-can eat subscription service at $9.99 a month (or a “family plan” letting you hook up 3 mobile devices for 14.99). Add to that the ability to not only stream those songs, but also to download them for offline listening (currently available on the ipod touch/iphone, coming soon for Android, and available for any number of dedicated mp3 players). The ability to download trumps some of the services right there, but not all. In addition, Rhapsody stores your library in the cloud, so if you’re home at a pc, browse on the website – find albums you like – add them to your library, then on your mobile it will be there ready for you to play. The library is intuitive and persistent throughout. You can also make your playlists online or on your pc and they’ll also be available on your device. In addition to your playlists, you can load up playlists designed by editors, artists sharing their “celebrity picks,” dynamic playlists based on your criteria, or based on your listening activity, or user playlists. It’s pretty deep, and more than enough options to discover new music. If the playlist browsing isn’t enough, Rhapsody also has a sophisticated “Radio” system, similar to Slacker. The edited channels cover all of the major genres you’d expect, and you can listen to channels based on any available artist as well. You can also create custom channels based on any number of artists (but it looks like this needs to be done from the desktop, to be used on desktop and mobile).
Each of Rhapsody’s major competitors brings something to the table, but only Rhapsody offers the entire feature set, with the flexibility to download your tracks and listen on your choice of device, whether it is the iphone, an Android device, or some cheap Sanza player that you found at Wal-Mart. Now they just need to get offline listening finished on Android, make the desktop player less buggy, and improve the streaming sound quality on mobile.