It may be operating in a legal grey area, but Grooveshark is still my favorite on-demand music app--type in any song, artist, or album, and there's a pretty good chance that it's in Grooveshark's database, allowing you to begin playing it immediately. It's great not only for impulse listens, but also for creating playlists of songs you don't own and would never buy, like my favorite heavy metal hits from junior high school. So far, the lawsuit filed by EMI in May hasn't shut the site down or significantly decreased the number of songs available, so I'm holding out hope that they can reach a licensing deal.
This week, Grooveshark announced plans to submit an iPhone app to Apple's App Store. They sent me a version to test, and I'm pleased to report that it offers the same on-demand functionality--play any song you want, right now--as well as the ability for registered users to create and save playlists. But it's far from perfect, especially compared with the Web site.
Most notably: both over my home Wi-Fi connection and AT&T's 3G network, new songs or playlists sometimes stuttered a few times as they started playing. Search results are harder to filter on the iPhone, since you can't divide results into albums, songs, and artists, and the results aren't organized as intelligently. For instance, a search for "Pink Floyd Dogs" turned up many instances of the atrocious "Dogs of War" from the band's 1980s incarnation, but not the song "Dogs" from their classic 1977 "Animals" album. I had no such problem on the Web site. And some songs appear in search results and can be added to your playlist, but when you actually try to play them, you're presented with a "not available" error (probably a legacy of the company's legal tussles).
I also uncovered a couple of bugs or feature gaps with the playlist function. For instance, sometimes from the playlist menu, the buttons at the bottom of the app disappear, and you can't get back to the search screen (for example, to add a new song to your playlist) without exiting the app entirely. No fun.
All this is academic unless Apple decides to accept the app. Here, Grooveshark is in the same boat as Spotify, whose plans to build an iPhone app I covered last week. Like Spotify, Grooveshark will charge a monthly fee for using the mobile version of the service, but hasn't decided on pricing yet. So now Apple has to decide: is it better to please iPhone users by giving them low-cost access to any song on demand, or is it better to preserve iTunes for music downloads? I have a feeling that iTunes is not going to be sacrificed. In fact, if Apple wanted to offer subscription-based on-demand streaming music for iPhone, it would probably deliver it through iTunes and collect the subscription fees itself.
That's OK with Grooveshark: the company says it's planning to release apps for other mobile platforms as well.
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