Streaming music service Rhapsody is claiming a first for the iPhone: It's the first to "let people enjoy subscription downloads on the iPhone." It's a score, for sure, but also a strong indication of the way you may consume mobile music in the future.
Rhapsody's delivering the new functionality as part of a normal software update via the App Store, and the system couldn't be simpler: If you're a Rhapsody subscriber, you'll be able to listen to your playlists even when you're not online. Essentially, the app will grab a copy of the music for each track on a playlist, and then dump it in a secure folder on your iPhone.
The move is a clear indication that Rhapsody means business, and it's designed to fend off the coming advances of other streaming music competition like Spotify and MOG. (In Europe, Spotify already allows iPhone users to cache up to 3,333 songs for 30 days for offline playback.) The new Rhapsody service will be welcomed by users for the increased convenience it offers, and it establishes Rhapsody as an early leader in this market. The company's even promising that by June you'll not only be able to cache playlist tracks on your phone, but also individual tracks you like or even albums.
For a long while there have been recurring rumors that iTunes will at some point opt for a subscription model, and also, separately, include some sort of streaming tech to access your iTunes archive from some sort of cloud server. Apple itself seemed to be making moves in this sort of advanced content management in the run up to the iPad launch, courting movie and TV content makers to try to arrange low, fixed-price access to TV shows and video content on the iPad. It'd be foolish to assume that part of this system didn't involve streaming access to the shows--mainly because it's a more secure way of giving users access to shows, and may be difficult to pirate, as a result. So is Rhapsody's maneuver a way to preempt Apple? Or is it even more tactical than this, and it's a subtle (ish) way for the company to redress itself as an acquisition target?