N95 Chronicles: Real Rhapsody (almost) Rocks

Steve Jobs in an interview with Reuters following Apple’s first quarter earnings call dismissed his company’s plans to offer a subscription music service, even though record labels have been putting pressure on Apple to launch a competitive offering to Rhapsody and Napster.

“Never say never, but customers don’t seem to be interested in it…The subscription model has failed so far…People want to own their music.”

Jobs’ position on subscription music notwithstanding, I have a new found appreciation for Real’s Rhapsody to go service, thanks to their efforts to extend their service to non-PC devices.

Some of the non-PC devices Rhapsody currently supports include Sonos Music System, Nokia N95 phone and the Nokia N800 Internet tablet. That might not be enough but it is a start, and if Real can get developer support for its “music everywhere” strategy, they have a fighting chance of becoming a solid #2 in the digital music business.

I say solid #2 because, Apple has pretty much won the download-and-own music game, and it is difficult to switch over, especially for someone like me who spends close to $100 a month buying music and baseball videos from the iTunes store.

The situation is not unlike the PC business, where Apple is the preferred option to Windows. Apple’s user experience is superior, and that’s precisely what Real should be going for – convenience and excellent user experience – especially on devices like mobile phones. (Blackberry 8800 should be next on their list, now that it can handle large capacity MicroSD cards.)

Is Real close to offering a compelling user experience? Not even close! Yet, there is a value proposition, that might appeal to some.

As part of my Nokia N95 review, I signed up for Real Rhapsody To Go service. The sign-up was the easy part, but trying to navigate the Rhapsody desktop software wasn’t as easy – I guess mostly because my brain has been programmed to use the iTunes store. There are quite a few options that are seriously confusing.

One of the challenges of using the Rhapsody to Go service was authorizing devices. Despite right clicking on the N95 as the software prompted me to, I found it nearly impossible to do so. A simple pop-up saying: “Do you want to add this N95 to your authorized device list?” would have been a much simpler solution. There are other usability challenges, which might prevent this service from becoming mainstream. It is a cumbersome process, and not as smooth (and simple) as iPod.

In fact, I am not alone in thinking along these lines. Ricky Cadden, a Symbian Guru of sorts, writes, “Syncing of music needs to improve, plain and simple, and capacity needs to improve as well.”

That said, once you are set-up, the service works flawlessly. I created a playlist of about 500 songs – mostly ChillOut music – and hit transfer and went to the Starbucks Office for an espresso, smoke and just some contemplation. I came back to find the music loaded into the phone, ready to rock. A great pair of headphones, such as Clear Harmony Noise Canceling Headphones from Able Planet, or Shure’s SE530 Sound Isolating Earphones is all you need to be-bop on your phone.
I probably will remain a Rhapsody subscriber – It’s cheap enough – using their music subscription service as a way to defray some of the music spending. (A statistical analysis shows that I listen to about 12% of the songs purchased on an ongoing basis, which means there is about 88% inefficiency in my buying behavior, which can be replaced by listen before buy strategy. Money saved is of course going to be spent on movie downloads.??But Real needs to get real about Rhapsody. It needs to make it simple, and easier to use than the iTunes experience. Not easy, but not impossible, especially if they are betting the farm on Rhapsody everywhere.??Read: Darla Mack’s How-to get N95 and Rhapsody playing nice with each other.
Read: The Reuters Report