Rhapsody iPhone App: Will Apple Change Its Tune?

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What will RealNetworks have to do to convince Apple that a Rhapsody app for iPhone is a good idea? RealNetworks this week submitted a request to Apple, but given Apple's well-documented stinginess about approving certain apps (especially apps that might threaten the iPhone's "distinctive user experience," as Apple suggested of Google Voice) winning that approval might not be the slam-dunk RealNetworks executives were hoping for.

The Rhapsody music service allows users unlimited streaming of music over Wi-Fi, 3G and Edge networks -- essentially an on-demand radio station for $14.99 a month. According to a RealNetworks blog post announcing the planned iPhone app, the Rhapsody app would operate in much the same way, with the proposed benefit for Apple being a link to Apple's iTunes store if a user wants to purchase a particular song.

Under the structure described by RealNetworks, current subscribers will be required to have a Rhapsody-to-Go account to access the app, and new subscribers will be allowed a free trial period with the service.

RealNetworks might have a tough time convincing Apple that Rhapsody doesn't represent iTunes competition, however. If users are already paying a flat fee per month, will they want to plunk down another 99 cents to buy that song just to own a permanent copy? Apple may want to hear more from RealNetworks about how Rhapsody is complementing the iTunes store instead of eating away at its business.

Apple and RealNetworks don't have the coziest, cuddliest history, either. RealNetworks in 2004 started offering free software, the Helix digital rights manager, to get around Apple's proprietary copy protection and enable other protected music to be played on an iPod.

Then again, the hubbub over Google Voice could be what helps Rhapsody get at least a toe into the App Store doorway. Thanks to the heat on Apple from a curious Federal Communications Commission over why it rejected Google Voice, Apple wouldn't be doing itself any favors by appearing tight-fisted -- an Apple-and-Apple-only App Store gatekeeper rejecting anything that even hints at competition.

Rest assured plenty of app developers with streaming music and mobile devices on the brain are watching this decision as a bellwether.

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