The iPhone can’t compare to the iPod when it comes to storing all your music, but imeem’s new streaming music app could change that by turning the smartphone into a quasi-iPod. How? By letting paid users store 80 GB of music on its servers.
The iPhone represents an evolutionary leap forward in the mobile platform, having liberated the cellphone (mostly) from wireless carriers that used to have total control over which mobile apps you could run.
But from the point of view of music storage, the iPhone is a big step back. The most capacious iPod holds up to 120GB of music on a hard drive. Meanwhile, the iPhone’s flash drive offers a maximum of 16GB, typically split between music, videos, games, apps and other data — a sacrifice made by Apple in order to maximize device longevity and battery life.
Imeem hopes to overcome this shortcoming with its iPhone app, which lets users store music on the company’s servers and stream it to the iPhone wherever there’s a Wi-Fi or AT&T wireless connection (although songs take a while to load over Edge). You can store up to 100 songs for free. Or, for $100 a year, imeem will store 80GB of your music and stream it to your iPhone.
Cloud-based storage is now cheaper than flash memory — not that the iPhone has an expansion slot for adding more memory anyway. For the serious music fan, who tends to carry an MP3 player in addition to a phone, the idea of paying for online music storage could start to look pretty attractive even at nearly $10 per month.
If you’d rather not pay imeem for this, the app could be worth a free install anyway for 100-song music locker and Pandora-like interactive radio service. Here’s how it works.
Once you create an account, you get access to a personalized music channel, which makes more sense if you already listen to music on imeem, as well as various featured stations:
But we prefer the artist stations, which give you more control. Search for an artist station (screenshot on the left, below). Once it’s playing, you can favorite any currently-playing song or artist to shape your profile, choose to buy songs from iTunes, and skip up to six songs per hour. Here, I searched for The Fall; seconds later, I was listening to one of their best tracks:
Imeem’s music locker service lets you upload up to 100 songs for free into a clean interface you can browse by artist or song:
Imeem’s “recommended music” channel chose Stereolab’s “Lo Boob Oscillator” for me at one point. Having lost the CD version years ago, I tried to buy it through imeem’s iTunes link. Although the store stocks the track, imeem’s app couldn’t find it, because whoever uploaded it used a janky title:
Other times, imeem’s iTunes purchasing mechanism worked just fine, and this is only a minor hiccup. You can always just search for the song in iTunes. It would be nice, though, if imeem were able to add purchased music directly into your MyMusic account.
It’s convenient as can be. But do storage lockers like this constitute another form of DRM?
Former MP3.com founder and current CEO of competing online storage locker MP3Tunes Michael Robertson brings up an interesting point about Lala, which also applies to imeem in this context. Once you upload your music into either imeem or Lala (which is also readying an iPhone app), you can’t download the songs again.
Robertson likened the approach to that of a roach motel. As for the labels, they surely love the idea of people shifting their massive MP3 collections into trackable services that require monthly service fees.
To me, at this point, it’s not a huge issue. I’m not using imeem or Lala as my primary music storage location, which is what Robertson envisions people doing with MP3Tunes. I have all this music in DRM-free form on my RAID-backed-up desktop computer anyway, so it’s not a deal-breaker that imeem doesn’t let me use its music streaming services as a storage back-up.
Nevertheless, more people would be willing to pay for imeem if it offered the ability to download tracks to devices. If cloud-based listening is going to become our main way of accessing our music, it will need that level of freedom. For now, it’s a side dish worth ordering.
By Eliot Van Buskirk | May 14, 2009