Online music’s hot trend: Offline music

Listening to online music or Internet radio on a smartphone is great until your 3G connection drops and the beat stops. Slacker Radio is the latest service to devise a workaround.

According to CNet, Slacker has submitted for review a version of its iPhone app that includes offline caching. This allows listeners to store up to five stations, so there’s no need for an Internet connection when listening. It’s not clear whether or when Apple will approve the update, but I’m optimistic given that Rhapsody’s offline feature was given the thumbs up.

Online music's hot trend: Offline music

Slacker’s offline radio service would require a premium subscription, which costs $5 per month or $48 as an annual rate. Rhapsody, which lets users access 8 million songs on-demand for as long as they have a subscription, costs $10 per month. The other mobile music service that has jumped into offline caching is Spotify, which isn’t yet available in the United States and costs 10 Euros per month.

The offline feature is a great lure for these nascent music services, which need to convert a certain number of users to paid subscriptions in order to sustain themselves. For my money I’d rather subscribe to a service that offers on-demand tracks rather than a serendipitous mix of music, but as you can see with Spotify and Rhapsody, there’s a price premium for that.

Still, there is one thing that’s troubling about the rush to offline caching: Eventually, it may not be necessary. I subscribe to the belief that fast Internet access will some day become ubiquitous, so a service’s ability to function offline won’t be a concern. When that happens, online music services will need a new lure.