Last.fm: My new favorite iPhone app

Jan 31, 2010
Music

If there is a type of iPhone app that could be considered my favorite, it would easily be those that stream music or radio. When I work, I listen to music. It keeps me relaxed and focused; but if there’s a drawback, it’s that I listen to so much music that I crave variety. Look […]

If there is a type of iPhone app that could be considered my favorite, it would easily be those that stream music or radio. When I work, I listen to music. It keeps me relaxed and focused; but if there’s a drawback, it’s that I listen to so much music that I crave variety.

Look no further than your iPhone to find that variety — and I don’t mean the library of songs stored on the iPod part of the iPhone. I have the following streaming music and radio apps on my iPhone: Wunder Radio, Slacker, Pandora, KCRW Radio, FlyCast, AOL Radio, Shoutcast, iheartradio, Daytrotter, Wilco and, as of last week, Last.fm.

I’ve listened to all of them, and while I love to tune in radio stations from Ireland or Spain — Wunder Radio — or hone in to stations I can seed with my musical tastes — Pandora and Slacker — I haven’t found a streaming service as thoroughly interesting to me as Last.fm. (Kudos to you if you know what the .fm stands for without asking Google.)

Last.fm combines the greatness of Pandora and Slacker — it helps you find similar artists based on the musical tastes you enter — but it adds an element neither include: it can read your iTunes library to make more informed selections. I’m not talking about the partial library of songs you keep on your iPhone, but the entire catalog of music you keep stored on your computer’s iTunes library.

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Like the Amazon Kindle app, which marks the last page you read on the Kindle or the iPhone app version so it doesn’t matter which e-reader you pick up next, Last.fm syncs with your computer to create a listening experience based on what you own — plus what it thinks you will like. Last.fm doesn’t actually put music files on your iPhone, but when you download the piece of software into your computer to set the service up — it takes seconds — it reads those music files and stores them on a server somewhere tied to your account. Last.fm calls this “scrobbling” and it uses all the music files it collects from its users to make more informed choices.

For example, I love the Shins. But instead of playing the version of “So Says I” found in my library, it played a really great live version I’ve never heard.

As for music discovery, Last.fm keeps things very fresh. Just create a station based on an artist you’re interested in and it will play songs from that artist and those it deems similar. Again, this approach compares favorably to what Pandora and Slacker do, but I’ve found Last.fm’s suggestions to be more interesting. I’ve been listening to a lot of good music I’ve never heard before.

Also, Last.fm is avaiable for Andoid-based phones, but I haven’t tried it yet. I downloaded the app into the Motorola Droid — so all my music and all those new discoveries await.

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Eric Benderoff

Eric Benderoff is the principal of BendableMedia.com, an editorial services firm, and a founding member of the Appolicious content strategy team. His personal technology column for the Chicago Tribune has appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide. He is a regular guest on Chicago's WGN Radio and is a frequent commentator about consumer technology on national TV news programs.

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