RIM’s rumoured BlackBerry music service was launched in open beta today, and a lot of the details are as speculated. For $4.99/month, you get to pick 50 songs to attach to your profile, which are then easily shared and tracked with your friends. You can add songs to your playlist from friends as they show up on your feed, or dig up your own music from the millions of tracks available. Oddly, you can’t see what your friends are listening to right at any given moment, which was the traditional link between BlackBerry Messenger and the native media player. Though there will be some interplay between BBM 6 and BBM Music, the two will actually be separate apps – even the native media player will be left out of the party, since all of this stuff will need some subscription authentication. If you’d like to permanently get your mitts on individual tracks to listen to on your computer or elsewhere, songs will have quick access to the Amazon MP3 store, or carrier music store as the case may be. Speaking of carriers, direct billing for the $4.99 subscription fee will be available with many of the same providers that provide the service for App World, so the fee is just folded in with your monthly wireless bill. BBM Music will also cache tracks on your phone after they’ve streamed once, so you can access them when outside of coverage, or you just want to save on wireless data fees.
One thing that irks me is that there won’t be any outbound social media links, so no easy way to tweet, share to Facebook, or Scrobble what you’re listening to on BBM music. I get that RIM wants to build their own, mobile-only social network, and that will involve a degree of exclusivity, but a lot more of my friends spend time off of a BlackBerry than on one, and of the few that use BBM actively, I’m not sure they’d be interested in shelling out $5/month just so they could tell me what they’re listening to.
Still, I’m cautiously optimistic about this service; RIM’s got partnerships nailed down with the big four publishers, they already have a pretty solid social network in shape, and their idea of this as the “evolution of the mixtape” is a unique proposition. Apple’s social music service, Ping never fared especially well, but I’m curious to see if BBM Music does any better. Obviously, finding friends with similar tastes will be trickier with that paywall in place. That said, I’m a little worried that RIM’s alienating traditionally close partners like Slacker Radio, which offer similar on-demand streaming mobile music, minus the social element, but for twice the cost.
In any case, the service should be hitting the BlackBerry Beta Zone at some point today, with notifications available from www.blackberry.com/bbmmusic. What do you guys think – can BlackBerry actually make a name for itself as a smart music player, or is Apple too heavily cemented in the space for them to make any real progress?