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Last.fm for iPhone Hands-Free Operation on 3GS

I love listening to music on my iPhone while I’m walking or driving around. I love that I can leave my iPhone in my pocket, and if someone calls, the music will fade out and stop playing, then I can click a button on my earbud wire, the call will answer, and when the caller hangs up, my music will automatically resume and fade back in. I can also hold down on the button on my earbuds, the music will fade out, a tone will signal me to give a voice command, I can tell my iPhone with my voice to call anyone, and just like an incoming call, the music will resume when I’m done.

That all happens with the iPhone’s built in music player (the actual iPod part of the device).

So what if I want to listen to some streaming radio, like the Last.fm app?

The problem with any app that isn’t the built in iPod is that it can’t run in the background, so if a call comes in, the app closes. I tried closing and reopening Last.fm to see if it would resume play, and it didn’t; instead it started by asking me what station I want to listen to. So how can I still benefit from all this hands-free goodness if I want to listen to streaming radio? I had assumed that I simply couldn’t, but I hadn’t tried. Today I tried, and I was surprised at what I found.

One thing that Last.fm has going for it is that whatever app gets closed during a phone call, gets reopened when the call is done. It also turns out that the only time Last.fm asks what station you want to listen to is when you close it by hitting the home button. If it closes by any other means, e.g. by a call coming in, then when it reopens, it does in fact resume playing whatever station you were listening to when it closed.

There are a few other benefits that the built in music player enjoys from the hands-free interface of the iPhone, like being able to tell the iPhone to play the next song, or selecting a playlist or artist. You can also start and stop the built-in iPod with the button on the earbuds. Other music apps don’t seem to be able to tie into these features. That aside, the bottom line is, if you want to enjoy all the benefits of music discovery and online social listening through Last.fm while shopping for milk and eggs or driving to the doctor, your iPhone never has to come out of your pocket while you’re doing it.

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