Near the end of the workday Friday, an office manager at a startup in San Francisco’s industrial Potrero Hill neighborhood scurried to grab a chilled bottle of sparkling wine. The company was commemorating its App Store approval: Beats Music, which launches Jan. 21 for $10 a month.

The streaming service from Beats Electronics, which came to dominate the premium headphone market after launching in 2006 (and reportedly raked in $1.4 billion in revenue last year), also marks Beats Music CEO Ian Rogers’s year at the company. Rogers joined last January to lead this $60 million streaming initiative, codenamedProject Daisy at the time. In the process, Beats acquired MOG, a well-reviewed service that struggled to gain a user base, for $14 million.

Hoping to replicate its headphones success in the streaming market, Beats is positioning its service–which will take on the likes of Spotify, Google, Apple, and others–as the one that understands users’ emotions, offering the best of human curation and computer algorithm. A deal struck with AT&T will also bundle the music service with the wireless provider’s monthly smartphone service. A $15 family plan will give up to five users separate streaming accounts.

“You want to feel that emotion that only music can make you feel, where it transports you to something else,” Rogers tells Fast Company. “We want to be of service, not just a server for the user.” He elaborates by talking about how other streaming companies make the mistake of viewing music through the lens of data. “Bob Dylan’s discography is his career, not just data,” he adds.

At launch, the company’s catalog will number 20 million titles, and Rogers maintains that it’s not saturated with “spam,” such as cover or karaoke versions. Instead, the company is focused on cleaning up its catalog (eg. so a remastered album shows the original year of its release) and also bringing in those pivotal albums from indie labels, which ordinarily would go the iTunes route, he says. Personalization and customization are woven deeply throughout the app. During the onboarding experience, users are asked to select genres and artists to gauge their music tastes. Other cues–including liking, disliking, and skipping songs, as well as following artists and playlists–help influence what music is presented to users.

At work are two components: an algorithm that understand user preferences and hand-crafted playlists that “are blessed by human beings.” As of Friday, there were 5,400 playlists created by an in-house team of 15 music editors as well as about 100 outside music experts, including music magazines such as Pitchfork, and Rogers says those numbers are growing. “The technology underneath helps that human touch scale,” Rogers says.

This is the case with the default home screen called Just For You, which surfaces album and playlist recommendations, as well as Right Now, which tailors music to users’ surroundings and mood. Almost like a mad lib, it asks users to fill in the blank: “I’m [at location] and feel like [activity] with [person/people] to [music genre].” Rogers says there are about a million combinations possible with Right Now, all of them curated playlists.

“When these guys showed me how this was being done, I was completely blown away,” Rogers says. “I love this feature. I think it exemplifies with Beats Music is–scaling curation. Here, you have these human-tuned, almost emotional settings for music, but they scale.”

Yet as proud as Rogers is, Beats Music is still a work in progress. The company admits it’s lacking social features, and what exists on the app is bare bones–largely centered around notifications and following users, artists, and playlists. Building out these social features will play a role in the company’s vision for curated music. Because as much as it relies on its so-called music experts, the focus is on surfacing music based on trusted sources, and they doesn’t always come from a magazine or podcast.

Vine Introduces Full Profiles On The Web And TV Mode For Full Screen Viewing

by  (@panzer)

Today, Twitter’s Vine has announced full web profiles for all of its users, something it has lacked until this point. It has also introduced a new TV Mode that lets you watch videos in full screen on your computer.

You can view videos, browse users’ back catalogue and interact with them on the web. This includes viewing your home feed, liking, commenting and sharing videos.

The profiles are roughly similar to those offered by other social services like Instagram, and should offer easier browsing of multiple Vines on the web. Previously, you could look at one video at a time but there was no way to jump from that video directly to a user’s other work on the web — but you could on the mobile app. This strikes us as a move made to support Vine creators — the segment of the app’s users that have made a craft out of the six-second clips.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 11.55.41 AM

Vine had announced plans to create web profiles late last year, and offered reservations for custom URLs ahead of the launch. They’re now rolling out to all users.

This is not a full version of Vine for the web, as you can’t record videos with your webcam, but it does offer an easier way to give people access to all of your published Vines.

The new TV Mode is quite enjoyable, though it plays through your videos one after another, rather than looping. Given that loops are one of the core creative tools of Vine, I’d love to see a toggle that let you loop a video until you were done watching it. But there are ‘back and forward’ buttons and keyboard arrows work for this as well.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 11.57.27 AM

More to follow…

full story:

Pandora for iOS gets an alarm clock for waking up to your favorite station and new design for iOS 7


Pandora today updated its iOS app with a new alarm clock feature and a design just for iOS 7. You can download the new version now directly from Apple’s App Store.

As you would expect, the alarm clock lets you wake up to your favorite Pandora music. When the alarm goes off, your music will begin to play with album art scrolling in the background, and you can choose to snooze, keep listening to your music, or turn off the alarm simply by tapping the song title or artist name.

pandora ios Pandora for iOS gets an alarm clock for waking up to your favorite station and new design for iOS 7

The snooze option can be set for 5, 10, 15, or 20-minute increments. When the snooze option is activated, your music will pause and the amount of time remaining will be displayed along with a progress bar counting down how many minutes you have left before the alarm goes off again.

The alarm clock complements Pandora’s recently-added feature for falling asleep to your favorite stations: the Sleep Timer. The company says both were top-requested additions by its users.

Here’s the full Pandora 5.1 for iOS changelog:

  • By popular demand, our new alarm clock lets you start your day with Pandora:
    • Pick one of your favorite stations to wake up to – if you like what you hear, you can keep the music playing.
    • Need a few extra minutes of shut eye? Hit snooze to catch more zzz’s.
    • Use with the sleep timer to listen to music you love morning and night.
  • Refreshed app design just for iOS 7.
  • Other small improvements and bug fixes to make your listening experience even better.

Pandora says it’s “busy working away on an Alarm Clock feature for Android as well.” Unfortunately, the company wouldn’t say when to expect its arrival.

See also – Pandora launches a tablet-optimized Android app for its Internet radio streaming service and Pandora founder fights back against RIAA, dispels artist royalty myths

Top Image Credit: khrawlings / Flickr

full story:!rfXEt

Computer Use May Improve Fine-Motor Skills In The Brain, Scientists Say

By  Posted: 12/26/2013 1:33 pm EST

A new study suggests using a computer hones fine-motor skills. | James Porter via Getty Images

Don’t worry about watching all those cat videos on the Internet. You’re not wasting time when you are at your computer—you’re honing your fine-motor skills. A study of people’s ability to translate training that involves clicking and twiddling a computer mouse reveals that the brain can apply that expertise to other fine-motor tasks requiring the hands.

We know that computers are altering the way that people think. For example, using the Internet changes the way that you remember information. But what about use of the computer itself? You probably got to this story by using a computer mouse, for example, and that is a bizarre task compared with the activities that we’ve encountered in our evolutionary history. You made tiny movements of your hand in a horizontal plane to cause tiny movements of a cursor in a completely disconnected vertical plane. But with daily practice—the average computer user makes more than 1000 mouse clicks per day—you have become such an expert that you don’t even think about this amazing feat of dexterity. Scientists would love to know if that practice affects other aspects of your brain’s control of your body.

The problem is finding people with no computer experience. So Konrad Kording, a psychologist at Northwestern University’s Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in Illinois, and his former postdoc Kunlin Wei, now at Peking University in Beijing, turned to migrant Chinese workers. The country’s vast population covers the whole socioeconomic spectrum, from elite computer hackers to agricultural laborers whose lifestyles have changed little over the past century. The country’s economic boom is bringing people in waves from the countryside to cities in search of employment.

A team led by Kording and Wei recruited three groups of people: Chinese migrant workers with no computer experience, workers who were matched by age and education but did have computer experience through a job, and a control group of college students who were computer proficient. All the subjects went through a 2-week training period during which they had to use a computer mouse to play games. (That included the classic game of “Pong” played for 2 hours per day.) The researchers ran each group through a battery of standard motor control tests before and after the training.

pong computer game
Training people to play the game of Pong with a computer mouse improved general hand motor skills.

The test that Kording and Wei were most interested in gauged generalizability. If you learn how to use a computer mouse, does that skill generalize to similar motor tasks? To measure the subjects’ ability to perform unfamiliar tasks, the researchers tested motor skills that involved no mouse at all, such as controlling the position of a finger when the hand is hidden beneath a cover. If expertise in using a computer mouse doesn’t generalize to other motor skills, migrant workers without previous computer experience should do far worse than the other two groups on these other tests.

Before the training period, migrant works who already had computer experience performed better than their computer-naive peers on all the tests. Individuals without computer experience found it far more difficult to make finely controlled adjustments of the hand, especially when the hand was hidden. But after just 2 weeks of training,migrant workers with no previous computer experience performed just as well as college students at using a computer mouse and applying that skill to other fine-motor hand skills, the team reports today in Current Biology.

“The results are surprising,” says Robert Scheidt, a biomechanical engineer at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who works with stroke victims. “Two weeks is not a long time at all” to gain a specific new motor skill, let alone boost a whole set of them. Until now, he says, the evidence has supported “narrow generalizability,” in which learning one motor skill translates to improvement only in nearly identical tasks. So for those helping rehabilitate people who have lost motor abilities, “this is exactly the result we wanted to see,” Scheidt says. The study lends support to computer-based methods for helping stroke patients to regain control of their limbs. And for healthy people who are trying to learn a new motor skill, it may be possible to accelerate learning through carefully designed computer games.

This story has been provided by AAAS, the non-profit science society, and its international journal, Science.

full story:


GTA Online starts pushing user-created missions, mobile updates arrive for San Andreas and Chinatown Wars

BY TIMOTHY J. SEPPALA  2 hours ago

Ready for a slew of Grand Theft Auto updates? We sure hope so. First up, developer Rockstar Games has put its stamp of approval on ten of the GTA Onlinecommunity’s million-plus custom-match submissions. Because these races and deathmatches — including a NASCAR-style circuit atop a skyscraper and a melee-weapon prison-yard fight — are now Rockstar Verified, they’re available on both PS3 and Xbox 360, regardless of which platform they originated from. If your magnum opus didn’t make the first cut, relax: The outfit says there’s more verified missions coming ahead of the multiplayer heists and single player DLC due next year.

If you fancy mobile mayhem however, GTA: San Andreas‘ Grove Street Familiesarrived on Android late last week. Check the reviews before clicking that buy button though, performance issues and glitches have been noted even on high-end flagships like the Galaxy S4. While San Andreas‘ appearance on Google’s mobile OS may have been tardy (and buggy), it’s still MIA on Windows Phone 8 despite the simultaneous release we were expecting. Last but not least, GTA: Chinatown Wars is back on iTunes, and now compatible with iOS 7 and your iPhone 4 or 4s’ Retina display — should you favor a Liberty City built specifically for mobile gameplay to SA’s ported faux-SoCal. We’ve reached out to Rockstar about the Android issues plus a timetable for our WP8 ride with Big Smoke, and will update this post if we hear back. Until then, happy car-jacking.

VIA: Joystiq

SOURCE: iTunesGoogle PlayRockstar Newswire (1)(2)

full story:

Music-Discovery Service ExFM Pulls the Plug


After a four-year-run, music startup ExFM is throwing in the towel.

The company, which operates a music-discovery website, as well as iPhone and Android apps, says it will shut down its apps, as well as the guts of its site, on Jan. 15. Hardcore users will still be able to access a bit of the service, via a Chrome browser extension; ExFm raised a reported $2.75 million from investors including Spark Capital.

Startups are hard, and music startups are much harder. And while there was a short window when digitally savvy music fans were quite interested in ExFM, the service was facing an uphill battle from the get-go: It started out as a Chrome extension, which limited its market to the relatively small group of people who knew what a Chrome extension was and how to use one.

Here’s ExFM’s summation of its problems:

After an amazing four years of sweat and tears, we’re ever-so-reluctantly accepting the reality of sustaining the Exfm platform as it exists today. The high costs of processing millions of new songs every month while attempting to keep that data relevant and useable is monumental. The technical challenges are compounded by the litigious nature of the music industry, which means every time we have any meaningful growth, it’s coupled with the immediate attention of the record labels in the form of takedowns and legal emails. Today, subscription services are gaining in popularity and enjoy the blessings of most major labels at a non trivial cost to those companies.

ExFM’s note to its users also insists that “this isn’t a full goodbye,” but there doesn’t seem to be any plan to keep the company going, either.

Back in 2010, when I interviewed ExFM co-founder Dan Kantor, I suggested that the most logical outcome for the company would be to sell to Google. At the time, he didn’t seem interested.

full story:

Over 70% of US households now have broadband Internet access, with cable powering over 50% of the market

By , 4 hours ago

Approximately 86.1 million US households at the end of the first half of 2013 had broadband Internet access, translating into a 70.2 percent penetration of all American households. That figure is expected to reach 71.3 percent at the end of the year, up from 69.6 percent in 2012.

The latest figures come from a new Broadband Media Intelligence report by IHS, which notes coverage is estimated to hit 74.1 percent of US households by 2017, or about 94.7 million homes in the country. Cable remains the dominant mode of access.

In fact, cable’s market share of broadband Internet access for US households exceeded 50 percent this year. Cable has been growing at an average of 600,000 new connections every quarter for the last two years.

Meanwhile, DSL, the second-ranked access technology, is on the decline. At the end of June 2013, the 31 million DSL connections, or 34 percent of the fixed broadband market, lost 258,000 lines. DSL has been shrinking by 0.3 percent each quarter for the last year-and-a-half: that’s not a huge rate, but it doesn’t look like the trend will be reversing anytime soon.

Comcast had the largest portion of the US broadband Internet pie at the end of the second quarter, with more than one-fifth market share. AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and CenturyLink rounded out the top five, which together commanded nearly 70 percent of the market (or more than 60 million US customers).

After all is said and done, 100 percent broadband penetration means nothing if the quality is subpar. While these numbers are okay, the reality is the US needs to catch up not just in availability, but in speed as well.

See also – NPD: US homes now hold over 500m Internet-connected devices with apps, at an average of 5.7 per household and Pew: 63% of US adult cell phone owners use their device to go online, for 21% it’s their main Internet device

Top Image Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

full story:!psnOG