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…

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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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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Firefox gets support for VP9, Google’s next-generation open video codec


summary: Firefox’s nightly version got support for Google’s VP9 video codec a few days ago, Firefox Aurora users will be able to use the codec later this week.

Firefox has started to roll out support for VP9, Google’s next-generation video codec that aims to compete with H.265 and enable 4K video streaming. Firefox developers added VP9 video decoding capabilities to Firefox nightly builds late last week, which means that users of these bleeding-edge versions can already watch VP9 video with the browser.

However, Firefox nightly is meant to be only used by “extremely technical early adopters,” because things are still being tested and can and will break. VP9 support is going to be added to the “Aurora” (think: alpha) version of Firefox later this week, then to Firefox beta in February. The stable version of Firefox, which is distributed to regular end users, is finally going to get VP9 support on March 18 of 2014, according to Mozilla’s release schedule.

VP9 is the next version of Google’s open video codec, and it’s the first version that the company developed entirely in-house after it acquired the video codec specialist On2 in 2009. Google released On2’s VP8 codec under a royalty-free license in 2010, in part to make it the default codec for real-time video communication on the web. But efforts to make VP8 part of the WebRTC standard have failed, and Mozilla has in fact agreed to also implement H.264 through a collaboration with Cisco.

However, Mozilla also started to develop its own next-generation video codec dubbed Daala, and recently hired founder and open media codec veteran Monty Montgomery to work on these efforts. Daala is expected to be ready for end-user applications by the end of 2015.

PS4 And Xbox One Pose Major Problems For Internet For Internet Providers

by Tamlin Magee

As the Sony’s  Playstation 4 launched midnight today in the UK, there are some potential pitfalls that mean consumers might not get the most out of their systems unless they carefully consider their home network.

Consoles used to be the easy option. They were plug and play devices that worked straight out of the box. But with both the Xbox One and the PS4, the manufacturers are hammering ps4wikicommons-300x274home cloud services and fiercely internet reliant features, such as content sharing and, in Sony’s case, the ability to play games as they download. Much of the UK and Europe has had the necessary infrastructure investment to support these features running as smoothly as possible, but consumers will be forced to think about their choice of internet service provider (ISP) to get the full experience.

Telecommunications supplier Ciena’s Mervyn Kelly tells Forbes that the average household is now sliding into domestic data usage patterns that mark them as ‘power users’, in what IDC defines as using advanced multimedia services like over-the-top video regularly, without realizing it. “Accommodating this growth will require greater capacity to avoid damaging both service quality and the trust of end users,” Kelly says. “Broadband providers must ensure that existing and future networks are smarter than ever before, providing scalability needed to deal with data hungry devices like the Xbox One, PS4, and advanced smartphones.”

The ISPs themselves are in a tricky position. We’re largely paying the same amount of money now as we were 10 years ago. Broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity. ISPs have little choice but to offer packages that can cope with heavy data demands at affordable rates. ”The industry as a whole is struggling to keep up with the rate of change,” says Michael Philpott, an analyst at Ovum. “Especially when they want to deliver their own applications and services. None of these services, whether new consoles, Netflix NFLX +0.94%, or from Apple AAPL +1.91% or Google GOOG -0.2%, are really delivering revenue, they’re all provided by internet-type or device-type players. ISPs turn around and say ‘we’re investing in these networks, we’ve got to make money, we’ve got to charge for it.’”

Philpott asks how long investment can continue if ISPs are not able to recoup the investment made, especially as the rate of traffic is only set to increase. ”It’s not that they won’t make revenue, but their profits will start to get squeezed, and that’s the danger in the longer term,” Philpott says. “How do they deal with that, how do they monetize those networks? On the other hand, the danger from a consumer point of view is if the ISPs slow down investment because they are monetizing successfully, the networks could get clogged, and we’ll have a bigger problem than what we have today.”’s Andrew Ferguson, meanwhile, suggests any ISPs still maintaining strict usage limits risk shooting themselves in the foot. ISP customers didn’t used to worry about upload speeds, but both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 are aiming for an integrated, social experience, and this includes being able to record and upload clips from your gaming sessions. This kind of feature will not tolerate subpar connections. ”The big change is content sharing,” Ferguson says. “The ability for people to upload video clips – it used to be, if you had a digital camera you could upload them to YouTube, but it was tricky. But with the Xbox One and PS4, you press a button and there you go. Now upload speed is important.

According to Axel Pawlik, managing director at RIPE NCC, a Regional Internet Registry, ISPs could be doing more. ”The launch of the PS4 and Xbox One are another reminder that ISPs are not doing enough to guarantee people get the most out of the internet, by dragging their feet over the deployment of IPv6,” Pawlik says, referring to a next-generation protocol aimed at making the Internet more efficient and usable by more devices. “Microsoft has actively called on people to lobby their ISPs and demand IPv6. This is because the technology being used with the Xbox One will only deliver a next generation experience if it’s able to communicate directly with other devices on the internet.”

“It’s likely that anyone using the new consoles will encounter issues if their ISPs try solutions such as Carrier Grade NAT, which is essentially asking a group of people to share the same IP address,” Pawlik says. “A lot of internet usage is based on everyone having a unique identifier, the IP address. CG NAT means online gaming with some systems simply won’t be possible for anyone who is unlucky enough to have an ISP using it.

“It doesn’t need to be so complicated. All ISPs could start deploying IPv6, which is the future of the internet anyway. The growth of IPv6 is inevitable, there’s no other way for the internet to continue expanding, so it makes very little sense for ISPs to experiment with short term fixes.”

Short term answers, Pawlik believes, are equivalent to pushing a Ferrari instead of driving it.

Jeff Brainard, director of market development at Blue Coat, crunched the numbers during and after the lead up to the US PS4 launch.

“We compared the traffic in the 72 hours leading up to the morning of November 15th against the 72 hours after the launch, and traffic from the PlayStation website almost quadrupled during this period,” Brainard says. “As gaming platforms increasingly move to digital downloads, as well as software updates and patches, it will be wise for internet access providers to look at techniques like caching to optimize their networks for this new generation of gaming, so they can not only manage their network costs, but also provide the best possible user experience.”

So, what can consumers do? ThinkBroadband’s Ferguson recommends considering fibre based products. Despite the premium pricing, they are a “worthwhile upgrade” from standard ADSL or ADSL2+, considering just how many cloud based features the new consoles promise.

Customers can also cut out excess signal noise by connecting their consoles to a router using an Ethernet cable. “When using Wi-Fi, your speeds may vary a lot based on what others are doing in the area,” Ferguson says, “which can often look like the ISP is trying to slow you down, and can also cause jitter, making online gaming frustrating.”

In the infancy of the next gen consoles, one thing looks to be for certain: unlike previous generations, the burden is thoroughly on the end user to ensure they do their research and buy the package most suited to them.

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The tech industry’s woman problem: Statistics show it’s worse than you think

By Lauren Bacon November 7, 2013

The elusive woman software engineer. Reuters/Stephen Lam

The elusive woman software engineer. Reuters/Stephen Lam

One of the most frustrating things about the tech industry’s woman problem is the paucity of reliable data on the number of women working in technical roles. Now, thanks to a public Google spreadsheet created by Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest, we have data on how many women engineers work at 84 different tech companies. To collect the data, company employees have been performing internal head counts, and most contributors have identified themselves openly, though Chou invites anonymous submissions via email. Contributions have also come from people who are manually counting the number of women on companies’ team profile pages. Chou has focused her efforts on women engineers, defined as “women who are writing or architecting software, and are in full-time roles.” Until now, there have been little data on how many women are among the prestigious and well-compensated ranks of engineers, as opposed to the many less technical roles within the industry.

The numbers, while preliminary, are revealing: tech companies employ an average of 12.33% women engineers. This is consistent with what I’ve observed over the course of 16 years working in the industry (12 of which I spent running a web design and development firm) and what I’ve heard from others. The numbers also map neatly to current figures on women computer science grads (pdf), which suggests the “pipeline problem” argument is legitimate.

Among the companies listed, gender diversity varies. A handful are at parity or better: Levo League, Hackbright Academy, and Yellowsmith—all companies, incidentally, with women at the helm—boast 67% women on their engineering teams. The Muse sits at 75% and Kabinet and Spitfire Athlete both hit 100%, though both have two-person engineering teams. On the other hand, 15 companies on the list are without a single female engineer: Treehouse, 37signals, and among them.

While some of the smallest teams have 50% or more women, the numbers drop significantly once you look at engineering teams of 10 or more. When I broke down the data by size of engineering team, the averages looked like this:


My segmentation is somewhat arbitrary, but on average it looks like bigger teams have a lower percentage of women. It’s easier to get your percentages up when you’ve got a four-person technical team than it is when you’re hiring by the dozen.

Companies that participate in the counting do so as a signal to prospective employees that they are committed to diversifying their teams. A spokesperson at Mozilla—the largest company on the list, with a 500-person engineering team but only 43 women—told me that the project is “a reminder to keep pushing for more diversity.”

Until now, those of us writing about tech and gender have been making do with broad, US-centric data from the National Center for Women and Computing and the Anita Borg Institute, along with other sources we collect piecemeal. These data are tricky because they don’t typically differentiate between departments and roles within organizations: A woman in the HR department at Cisco will typically be counted as a “woman in computing,” whereas a woman software engineer at an investment company won’t. NCWIT suggests that women hold more than 25% of “computing occupations,” whereas my personal experience in the sector, which I’ve heard echoed by many colleagues, is that the numbers are significantly lower among software coders.

Even federal regulations have not provided us with reliable information: In March, when CNN was looking for data on women in tech, it was stonewalled by Silicon Valley giants whose size requires that they report diversity stats to the Department of Labor. While the government has that data, it won’t release it publicly, and most of the big companies aren’t talking. It’s unfortunate since data from these companies could be particularly valuable for benchmarking purposes given that their engineering teams are big enough to be statistically significant. When I tweeted earlier this year about that CNN story, one commenter suggested that sharing the data would result in a PR nightmare for the companies in question.