SiliconFilter

Android at Home: Did Google Already Demo Its Rumored Home Entertainment Device at I/O Last Year?

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The Wall Street Journal today reports that Google is working on designing and marketing a home-entertainment device that would "stream music wirelessly through the home." The interesting part here is that Google might actually market this device. Chances are, after all, that the hardware will look pretty similar to what Google showed off at its I/O developer conference last year.

In the context of explaining its [email protected] initiative (which, until now, hasn't really shown much promise), Google also showed a few Android-based music devices that featured wireless streaming and access to Google Music. Last year, Google called them [email protected] hubs and the code name at the time was Project Tungsten. In the demo, Google used a tablet with prototype software that allowed its users to select different output devices – including the Android hub.

At the time, Google stressed that these were just "conceptual examples" and not actual products. It's quite possible that this is changing now and that Google is turning these prototypes into actual products.

Google project tungesten

Google I O 2011 Keynote Day One  YouTube

Here is also a video to the presentation (the discussion of the music devices starts about 46:45 minutes into the video):

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2:49 pm


Google Music and iTunes Match: Modern Solutions to Yesterday’s Problems?

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With the launches of iTunes Match and Google Music, this was clearly a good week for music lovers (at least in the U.S.). With iTunes Match, Apple finally offers a cloud-based solution for accessing all your music on any iOS device, and with Google Music, Google can finally say it offers Android users a service that is competitive with iTunes.

Both of these announcement would have been really exciting to me two or three years ago. Today, however, they leave me absolutely cold. Why? Because I stopped buying music a long time ago in favor of using a subscription service like MOG, Rdio or Rhapsody. I know there are still many people out there who love the idea of owning music, but to me, it feels like Google Music and iTunes Match are smart solutions for a problem these subscription services solved for me in a long time ago.

Mog Music PlayerBoth Google and Apple are still betting on the fact that music is something people want to own – and if you subscribe to Apple’s vision, that also means you will only buy Apple products for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong. I listen to music almost all the time I’m at my computer or in the car. I love music. But unlike iTunes and Co., subscription services allow me to call up any song I want to listen to whenever I feel like it. They also allow me to listen to artists I would’ve never discovered if I just used iTunes. With iTunes or Google Music, after all, I would have to make a pretty hefty investment to listen to all the albums I listen to on MOG every month. With a subscription service, the investment remains the same no matter how much I listen.

Both Google and Apple base their services around the idea that you want to own your music. To me, music is more like subscribing to Hulu or Netflix. Sure, my music “collection” goes away when I stop subscribing or switch services – but who cares? How many of those MP3s you collected on Napster years ago do you actually listen to regularly after all?

Image credit: Flickr user lungstruck



6:14 pm


Pandora Removes Caps on Free Accounts

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After a long beta period, streaming music service Pandora today launched its new, HTML5-based website. That, by itself, would have been a newsworthy story, but I think what’s really going to resonate with users is the face that this launch also heralds the end to Pandora’s 40 hours listening cap for users with free accounts. The free accounts will, of course, continue to feature ads and lower quality audio than paid accounts. While the company still markets “unlimited listening” as a major perk for paying users ($36/year), one of the main reasons for the company’s most active users to pay for the service is now gone.

The new player is, without doubt, very well designed and – besides the removed caps – the main attraction of this update. In addition, however, Pandora also simplified station creation with enhanced auto-complete choices and better personalized suggestions. The player now also highlights more information about artists and gives more prominence to the service’s built-in and third-party social features.

While this is a major update, my own usage of Pandora has been pretty minimal over the last year or so. While Pandora’s radio model is definitely interesting for a large number of users, I prefer services like MOG and Spotify. Those let me pick the songs I want to hear and still offer some of the radio-like features that make Pandora such a great service. Both MOG and Spotify offer (limited) free services as well as paid tiers.

 



4:29 pm


In-Car CD Players: Another Soon-To-Be Obsolete Technology

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I still remember plugging my portable CD player into a cassette adapter so I could listen to my music in the car. Today, in-car cassette players are a thing of the past, but most cars still come with built-in CD players. According to Ford’s global trends and futuring manger Sheryl Connelly, that could soon change, though. While talking to AM Online, Connelly noted that “the in-car CD player – much like pay telephones – is destined to fade away in the face of exciting new technology.”

CDs, of course, have not exactly been big sellers over the last few years, as more and more consumers have shifted to MP3s, so phasing out in-car CD players only makes sense in the long run. Ford’s Connelly believes her company will continue to offer CD players in markets where there is demand, but as her colleague Ralf Brosig also told AM Online, Ford expects to see all-digital in-car entertainment systems in the near future.

Next Wave: Cloud-Connected Cars

Ford has been among the leaders when it comes to bringing digital entertainment options to cars, and has added USB connectivity and SD card ports to its latest MyFord Touch systems.

Some of Ford’s in-car entertainment systems are also connected to the cloud (though drivers have to bring their own connectivity in the form of a smartphone to their Fords) and allow users to play music through Pandora or Stitcher. More of this connectivity will likely come to more cars in the near future and will maybe even one day make USB and AUX ports obsolete, too.

 



4:16 pm


Spotify Rocks the Desktop, Fails on Mobile

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Spotify, the streaming music service which arrived in the U.S. to great hype and scarce invites earlier this week, may be one of the more frustrating companies to review. On the desktop, it offers the single best user experience of all the current streaming music services available in the U.S. today and easily bests its direct competitors like MOG, Rdio and Rhapsody. When it comes to the mobile experience, though, Spotify simply falls flat when compared to its competitors’ apps.

On Mobile, You Want to Listen to Music, Not Manage Playlists

The problem with this, in my view, is Spotify’s insistence on building its service strictly around playlists. This works great for creating shared playlists and discovering new music by browsing your friends’ lists, and it’s even a decent experience for just listening to music on your desktop. This approach, however, doesn’t quite work so well on mobile. When you are driving down the road, you don’t want to have to organize a playlist before you get started. Instead, MOG, for example, offers a hybrid on-demand/radio approach similar to Pandora, where you can choose one song to seed your playlist and then have MOG pick the rest of your list based on this. Spotify doesn’t have this kind of mode.

Spotify on Mobile: Frustrating

Indeed, Spotify doesn’t even make creating playlists on your mobile device easy and instead of giving you easy access to all your local cached files, they are somewhere in your playlist menu – some under the “starred” label, some under “local files.” Why which file is where it is, I’m not sure. The playlists themselves then are organized in alphabetical order by song title, but there is no way to browse by artist or album.

MOG, on the other hand (the Spotify competitor I’m most familiar with), offers a stellar mobile experience where the search feature actually autocompletes your queries (unlike Spotify) and where your cached files are easily accessible. While you can manage different playlists, the focus is on one central play queue. Want to add a song to it, just hold your finger over any song, wait for the menu to pop up and decide whether you want to play it next or add it to the end of the queue. Back buttons are where you expect them to be (top left instead of the “hide” button that often has the same functionality in the Spotify app – and which sits in the top right corner) and switching between song, album and artist views couldn’t be easier.

At the end of the day then, Spotify makes for a great desktop app, but most of my streaming music experience is mobile in the car or at the gym – and MOG simply beat Spotify there.



5:01 am


Earbits Reinvents Payola for the Web

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Just a few years ago, a massive scandal rocked the FM radio world when internal memos from Sony Music showed that the major record labels routinely bought “spins” for their artists. Earbits, a new YCombinator-funded music startup, is now bringing a more sophisticated version of this system to the web. Over 1,300 bands have already signed up for the service that will soon ask these bands to pay to get their music to the ears of Earbits’ users. For now, though, the service is still free for the bands that sign up.

According to TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid, Earbits plans to charge bands for “s to pay for airtime and to display additional relevant information alongside their songs — like banners promoting an upcoming concert, complete with links to purchase tickets.” The company has put a few safeguards in place to ensure that it won’t be overrun by crappy music and in a comment thread on Hacker News, the company likens its system more the Google’s Adwords than the payola schemes that once were ubiquitous on Top 40 radio.

Earbits string cheese

From a user perspective, Earbits’ free service is actually a lot of fun and the current selection of bands is quite interesting and refreshing. The design puts a large photo of the artist or band at the center of the experience, with a bio underneath. Earbits plans to add more band info and links to ticket sales and merchandise as well.

You can use the site without having to sign up for it, but if you do (using Facebook Connect), the service will keep track of what you are listening to and will recommend songs to you based on your musical tastes. Signing in also makes it easier to share songs with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Whether Earbits can succeed, though, will mostly depend on how musicians will react to the site once its payment system goes online. The developers argue that bands will only have to pay about $0.01 per play (if users skip before the 30-second mark, bands don’t have to pay, by the way), so for $15, they can reach 1,500 listeners. As one of the company’s representatives argued on Hacker News, “if you can’t sell one $15 concert ticket with the links to the box office right there, God help us all!”

No matter the business model, though, Earbits is a fun site for finding new music and worth a try.



8:00 am


Spotify Launch in the U.S. Still Delayed by Record Labels' Financial Demands

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Spotify, the popular European music startup that gives you free access to millions of songs, may never launch in the U.S. after all, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph. Apparently, the record labels are asking for “very large minimum guarantees,” which is something that, according to this report, is making Spotify rather nervous as its European operation is just about to be profitable and entering the U.S. market could turn out to be a huge financial risk. According to the Telegraph’s source in the record industry, this “has caused Spotify to stop and think about whether it can afford the move to the US and indeed whether it is worth it.”

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The record labels are apparently scared off by Spotify’s freemium model and don’t want potential record buyers to think that music should always be free. Indeed, the industry has worked hard over the last few years (in between suing those who downloaded illegal MP3s) to wean people off the idea that all music should be available for free.

Officially, of course, Spotify still argues that its working hard to launch in the U.S. and looking for additional funding to finance this venture, but if the Telegraph’s source is right, then there is considerable doubt whether this launch will ever happen or whether Spotify will just remain an European company and cede the U.S. market to the likes of Rdio (itself founded by Europeans), MOG and similar startups.

(via: The Next Web)



10:45 am