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Posts tagged with "music"

Spotify Announces Car Thing: Dedicated Audio Streaming Hardware for Drivers

Source: Spotify.

Source: Spotify.

Spotify has announced Car Thing, a dedicated Bluetooth-enabled audio controller for your car. Car Thing, which is Spotify’s first foray into hardware, is currently available by invitation only to Premium subscribers in the US.

Spotify’s new device is unique in that it isn’t a standalone product; it requires a mobile phone to work. The device itself is a touch screen with a handful of physical buttons and a big knob for navigating the service’s offerings. Data for streaming music or podcasts is provided by your mobile phone, which connects to Car Thing over Bluetooth. Car Thing doesn’t have a rechargeable battery or built-in speakers either. Power is provided by a USB-C to USB-A cable that must be plugged into a power source, and sound can be routed to your car’s audio system with a dedicated cable or over Bluetooth.

Source: Spotify.

Source: Spotify.

Car Thing, which also comes with dashboard mounting hardware, is controlled using its touch screen, programmable buttons along the top edge of the device, the knob, which allows drivers to scroll through the service’s content, and Spotify’s new ‘Hey Spotify’ digital assistant feature. Ashley Carman of The Verge had an opportunity to try Car Thing for a couple of days and had this to say about the device:

The voice controls mostly worked — for some reason it only got tripped up on a Kid Cudi request — but I grew frustrated with the steps it took to control music. When a song that I didn’t like played, it took longer to say, “Hey Spotify, skip” than it would have to just tap the skip button on my phone. I generally felt like I could more efficiently navigate Spotify just by using my phone at stop lights. The device does shine, however, when you ask the voice assistant to start a playlist, and it registered those commands easily.

Carman also notes that currently, Car Thing requires a data connection because it can only stream audio, although Spotify did not rule out a future update for accessing any downloaded content.

Source: Spotify.

Source: Spotify.

Car Thing is a fascinating product. Many users who already rely on features like Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto will probably be content to continue to use those options, which offer other apps and services too. However, for drivers with older vehicles that don’t have built-in entertainment systems or ones that integrate with Spotify already and heavy Spotify users who like the idea of a dedicated Spotify interface, Car Thing is an intriguing option. I’m very curious to hear more about what it’s like to use in practice and get my hands on one myself.

If you live in the US and are a Spotify Premium subscriber, you can sign up to join the waitlist to receive the Car Thing. If you’re chosen, Spotify will send you a free Car Thing and only charge you $6.99 for shipping.


Albums 4.0: A Must-Have App for Music Lovers

Albums 4.0 is a beautifully designed, feature-rich app with more filtering and discovery tools than any other music app I’ve tried. The app is also opinionated, favoring album playback over individual songs or playlists. It’s the sort of focused, deep approach to music that Apple’s Music app doesn’t offer because it’s designed to appeal to a wider audience.

If you’re an albums-first music fan, you’ll love Albums. However, even if you prefer singles, playlists, and jumping around the Apple Music catalog as I do, Albums is worth checking out. The app’s powerful filtering opens up brand new ways to enjoy your music collection that any music fan can appreciate.

It just so happens that Federico and I are in the midst of an AppStories miniseries on music. This week we discussed how we listen to music and how it influences the services we use. Next week, we’ll cover third-party apps including Albums and many more. You can check out this week’s episode here:

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Spotify Launches New ‘Spotify Mixes’ with Personalized Playlists Based on Artists, Genres, and Decades

Spotify Mixes in the Made for You hub.

Spotify Mixes in the Made for You hub.

Earlier today, Spotify announced their latest feature rollout for both free and premium users: Spotify Mixes. Inspired by the Daily Mix, which the company introduced in 2016, Spotify Mixes are a collection of personalized playlists tailored specifically to each user and available in three main “flavors”: in the updated Made for You hub (which you can find in the Search page), you’ll find Artist Mixes, Genre Mixes, and Decade Mixes.

Here’s how Spotify says these new playlists will work:

Each mix is created with you at the core, based on your listening habits and the artists, genres, and decades you listen to most. They’re rooted in familiarity, meaning that you won’t just hear your favorite artists, but your favorite songs from those artists.

Then, we supplement by adding in songs we think you’ll love, meaning they’ll be filled with the music you have on repeat alongside some fresh picks. So whether you want to jam out to a specific artist or hear more music from another decade, there’s a mix just for you.

According to Spotify, these new mixes will update over time to reflect your listening habits and will present a dynamic collection of playlists from different artists, genres, and decades, including both songs you already know and new ones the service thinks you might like.

I received the new Spotify Mixes this morning and, as you can see in the image above, they provide an eerily accurate representation of my diverse music preferences – from late 90s Placebo and mid 2000s emo punk to modern artists such as Pale Waves and Taylor Swift.

As I’m writing almost on a weekly basis now, I’m impressed with Spotify’s ongoing streak of product launches and understanding of what their users seek in the service. With genre filters, the ability to shuffle liked songs based on mood, and now mixes for decades and artists, Spotify helps me enjoy and rediscover music in any moment of the day; so far, I’m glad I decided to switch from Apple Music for a year.


Apple and Others Invest $50 million into Music Distributor UnitedMasters

Apple quietly acquires companies with products and teams that complement its own offerings all the time, but it’s not often an investor, which makes the company’s recent investment in UnitedMasters notable. As reported by Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, Apple is joined by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and A16z as leads in UnitedMasters’ $50 million Series B round.

Historically, artists’ relationships with music distribution companies have prevented artists from connecting directly with fans. UnitedMasters’ goal is to change that providing artists with access to data and allowing them to retain control of master recordings and sell merchandise, tickets, and more directly to fans.

As Panzarino notes, the investment comes as the music industry is changing:

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry.

UnitedMasters’ mission is to assist artists in making the transition to music’s future. If UnitedMaters’ objective sounds familiar, it’s likely because, as Panzarino explains, it bears a lot of similarity to what Apple Music Connect could have been:

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community.

The streaming music industry is moving fast. Over the past several weeks, Spotify has introduced a long list of features to attract new listeners to the service. Apple Music seems to be evolving slowly compared to Spotify, but Apple’s investment in UnitedMasters shows that the company has its eye on the industry’s future too. Which new features stick with music fans remains to be seen, but judging from the first three months of the year, 2021 will be another interesting one for music streaming services.

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Spotify Updating Home Hub with Recently Played Section, Deeper Podcast Integration

As announced by Spotify last week, the company is rolling out a refreshed home hub in its mobile app featuring a new Recently Played section, an easier way to stream new releases from your favorite artists, and shortcuts to play and resume podcast episodes with one tap:

About a year ago, we reworked the Spotify mobile experience to refresh our Home interface. Since then, Spotify users have been able to access the content they love more quickly and easily—and maybe even discover something new straight from their home screen. But the ease and discovery don’t stop there. This month, we’re announcing a series of updates that will make the Home experience even more personalized for each and every listener.

We’re constantly working on ways to improve our user experience. Through this latest update, we’ll be rolling out several advancements on the mobile Home hub designed to make finding the audio you love easier and more intuitive. These will roll out to users globally on iOS and Android this month.

The redesigned home hub is the latest announcement in a series of recent product updates, including genre and mood filters for liked songs, real-time lyrics, and the upcoming lossless tier.

In my tests with Spotify this year, I’ve been positively impressed by the company’s pace of updates. What I find particularly intriguing in the refreshed home hub design is the integration with podcasts: I was very skeptical of blending music and podcasts in the same app when I switched to Spotify at the end of last year, but the more I use it, the more I understand why podcast listening in Spotify is growing rapidly. There’s something about making both kinds of audio content accessible in one place that works well for removing friction from having to choose what I want to listen to. I’m curious to see how Spotify will balance music and podcast episodes in new home hub (which I don’t have in my Spotify app yet).

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Downtime Organizer Sofa Adds Apps, Audiobooks, Board Games, Deeplinking, Backups, and More Themes

Sofa is a terrific downtime organizer. Since its release, the app has seen frequent updates that have added features and refinements that make it an excellent one-stop destination for collecting media you want to enjoy later. We’ve covered the app before, so I won’t revisit its core functionality here, but if you’re new to the app, be sure to check out our previous reviews for more details.

The headline feature of Sofa’s latest update is the addition of apps, audiobooks, and board games to the lineup of media it can track. I’m especially pleased to see that iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps have been added to Sofa. I’ve long considered trying new apps as a form of entertainment. Even poking around productivity apps that most people would consider ‘work’ apps is fun for many people.

The addition of apps is timely given the trend towards subscription-based apps with free trials. If an app catches your eye, but it’s got a relatively short free trial period, you can drop it into Sofa to try later when you can make the most of the trial. The addition of apps also provides a way to track games on Apple’s platforms that weren’t always available in Sofa’s videogame category. However, the change also means that you may have to search for an iOS game in a couple of different places at times.

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Sonos Announces the AirPlay 2-Compatible Roam Portable Speaker

Sonos has officially announced the Sonos Roam, a battery-powered, portable speaker that supports AirPlay 2 and several other interesting features. The speaker, which comes in white and black, doesn’t ship until April 20th, but you can preorder it now.

It remains to be seen how the Roam sounds, but the specs are interesting. The $169 speaker is a small, portable speaker at 6.61 x 2.44 x 2.36 inches and weighs in at just under one pound. The Roam is also designed for outdoor listening with its IP67 water resistance rating and can be paired with a second Roam speaker for stereo sound when connected over WiFi.

Sonos is claiming 10 hours of playback on one charge and 10 days of standby time. The speaker can be charged wirelessly with an optional Qi charging accessory or any other Qi charger that is large enough to accommodate it. The speaker can also be charged using a USB-C cable.

The Roam supports both WiFi and Bluetooth, switching automatically between the two depending on the type of connection available. Using a technique similar to Apple’s original HomePod, the Roam uses Sonos’ Trueplay technology to adjust audio output depending on the acoustics of its surroundings. The speaker also supports AirPlay 2 and Sonos’ Sound Swap, a feature that uses inaudible, high-frequency sound to pass the music off to another nearby Sonos speaker. The Roam also works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Siri if you’re using AirPlay 2.

I’ve used Libratone’s Zipp 2 portable speaker in the past, which also supports AirPlay 2, and I loved using it outdoors last summer. If Sonos can deliver the quality of sound that it’s known for at a reasonable volume, the Roam could play a similar role in a smaller package than the Zipp.


Apple Clarifies Ability to ‘Set Default’ Audio Apps in iOS 14.5

Earlier today, Apple provided TechCrunch with a fascinating clarification regarding the ability in iOS and iPadOS 14.5 to pick “default” audio apps for music, podcast, and audiobook playback.

From Sarah Perez’s article:

Apple has clarified that the iOS 14.5 beta is not actually allowing users to select a new default music service, as has been reported. Following the beta’s release back in February, a number of beta testers noticed that Siri would now ask what music service they would like to use when they asked Siri to play music. But Apple doesn’t consider this feature the equivalent to “setting a default” — an option it more recently began to allow for email and browser apps.

Instead, the feature is Siri intelligence-based, meaning it can improve and even change over time as Siri learns to better understand your listening habits.

For example, if you tell Siri to play a song, album or artist, it may ask you which service you want to use to listen to this sort of content. However, your response to Siri is not making that particular service your “default,” Apple says. In fact, Siri may ask you again at some point — a request that could confuse users if they thought their preferences had already been set.

On the surface, it appears as if Apple’s argument boils down to semantics. Because iOS 14.5 will not offer a proper page in Settings to configure “default” audio apps (like you can for browsers and email clients, as I argued on yesterday’s episode of Connected), then it’s not correct to say you’ll be able to change the default music app on your iPhone or iPad. We could debate why Apple is not building a page in Settings for this but still allowing Siri to integrate with third-party streaming services and apps (competitive advantages vs. antitrust concerns?), but that’s besides the point. What I find more interesting is that Apple explains this feature is actually doing more than just sticking to a default option:

The audio choice feature, of course, doesn’t prevent users from requesting a particular service by name, even if it’s not their usual preference.

For instance, you can still say something like “play smooth jazz radio on Pandora” to launch that app instead. However, if you continued to request Pandora by name for music requests — even though you had initially specified Apple Music or Spotify or some other service when Siri had first prompted you — then the next time you asked Siri to play music without specifically a service, the assistant may ask you again to choose a service.

From this perspective, given the dynamic nature of this functionality, I understand why Apple may be uncomfortable comparing it to the ability to switch default browser and email apps. At the same time, I want to mention how I’ve been using iOS 14.5 for the past month, and after an initial configuration, Siri continued to default to Spotify and never prompted me to pick another one again. I’m giving Apple’s explanation the benefit of the doubt, but I’m curious to see how this feature will work in the final release of iOS 14.5.

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Spotify Announces It Will Offer a New CD-Quality, Lossless Streaming Music Tier Later This Year

At its Stream On event today, Spotify announced that it is adding a new CD-quality lossless tier to its music streaming service later this year. Spotify says the high-resolution streaming is one of its users’ most-requested features and that it is working with speaker manufacturers to ensure there are Spotify Connect devices at launch that take advantage of the new tier.

There are no details on pricing or other aspects of the new service yet, which will be called Spotify HiFi. In a not-so-subtle jab at Apple Music, which has worked closely with Billie Eilish and heavily promoted her music, Spotify coupled today’s announcement with a short video of Eilish and her brother Finneas discussing the importance of high fidelity audio.

It will be interesting to see how Apple Music responds. As competing music streaming services have grown more alike than different, high-resolution audio is being used by several services to try to differentiate themselves from competitors and support higher prices.

Apple has had a ‘Mastered for iTunes’ program since 2013 to ensure that the highest-quality source material is available. However, the music the company streams to Apple Music subscribers is compressed. With the introduction of the HomePod and AirPods Max, high-resolution audio already seemed like a natural next step to expand Apple’s services business. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spotify’s announcement today pushes Apple to announce high-fidelity streaming this year too.

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