Privacy

Samsung Rescues Data-Saving Privacy App Opera Max and Relaunches it as Samsung Max (venturebeat.com) 15

Samsung has rescued Opera Software's Opera Max data-saving, privacy-protecting Android app from oblivion and relaunched it today as Samsung Max. From a report: Norwegian tech company Opera, which first became known for its desktop browser when it launched in 1995, has offered mobile browser apps across various platforms for years. But in 2014, it launched the standalone Opera Max app for Android, designed to get its users more bang from their data plan, along with some VPN-like features. The app compresses data such as photos, music, and videos while promising "no noticeable loss of quality." Opera Max can also block background processes to conserve battery and data. The app was given a number of new features over the past few years, but last August the company revealed it was pulling the plug on Opera Max once and for all.
AI

Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer? 233

Every tech company wants to produce a smart speaker these days. Earlier this month, Apple finally launched the HomePod, a smart speaker that uses Siri to answer basic questions and play music via Apple Music. In December, Google released their premium Google Home Max speaker that uses the Google Assistant and Google's wealth of knowledge to play music, answer questions, set reminders, and so on. It may be the most advanced smart speaker on the market as it has the hardware capable of playing high fidelity audio, and a digital assistant that can perform over one million actions. There is, however, no denying the appeal of the Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa digital assistant. Since it first made its debut in late 2014, it has had more time to develop its skill set. Amazon says Alexa controls "tens of millions of devices," including Windows 10 PCs.

A new report from The Guardian, citing the industry site MusicAlly, says that Spotify is working on a line of "category defining" hardware products "akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles." The streaming music company has posted an ad for a senior product manager to "define the product requirements for internet connected hardware [and] the software that powers it." With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult. Do you own a smart speaker? If so, which device do you own and why? Do you see a clear winner, or can they all satisfy your basic needs?
Youtube

YouTube Red is Having an Identity Crisis (digiday.com) 42

During an onstage conversation at Recode's Code Media this week, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called YouTube Red a music streaming service -- first time any executive from the company has referred to YouTube Red as foremost a music service. From a report: This differs from comments that other YouTube executives have made in the past, including YouTube's head of global content Susanne Daniels, who last year described YouTube Red as a premium subscription streaming service that offers Hollywood-quality shows and movies.

Launched in October 2015, YouTube Red has always been positioned by YouTube as three services in one: It offers ad-free access to all of YouTube; it's a music streaming service that also gives access to Google Play Music; and it's consistently releasing original movies and TV shows, starring Hollywood talent and homegrown stars that users already subscribe to. Two years later, this has created somewhat of an identity crisis for the streaming service. As Wojcicki said in her interview, she sees YouTube Red as a music service. And she does not expect to spend billions of dollars on content to effectively compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others.

The Internet

France's Telecom Regulator Thinks Net Neutrality Should Also Apply To Devices 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: The ARCEP, France's equivalent of the FCC in the U.S., wants to go beyond telecommunications companies. While many regulatory authorities have focused on carriers and internet service providers, the French authority thinks Google, Apple, Amazon and all the big tech companies also need their own version of net neutrality. The ARCEP just published a thorough 65-page report about the devices we use every day. The report says that devices give you a portion of the internet and prevent an open internet. "With net neutrality, we spend all our time cleaning pipes, but nobody is looking at faucets," ARCEP president Sebastien Soriano told me. "Everybody assumes that the devices that we use to go online don't have a bias. But if you want to go online, you need a device just like you need a telecom company."

Now that net neutrality has been laid down in European regulation, the ARCEP has been looking at devices for the past couple of years. And it's true that you can feel you're stuck in an ecosystem once you realize you have to use Apple Music on an Apple Watch, or the Amazon Echo assumes you want to buy stuff on Amazon.com when you say "Alexa, buy me a tooth brush." Voice assistants and connected speakers are even less neutral than smartphones. Game consoles, smartwatches and connected cars all share the same issues. The ARCEP doesn't think we should go back to computers and leave our phones behind. This isn't a debate about innovation versus regulation. Regulation can also foster innovation. "This report has listed for the first time ever all the limitations you face as a smartphone user," Soriano said. "By users, we mean both consumers and developers who submit apps in the stores."
Music

Reddit Audiophiles Test HomePod, Say It Sounds Better Than $1,000 Speaker (arstechnica.com) 327

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Apple released its much-hyped HomePod speaker to the masses last week, and the general consensus among early reviews is that it sounds superb for a relatively small device. But most of those reviews seem to have avoided making precise measurements of the HomePod's audio output, instead relying on personal experience to give generalized impressions. That's not a total disaster: a general rule for speaker testing is that while it's good to stamp out any outside factor that may cause a skewed result, making definitive, "objective" claims is difficult. But having some proper measurements is important. Reddit user WinterCharm, whose real name is Fouzan Alam, has made just that in a truly massive review for the site's "r/audiophile" sub. And if his results are to be believed, those early reviews may be underselling the HomePod's sonic abilities. After a series of tests with a calibrated microphone in an untreated room, Alam found the HomePod to sound better than the KEF X300A, a generally well-regarded bookshelf speaker that retails for $999. What's more, Alam's measurements found the HomePod to provide a "near-perfectly flat frequency response," meaning it stays accurate to a given track without pushing the treble, mids, or bass to an unnatural degree. He concludes that the digital signal processing tech the HomePod uses to "self-calibrate" its sound to its surroundings allows it to impress at all volumes and in tricky environments. "The HomePod is 100% an audiophile grade speaker," he writes.
Android

Rejoice: Samsung's Next Flagship Smartphone Looks To Keep the Headphone Jack Alive (theverge.com) 193

Notorious smartphone leaker Evan Blass has leaked a couple press images of the Galaxy S9, giving us the first indication that it will still have a headphone jack. "The full information spill today is actually focused on a new Samsung DeX Pad, which appears to be an evolution of last year's DeX dock for the Galaxy S8," reports The Verge. From the report: Samsung, LG, and a couple of other companies like OnePlus have remained resolute in their inclusion of a headphone jack, but that was far from a certainty for the next Galaxy S iteration. This is a phone that will compete against the iPhone X, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and more niche rivals like Google's Pixel 2: all of them surviving sans a headphone jack. So Samsung could have dumped the analog audio output, but it seems to have opted against it, and that's worthy of commendation. USB-C earphones are all still either bad or expensive -- or both -- and phones that retain compatibility with 3.5mm connectors remain profoundly useful to consumers that aren't yet convinced by Bluetooth.
Music

Apple Homepod Review: Locked In (theverge.com) 73

On Tuesday, the review embargo lifted for full reviews of Apple's new HomePod smart speaker. The Verge's Niley Patel shared his thoughts on Apple's new HomePod in video and written form. Patel found that while it offers best-in-class sound for the price, Siri is frustratingly limited and the voice controls only work with Apple Music. Furthermore, Siri can't tell different voices apart, therefore raising some privacy concerns as anyone can come up to the speaker and ask Siri to send and read text messages and other private information aloud. Here's an excerpt from the report: The HomePod, whether Apple likes it or not, is the company's answer to the wildly popular Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. Apple is very insistent that the $349 HomePod has been in development for the past six years and that it's entirely focused on sound quality, but it's entering a market where Amazon is advertising Alexa as a lovable and well-known character during the Super Bowl instead of promoting its actual features. Our shared expectations about smart speakers are beginning to settle in, and outside of engineering labs and controlled listening tests, the HomePod has to measure up. And while it's true that the HomePod sounds incredible -- it sounds far better than any other speaker in its price range -- it also demands that you live entirely inside Apple's ecosystem in a way that even Apple's other products do not. The question is: is beautiful sound quality worth locking yourself even more tightly into a walled garden? As for technical specifications, the HomePod comes in at 6.8 inches high, 5.6 inches wide, and weights 5.5 pounds. It features a high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier, array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier, six-microphone array, internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction, direct and ambient audio beamforming, and transparent studio-level dynamic processing.
Businesses

Apple Music Was Always Going To Win (gizmodo.com) 161

Apple Music is about to overtake Spotify as the most popular streaming music service in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend. Gizmodo: [...] Here's where the inevitability comes into play. Because all Apple devices come preloaded with Apple Music, countless consumers start using Apple Music without knowing any better. It's effectively become the streaming music analogue of Microsoft pushing people to surf the web with Internet Explorer. The big difference is that people eventually have to pay for Apple Music, which is the same price as Spotify. As many suspected when it launched three years ago, Apple Music was bound to succeed simply because Apple is big enough and rich enough to will it so. Think about it this way: Spotify gained traction quickly after its 2011 launch, largely because music enthusiasts had seen its streaming model succeed globally and wanted to try this neat new thing. After all, there wasn't anything quite like it at the time, and Americans love to feel innovative.

But eventually, Spotify would cease to feel special and new. As the years passed, practically every major tech company launched its own music streaming service. And then, in 2015, Apple unveiled Apple Music in 2015 -- which was really just a rebranded version of Beats Music. Because Apple could preload the service on iPhones, Watches, and Macs, the company could effectively tap into a new revenue stream without actually inventing anything.

Media

Are Music CDs Dying? Best Buy Stops Selling CDs (complex.com) 295

An anonymous reader quotes Complex magazine: The future of physical music isn't looking good. According to Billboard, consumer electronics company Best Buy will no longer carry physical CDs and Target may be following suit in the near future. Best Buy notified music suppliers that they will cease selling CDs at stores beginning July 1. The move is sure to hurt the already declining sales of CDs as consumers are switching to streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal in large numbers. CD sales have already dropped by a sizable 18.5 percent in the past year, Billboard reports.
Billboard also reports Target has given an "ultimatum" to music and video suppliers. "Currently, Target takes the inventory risk by agreeing to pay for any goods it is shipped within 60 days, and must pay to ship back unsold CDs for credit... Target has demanded to music suppliers that it wants CDs to be sold on what amounts to a consignment basis..."

"If the majors don't play ball and give in to the new sale terms, it could considerably hasten the phase down of the CD format."
Facebook

Child Experts: Just Say 'No' To Facebook's Kids App (apnews.com) 84

A group letter sent Tuesday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg argues that younger children -- the app is intended for those under 13 -- aren't ready to have social media accounts, navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy. From a report: Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app in December, pitching it as a way for children to chat with family members and parent-approved friends. It doesn't give kids separate Facebook or Messenger accounts. Rather, the app works as an extension of a parent's account, and parents get controls such as the ability to decide who their kids can chat with. The social media giant has said it fills "a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want."

But a group of 100 experts, advocates and parenting organizations is contesting those claims. Led by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the group includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, educators and the children's music singer Raffi Cavoukian. "Messenger Kids is not responding to a need -- it is creating one," the letter states. "It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts."

Google

Things Apple's $350 HomePod Smart-Speaker Can't Do: Answer Random Questions, Check Calendar, Work With an Android Phone, and More (businessinsider.com) 246

In June last year, Apple announced the HomePod, its first smart-speaker which will battle Amazon's sleeper hit Echo speakers and Google's Home speakers. Apple being late to enter a product category is nothing new, but the HomePod has a few other strange things about it. Apple said it won't begin shipping the HomePod until December that year, in a departure of its own tradition. Then the device's shipment was delayed till "early 2018" -- February 9 is the current shipping date. Bloomberg has reported about the difficulties Apple engineers faced over the years to come up with the HomePod.

At any rate, Business Insider now has more information about the device, and is reporting the things that Apple's first smart-speaker won't be able to do. From the report (condensed): 1. HomePod can't pair with Android phones.
2. HomePod doesn't recognize different people's voices.
3. HomePod can't check your calendar.
4. HomePod doesn't work well with other streaming services besides Apple Music. (Spotify, Tindal, and Pandora users won't be able to use Siri.)
5. HomePod can't hook up to another device using an auxiliary cord.
6. HomePod can't make calls on its own. (In order to make a call using HomePod, you have to dial the person's number on your iPhone, then manually select that the call play through HomePod.)
7. The HomePod version of Siri isn't prepared to answer random questions like Alexa and Google Assistant.

Music

Streaming Services Must Hike Songwriter Payments Nearly 50%, Court Rules (bloomberg.com) 88

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Songwriters will get a larger cut of revenue from streaming services after a court handed technology companies a big defeat. The Copyright Royalty Board ruled that songwriters will get at least a 15.1 percent share of streaming revenues over the next five years, from a previous 10.5 percent. That's the largest rate increase in CRB history, according to a statement from the National Music Publishers' Association. The decision is a major victory for songwriters, who have long complained they are insufficiently uncompensated by on-demand music services like Spotify and YouTube.
"The ratio of what labels are paid by the services versus what publishers are paid has significantly improved," argues the NMPA, "resulting in the most favorable balance in the history of the industry.

"While an effective ratio of 3.82 to 1 is still not a fair split that we might achieve in a free market, it is the best songwriters have ever had under the compulsory license... The decision represents two years of advocacy regarding how unfairly songwriters are treated under current law and how crucial their contributions are to streaming services."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has introduced a bipartisan "Music Modernization Act" to overhaul the rate court, and to create a new governing agency to issue blanket licenses to streaming services and then collect and distribute the resulting roylaties.
Government

A Single Line of Computer Code Put Thousands of Innocent Turks in Jail (www.cbc.ca) 180

Long-time Slashdot reader kbahey writes: Can a single pixel cost you your livelihood and/or freedom? Apparently, this has already happened in Turkey to thousands of people and their relatives. It all stems from the purge by president Edrogan following a failed coupe. The result is that many innocent people lost their jobs (and source of income), their freedom, their reputation, and more.

The details are frightening. The underlying technology is the use of 1x1 transparent pixels, as most web sites do, to track their visitors. This particular pixel was used by Bylock, a messaging app that the Turkish government deemed seditious, in their purge against Fethullah Gulen loyalists. Pre-dawn raids by police were conducted on those who have this pixel. The long legal proceedings caused a digital forensic expert to challenge those cases, because [the pixel using] the servers for Bylock was also being used by other applications for music streaming, and prayer times/direction of Mecca.

30,000 innocent people may have been swept up among the 150,000 Turks detained, arrested or forced from their jobs under state of emergency decrees since the summer of 2016. One 29-year-old high school teacher "wished the worst" for the revolutionaries accused of using Bylock, "until authorities said he was one of them."

The government eventually exonerated 11,480 of the wrongly accused, but some had already spent months in prison, and reportedly some even committed suicide.
China

China Is Quickly Switching From Pirating To Streaming (cnn.com) 79

hackingbear shares a report from CNN: Not so long ago, China was an oasis for pirated music and videos. CDs and DVDs were easily copied and sold for cheap at roadside markets. If you had a computer and an internet connection, top selling albums and Hollywood movies were widely available for free online. That's changing fast as new technologies such as the convenient WeChat payment and a long-running crackdown on pirated content mean members of the country's growing, smartphone-wielding middle class are increasingly willing to pay to stream videos and music online. "When you have to spend two-to-three hours digging up pirated content, users are willing to pay a [small] amount of money to get non-pirated content," said Karen Chan, an analyst with research firm Jefferies. Across major Chinese video platforms, the monthly fee is about 20 yuan ($3); streaming music is even cheaper, ranging from 8 to 15 yuan ($1-$2) per month. Compare that with a basic monthly Netflix subscription in the U.S. at $8, or a Spotify one at $10. The rapid spread of digital payment platforms like Tencent's WeChat Pay and Alibaba-affiliated Alipay has also played a role, according to Xue Yu, an analyst with research firm IDC. The platforms created a market of young Chinese consumers comfortable with buying goods and services for a few yuan online, Xue said.
Cellphones

Jack White Bans Cellphones At Concerts For '100% Human Experience' (nme.com) 294

Singer and guitarist Jack White has banned the use of mobile phones at upcoming live shows. NME reports that the policy will be strictly enforced, requiring concert-goers to lock up their smartphones in pouches." From the report: White embarks on a tour of the U.S. from April, with a statement announcing that shows would be "phone-free," confirming: "No photos, video or audio recording devices allowed." "We think you'll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON," the statement adds. "Upon arrival at the venue, all phones and other photo or video-capturing gizmos will be secured in a Yondr pouch that will be unlocked at the end of the show. You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Yondr Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse." "For those looking to do some social media postings, let us help you with that. Our official tour photographer will be posting photos and videos after the show... Repost our photos & videos as much as you want and enjoy a phone-free, 100% human experience."
Youtube

YouTube's Support for Musicians Comes With a Catch (bloomberg.com) 41

YouTube has asked musicians to agree not to disparage the streaming-video service in exchange for promotional support, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: In recent months, YouTube has given a handful of musicians a couple hundred thousand dollars to produce videos and promoted their work on billboards, part of a larger campaign to improve the site's relationship with the music industry. Yet such support comes with a catch, with some musicians required to promise the won't say negative things about YouTube, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private business transactions. Non-disparagement agreements are common in business, but YouTube's biggest direct competitors in music don't require them, the people said.
Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 98

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
Businesses

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess (theverge.com) 276

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Music

Japan's Latest Sensation is a Cryptocurrency Pop Group (engadget.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: If you're starting a pop group in Japan, where giant rosters and virtual superstars are par for the course, how do you stand out? By tying yourself to something trendy -- and in 2018, that means cryptocurrency. Meet Kasotsuka Shojo (Virtual Currency Girls), a J-pop group where each of the eight girls represents one of the larger digital monetary formats. Yes, you're supposed to cheer for bitcoin or swoon over ethereum (what, no litecoin?). The group played its first concert on January 12th, and naturally you had to pay in cryptocurrency to be one of the few members of the general public to get in. The group's first single, "The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me," warns listeners about the perils of fraud and extols the virtues of good online security.
"It isn't clear how French maid outfits symbolize cryptocurrency or blockchain technology," notes Quartz, "but they're popular costumes in Japan's anime and cosplay circles."

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