Monthly Archives: January 2014

Bandsintown, the platform for users to keep tabs on local concerts and their favorite bands, has integrated Sony’s Music Unlimited streaming service.

The partnership means that Bandsintown (available on Android, iOS and as a Facebook app) users can now not only keep tabs of their favorite artists and bands, but also stream tracks directly from within posts promoted by Bandsintown and those shared by other fans. Naturally, streaming the full version of any song requires a paid-for membership to Sony Music Unlimited, with prices starting from $4.99 per month. If that doesn’t appeal, free users will get to hear a 30-second snippet of the track instead.

The collaboration seems like a natural fit for both companies: existing Bandsintown users will likely appreciate the opportunity to hear new tracks from bands that are playing locally, and from Sony’s point-of-view it can only serve to increase the number of paying number of subscribers it has for its music service.

Sony Network Entertainment International’s Music Unlimited Becomes Official Streaming Partner for Bandsintown [Sony Entertainment Network]

Read Next: 15 of the best music streaming platforms online today. Which one is best for you?

Featured Image Credit – txking /”>Shutterstock

UBI1 520x245 How DataWind's $38 tablet is turning the world upside down (for the better)

Over the past couple years, DataWind has been up-ending the emerging tablet market with its budget Aakash and Ubislate tablets, which sell for as low as $38. At CES last week, we spoke to DataWind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli about the company’s recent expansion to the US, UK, and Canada and its plan to “bridge the digital divide” for the next billion Internet users.

Suneet with device e1389984157644 220x226 How DataWind's $38 tablet is turning the world upside down (for the better)

While DataWind is just starting to make noise in developed countries, the company has been around for several years. Tuli and his brother Raja Singh Tuli founded the company back in 2001 after working on two other tech companies in the imaging field. At the time, Tuli was interested in the difficulties associated with rise of the wireless Internet.

The company’s core technology enables basic Internet browsing in low bandwidth environments with minimal processing requirements. The resulting products were tailor-made for emerging markets where the mobile infrastructure is less developed and consumers are more price sensitive.

DataWind’s efforts caught the attention of the Indian government in 2011, winning the company a contract to produce low-cost tablets for students. Tuli estimates that there are 220 million Indian students that the company could reach with its low-cost access devices.

Since launching its tablet line commercially, DataWind has risen to become one of the top three tablet suppliers in India, alongside Apple and Samsung. In fact, it took the No. 1 spot a couple quarters last year, selling over a million units throughout 2013.

Datawind Ubislate How DataWind's $38 tablet is turning the world upside down (for the better)

DataWind went on to expand beyond India with launches in Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay and other places. Widespread NGO interest in the US led DataWind to look into whether there was a market for low-cost tablets and wireless connectivity. After a few pilot programs and hackathons, DataWind decided there was a big enough price-conscious segment in the US to warrant bringing its tablets to the US.

The WiFi-only Ubislate 7Ci packs a Cortex A8 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM for $37.99, but its 2G-equipped Ubislate 7C+ costs $79.99, or $99.99 with a year of basic Internet included. A 3G model costs $129 and adds Bluetooth support and higher screen resolution.

Datawind UbiSlate 7C 220x148 How DataWind's $38 tablet is turning the world upside down (for the better)

Tuli said that demand for the devices has been strong in the US, attracting a “handful of thousands” of daily sales from its website.

“We’re realizing there’s a digital divide not only in the developing world,” he added.

When I first heard about a $38 tablet, I was beyond skeptical that it could actually be usable. However, Tuli explained several different methods that the company used to drive prices down. The key difference is that DataWind makes its own touch screens.

“When we saw the disparity in price and production cost, we felt we could squeeze that margin out. The LCD and touchscreen are the only products left with any real margin,” he said.

Other components like the CPU are cheap with just a 20 percent margin, but touchscreens sell with margins as high as 70-80 percent.

DataWind also designed its business model to generate money from services. Many customers in developing markets have opted for Ubislate’s one-year Internet packages because they don’t have ready access to WiFi connections. Ubislate has also tended to have a longer lifespan in countries like India, so the overall lifetime value of customers is higher.

“What we’ve discovered in India is that, even though the original customer might be changing, there’s a next tier of customer that they’re passing it down to,” Tuli said.

DataWind is open to driving the pricing down even further as it scales up. The company’s roadmap charts a path to sub-$20 tablet in less than two years.

“At this stage, we make a reasonable amount on the hardware and we’re okay with that, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t sell it at a loss in the future,” he added.

Initiatives like the One Laptop Per Child movement have pushed to connect developing nations with laptops, but DataWind found that the touchscreen on a tablet has a shorter learning curve.

“You don’t need to teach [new users]. The level of learning that they need to do to be useful is just minimal,” Tuli said. “I think that the skepticism about who’s going to teach them has been proven wrong.”

Tuli also noted that studies in developed countries about the educational improvements from using a tablet have missed the mark.

“Don’t look at that environment,” he said. “Look at the 1 billion in rural India that don’t have paved roads, where the teachers don’t show up.”

For example, DataWind is working with a home-based girls education NGO in Afghanistan. The students learn on the tablets, and parents have a user interface to track progress and assign tasks.

“Lots of cool stuff like that that are happening in different parts of the world. It will be impactful,” Tuli said.

While Tuli and his brother have set their sights on connecting new users to the Internet, they’re also running the company as a business. DataWind isn’t dependent on government subsidies and contracts.

“Our concept wasn’t thinking to sell it for charity. We’re trying to figure out what are sustainable business models,” he said. “The advantage we have is that we’re going after a customer nobody else is going after.”

152303724 520x245 500px integrates MapBox to vizualize photos geolocation data and help users find shots taken nearby

Photo sharing platform 500px has integrated MapBox maps across its site over the last couple of days, giving users a better idea of where their newly discovered or all time favorite shots were taken.

Users will notice that on individual photo pages, a new Location tab is highlighted alongside the image’s licensing information, upload date and other default details. Selecting it reveals a small window with a blue arrow icon depicting exactly where the photo was captured.

It’s a bit small though and difficult to make out the country or region in question. Thankfully, clicking on the map again triggers a far more expansive window which can be used to examine the location in greater detail.

Screen Shot 2013 07 26 at 16.32.36 730x383 500px integrates MapBox to vizualize photos geolocation data and help users find shots taken nearby

In addition, viewers can also see other photos uploaded both by the original photographer and other 500px users in the surrounding area. It’s a far more organic way of navigating the site and adds a sense of context to users’ photos.

The new Location tab isn’t present for every image uploaded to 500px. That’s because the majority of photographs won’t have geolocation data attached to them automatically. Users can set this manually when they upload a photo to the service, or at anytime by hitting the edit button from the dashboard.

Rival services such as Flickr and Google+ offer similar mapping functionality, but MapBox’s integration with 500px is particularly slick. For those who like to spend hours just commenting and Liking on a seemingly endless number of photos, it’s a nice if not particularly innovative addition.

500px launched its new, redesigned Professional Photo Portfolios in May this year, following pretty significant updates to both its iOS and Android apps in the months prior.

Image Credit: OLIVER BERG/AFP/GettyImages

IMG 0180 1280x960 520x245 Boombot Rex review: Great sound meets durability in this life proof Bluetooth speaker

Let’s talk about Bluetooth speakers for a moment. The simple fact is that most of them suck. A lot. There are some notable exceptions, such as the Jambox and Big Jambox from Jawbone, but they’re definitely the exception and not the rule. I’ve tested no fewer than 20 different Bluetooth speakers for TNW, and most of them never see the light of day on the site, so you can understand my hesitation when the guys from Boombotix got in touch to ask me to review the Boombot Rex. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised, so I thought it was time to tell you why.

A couple of things set the Rex apart from the competition. The first thing is that it’s considerably more durable than other speakers I’ve tested. That’s done so that you can clip the Rex onto your backpack, belt or even your bike so you can take sound with you. I’ve thrown my demo unit around quite a bit, and I’ve not had any durability issues with it. I even went so far as to “accidentally” leave the Rex on top of my car when I was driving off, and then I admired the fact that it survived a 15 mile-per-hour impact onto the road.

The next factor is that it has a built-in microphone, so that essentially means that it’s a Bluetooth speakerphone. Boombotix touts this as “Siri integration”, but chalk that up to marketing speak. At any rate, it works well and the microphone sounds plenty good enough for telephone conversations.

The final factor that sets the Rex apart from the competition is the biggest one – It sounds good. It’s easily on par with the Jambox, but not quite up to the Big Jambox. You’re not going to replace your home stereo with a few Rex devices chained together (though plugs on the back would allow for that), but you’ll be more than happy with it in a hotel room or while riding down the street.

IMG 0181 1280x960 730x547 Boombot Rex review: Great sound meets durability in this life proof Bluetooth speaker

The clip is heavy duty, allowing for secure placement of the Rex anywhere that it will attach. With the wealth of accessories, you can replace the clip, the grille, add even more protection and get a mount for your bike’s handlebars. The Rex ships with a 3.5mm audio cable, as well as a micro USB charging cord. Replacements for either of these will only run you about $6, and kudos to Boombotix for not using proprietary cabling.

At $119, the Rex isn’t the cheapest Bluetooth speaker on the market, but its performance matches its price. I’ve not found a better one for less money. It also has the distinction of being featured in Apple retail stores, which should help boost sales and keep the company on its toes. If you want to pony up $10 extra, there are some limited edition Rex designs that you can grab as well.

In all, I’m duly impressed with Boombotix and the Boombot Rex. Great sound, a rock-solid design and customization make for a killer combination.

The Boombot Rex, from Boombotix

2013 05 07 15.14.46 645x250 520x245 Photo editing app Hipstamatic Oggl lands on Windows Phone 8 with direct sharing to Instagram

Hipstamatic Oggl is out now for Windows Phone 8, providing somewhat of a stop-gap for handset owners still craving for an official Instagram app.

The photo-sharing service has been available for iOS devices for a couple of months now and expands upon the original Hipstamatic app with a refreshed interface, social features and vintage filters.

manual thumb 3ED7A5B8 220x366 Photo editing app Hipstamatic Oggl lands on Windows Phone 8 with direct sharing to Instagram

The Windows Phone 8 version, announced in May alongside the Lumia 925 is much the same, enabling users to mix and match various analog-inspired lenses and films. Square crop photos are a requirement here, again taking after its hugely successful rival Instagram.

There’s no official Instagram app for Windows Phone 8 at the moment, but Hipstamatic does offer users the ability to post images directly to Facebook’s wildly popular photo-sharing service. That’s a huge step forward for Microsoft’s mobile platform and should enable users to side-step third-party clients such as Instance.

Hipstamatic is also offering a PRO version of its new Oggl app for Nokia Lumia 1020 owners. It’s almost identical to the entry-level version, but packs in some impressive new manual controls including exposure, white, balance, IOS and shutter speed adjustments. Users also have the ability to reframe shots thanks to the handset’s monstrous 41-megapixel sensor, as well fix framing problems with an auto-leveling feature.

fef817a6 2a42 40a7 be1f 6d9d931917d0 220x366 Photo editing app Hipstamatic Oggl lands on Windows Phone 8 with direct sharing to Instagram

Video aside, these features actually push Hipstamatic Oggl far beyond Instagram’s native apps for iOS and Android. By blending both a professional camera interface and stylish photo-editing options, this could truly be the silver bullet for Windows Phone 8 users. Even for those who are disinterested in the Lumia 1020, it’s still a solid replacement for Instagram – albeit without the huge community.

Both the standard and pro versions of Hipstamatic Oggl are free. They come with 5 preset lenses and films, with additional filter packs requiring a premium subscription. Anyone that creates an account before August 9, however, will have access to the entire library over the next 60 days. Once that’s over, it costs $2.99 for three months or $9.99 for the year.

Is it Instagram? No. Hipstamatic Oggl is a robust alternative though which Windows Phone 8 users should check out without question. Pick it up in the Windows Phone store now.

Hipstamatic Oggl | Windows Phone 8
Hipstamatic Oggl PRO | Windows Phone 8 (Nokia Lumia 1020 exclusive)

magazine 520x245 Relax... The new issue of TNW Magazine is available to download now

The latest issue of our monthly magazine for iOS devices is out now, so why not kick back and relax while you read it? After all, this month’s theme is… relaxation.

Yes, this month we have exclusive articles for you about the art of chilling out. Download the magazine from Apple’s Newsstand and you can enjoy:

  • Relaxation in the Age of Beautiful Noise by Alex Wilhelm (no longer of this parish, but we have long lead times on these things)
  • Meet Melon – The quantified self headband to help calm your brain and get you focused again by Ken Yeung
  • …Aaand relax: 10 apps to help you de-stress by Paul Sawers

As always, there’s more great content courtesy of our partners at Kuvva, Wappzapp, The Next Speaker, 22tracks and Betalist. And we’ve got the best apps, books, gadgets and movies to help you relax.

So, fire up an iDevice and get downloading. As ever, TNW Magazine is completely free.

TNW Magazine

cover 520x693 Relax... The new issue of TNW Magazine is available to download now

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London-based firm set up by chess-prodigy-turned-neuroscientist is Google’s biggest ever European acquisition

A two-year-old British technology company set up by a former child chess prodigy who became a groundbreaking neuroscientist has become Google’s largest European acquisition.

The search giant is spending 400m ($625m) on DeepMind Technologies, a London-based firm set up in 2012, which recently developed a computer system capable of understanding and playing an Atari computer game simply by looking at it on a screen as a human would.

The artificial intelligence (AI) firm was created by Demis Hassabis, 37. Described as “very brilliant” by his peers, he was a chess master by 13, completed his A-levels two years early and at 17 was lead programmer on the classic game Theme Park at the videogames company Bullfrog. In 1999, aged 23, he won the Mind Sports Olympiad – an annual international multi-disciplined competition for games of mental skill. He won it a record five times before retiring in 2003 from competitive play.

Born in north London, Hassabis also carried out research on brain-damaged patients which established that being able to imagine experiences is key to being able to remember past events.

DeepMind reportedly competed with Google and other AI companies for talent, and Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, is said to have led the deal himself after an earlier approach from Facebook was turned down.

Sources close to the purchase indicated that the technology would be built into Google’s search systems, rather than becoming part of its fast-expanding robotics division. Google has bought eight robotics companies, including Bot & Dolly which made the computer-controlled cameras used in the film “Gravity”.

“DeepMind was generally interested in reinforcement learning, and in deep learning, which is very useful in mining so called ‘big data’, something Google has a lot of and is interested in processing,” said Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London.

Google uses AI to understand search queries that have been written as spoken, as well as pattern recognition for image search. Its translation service also relies heavily on AI to understand the context of words and their meaning in different situations and sentences.

The broader question of whether AI technology could be misused or pose a threat to humans has led to the creation of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, which notes that “many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole”.

The DeepMind acquisition is conditional on Google setting up an internal ethics board, sources told The Information.

Google confirmed the deal but would not supply any details.

Google’s other recent acquisitions have included the $3.2bn purchase of the smart fire alarm company Nest, described by Google’s Eric Schmidt as “an important bet” which will lead to products that are “infinitely more intelligent”.

Hassabis got a double first in computer science at Cambridge University in 1997, and returned to games as lead AI programmer on the landmark game Black & White. He set up his own games business, Elixir Studios, in 1998, but in 2005 he left for academia, working on cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence, and publishing influential papers on memory and amnesia.

After attaining a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience from University College London in 2009, Hassabis returned to business in 2012 to found DeepMind Technologies, alongside Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman.

Google acquired a string of robotics firms in 2013, culminating in the purchase of Boston Dynamics in December, the most high-profile purchase at the time and a company holding contracts with the US military.

Google’s robotics division was put under the leadership of the father of Android, Andy Rubin, in December, combining seven technology companies to foster a self-described “moonshot” robotics vision.

Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, told the Guardian last week that the company was aiming to be the world’s best personal assistant, and said the only limitation was the capability of the technology itself.

“We haven’t held back because people aren’t ready – we have held back because the technology doesn’t work yet,” he said. “It’s very hard to do. But we want it to be the best it can be – with opt in, full permission – to help me get through the day, figure out my questions and suggest questions I should ask people.” He added: “People are doing research into how computers discover knowledge instead of reporting what they figured out – many people are on the edge of that, so it’s maybe five years away.”

apple iphone4s top 520x245 Apple is reportedly creating its own speech tech for Siri to eliminate dependence on Nuance

We may now know why Apple quietly set up shop in Boston earlier this year, if a report from Xconomy is to be believed. According to the site, Apple is developing a team of top speech technologists in Boston to eventually eliminate its dependence on Nuance for Siri.

The likelihood of this is actually extremely high – we’ve illustrated why below.

As a reminder, Nuance is the Boston-based multinational software maker which powers Apple’s voice recognition feature in Siri. Nuance has recently seen at least two of its speech scientists leave the company and join Apple. In other words, Apple is pulling talent from Nuance and putting them to work in its own backyard.

Currently, as Xconomy details, Apple’s Boston team publicly includes former Nuance employee Gunnar Evermann, who has a history of developing speech recognition technology; Larry Gillick, whose title is “Chief Speech Scientist, Siri at Apple;” and Don McAllaster, another ex-Nuance employee whose title at Apple is simply “Senior Research Scientist.” There are also a handful of other former Nuance employees currently at Apple, but not based in Boston, including Caroline Labrecque and Rongqing Huang.

Given how clear these titles are (again: “Chief Speech Scientist, Siri”), Apple is certainly developing some sort of speech technology in Boston. The only thing that’s currently unconfirmed is if Apple is strategically distancing itself from Nuance. Apple has a history of eliminating third-party ties to become self-reliant, and Nuance just might be next on Apple’s list.

162642967 520x245 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It’s been a little over three months since Twitter #Music was launched on the Web and iOS. The release signalled Twitter’s desire to broaden its influence on the Web. To be more. To leverage the ever-increasing number of tweets to disrupt the status-quo.

Yet for all its hype, Twitter #Music has been a disappointment. The mobile app sits patiently in a folder on my iPhone, gathering virtual dust and a sense of increasing irrelevancy. I have no desire to open it. Perhaps that’ll change with a future update, but for now it remains rather useless.

It’s not just me either. I’ve asked friends and family what their go-to app is for listening to music on the move. Spotify, Rdio and the default iOS Music app rank high. Twitter #Music does not.

Admittedly, that’s a small group of people to poll. But a quick inspection of the top free music apps in the App Store tells a similar story. Alongside the apps I just mentioned are Deezer, Soundcloud and Shazam, as well as a bunch of emerging services such as filling out the top 20.

Twitter #Music isn’t featured. Nor is it in the top 50. Top 100? Nope. Top 200? Nope. At the time of writing, the app sits ranked 285. Ouch.

So why is no-one using it?

The purpose of the Twitter #Music app is three-fold; help listeners discover new music; act as an overlay for playing said music; incentivize the music industry – particularly artists and labels – to continue engaging with their fans on Twitter.

To help users find a bunch of brilliant new records, the app offers five charts with rather ambiguous names such as ‘Emerging’, ‘Unearthed’ and ‘Hunted’. They all sound inviting, but I couldn’t tell you what the difference is between any of the three.

twittermusic1 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

Tapping one reveals a very compact grid filled with tiny square display pictures. Each of them represents an artist and they’re ranked in accordance with their popularity. The interface is pretty terrible though and at times completely bewildering. The various images are the size of my fingernail and reveal next to nothing about the artist or the sort of music they play. Twitter has also chosen to show their Twitter handle by default – rather than the artist’s name – which only adds to the confusion.

Selecting a specific artist then reveals a jarring profile page that tries to blend both their Twitter account and more of these tiny cuboid images. It’s the same story in the app’s ‘Suggested’ and ‘#NowPlaying’ sections. Everything feels unrefined and lacks consistent aesthetics.

Too many alternatives that are just better

Discovering new music should be a visually stunning and frictionless experience. Soundwave, and even the ‘Discover’ tab in Spotify do a much better job of this than Twitter #Music by keeping their respective interfaces refreshingly simple and uncluttered. Twitter’s mobile app just feels messy in comparison.

Twitter #Music would also be a novel proposition if it offered its own digital storefront or an on-demand streaming service. But it doesn’t do that either. Tracks are either 30-second previews from iTunes with direct store links – another bid to get music labels and artists on side – or only supported with an active Spotify or Rdio subscription.

twittermusic2 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It begs the question though: why would a Spotify or Rdio subscriber leave their dedicated mobile app for this? There’s no way to create custom playlists, queue tracks or access premium features offered by these more robust and expansive services. The idea, presumably, is to reinforce Twitter #Music’s discovery options by giving users the ability to listen to new tracks in their entirety.

Twitter #Music lacks a defining feature or hook to keep users engaged. It’s an odd blend of ideas that never seem to mesh or offer a significant value proposition to the listener. There’s some potential here though and plenty of time for Twitter to turn it around – but no wonder it’s performing so poorly in the App Store at the moment.

Image Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images