March 19, 2019
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Spotify launches Car View on Android to make using its app less dangerous behind the wheel

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Spotify is making it easier to use its streaming app in the car, when the phone is connected to the vehicle over Bluetooth. The company today confirmed the launch of a new feature called “Car View,” which is a simplified version of the service’s Now Playing screen that includes larger fonts, bigger buttons, and no distractions from album art. In Car View, you’re only shown the track title and artist, so you can read the screen with just a glance.

The site 9to5Google was the first to spot the feature’s appearance in Spotify’s settings. However, some users have had the option for weeks in what had appeared to be a slow rollout or possibly a test, pre-launch.

Spotify this morning formally announced the launch of Car View in a post to its Community Forums.

The company says the feature is currently available only on Android devices, and only when the device is connected over Bluetooth.

When the phone connects, Car View is automatically enabled when your music or podcast starts playing.

Above: Car View in action; credit: 9to5Google

While Spotify already offers several in-car experiences through integrations with other apps like Google Maps, Waze, as well as through Android Auto, using the music app while behind the wheel has been very distracting and difficult.

I’ve personally found Spotify so dangerous to navigate while in the car, that I just won’t use it unless I set it up to stream before I drive. Or, in some cases, I’ll hand the phone to a passenger to control instead.

Given the difficulty with Spotify in the car, Car View’s lack of support for those who use the app over an AUX cable is a little disappointing.There’s no good reason why users should not be allowed to manually enable Car View from the Settings, if they choose. After all, it’s just a change to the user interface of a single view – and it’s been built!

Of course, manually toggling Car View on might not feel as seamless as the Bluetooth experience, but a feature like this could prevent accidents caused by people fiddling with their phone in the car. Hopefully, Spotify will make Car View more broadly accessible in time.

According to Spotify, once Car View is enabled, you can access your Library, tap to Browse, or use Search. While listening, you can use the seek bar to skip to another part of the song.

In the case that a passenger is controlling the music on your phone, they can temporarily disable Car View by way of the three dots menu. And if, for some reason, you don’t want to use Car View, the feature can be disabled in the Settings. (But keep it on, OK?)

Spotify also noted Car View supports landscape view, and will arrive on iOS in the future. It didn’t offer a time frame.

Car View officially launched on Android this week, and is now rolling out globally to all users.


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Tinder is testing the ability to share Spotify music clips in chat

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Tinder has already developed a fairly robust chat platform within its dating app, with support for sharing things like Bitmoji and GIFs, and the ability to “like” messages by tapping a heart icon. Now, the company is testing a new integration – sharing music via Spotify. Tinder confirmed with TechCrunch it’s trying out a new way to connect users, by allowing them to share music within their chats.

The test is currently taking place across global markets, and Spotify is the only music service involved.

The new feature was first spotted by the blog MSPoweruser who speculated the addition could be an experiment on Tinder’s part, ahead of a public launch. That does seem to be the case, as it turns out.

According to screenshots the site posted, a green music icon has been swapped in for the Bitmoji icon. Clicking this allows you to enter a query into a search box and see matching results displayed above. You’re not able to share the full song, however – only a 30-second clip.

Above: Tinder music test with Spotify; credits: MSPoweruser

Tinder, like its rival Bumble, has offered integration with Spotify’s streaming music service since 2016.

Both apps allow users to connect their Spotify accounts in order to showcase their top artists on their profile. As Tinder explained at the time of launch, music can be a powerful signal in terms of attraction and plays an important role in terms of getting to know a new connection, as well.

The company even launched its own profile on Spotify with playlists focused on dating, love and romance as a part of its collaboration with the music service.

The Spotify integration has paid off for Tinder in terms of user engagement within its app, the company tells us.

“Users love connecting over shared tastes in music,” a Tinder spokesperson explained. “In fact, users who update their ‘Anthem’ are most likely to start a conversation via Feed. With this in mind, we’re testing the ability to share music with a match while chatting on Tinder,” they added.

The “Anthem” is a feature that lets you pick a favorite song or one that’s representative of your tastes or personality. This is then highlighted in a special section on your Tinder profile.

Tinder did not offer any details as to when it expects the test to wrap or when it would launch music sharing more broadly.

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Pandora launches a personalized voice assistant on iOS and Android

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Pandora today announced the launch of its own, in-app voice assistant which you can call up at any time by saying “Hey Pandora,” followed by a request to play the music or podcasts you want to hear. The feature will allow you to not only control music playback with commands to play a specific artist, album, radio or playlist, but will also be capable of delivering results customized to you when responding to vague commands or those related to activity or mood. For example, you’ll get personalized results for requests like “play something new,” “play more like this,” “play music for relaxing,” “play workout music,””play something I like,” and others.

The company reports strong adoption of its service on voice-activated speakers, like Amazon Echo devices, where now millions of listeners launch Pandora music by speaking – a trend which inspired the move to launch in-app voice control.

“Voice is just an expected new way that you engage with any app,” notes Pandora Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips. “On the mobile app, we’re doing more than just your typical request against the catalog… asking: ‘hey, Pandora,’ to search and play or pause or skip,” he says.  “What we’re doing that we think is pretty special is we’re taking that voice utterance of what someone asks for, and we’re applying our personalized recommendations to the response,” Phillips explains.

That means when you ask Pandora to play you something new, the app will return a selection that won’t resemble everyone else’s music, but will rather be informed by your own listening habits and personal tastes.

The way that result is returned may also vary – for some, it could be a playlist, for others an album, and for others, it could be just a new song, a personalized soundtrack, or a radio station.

“Play something new” isn’t the only command that will yield a personalized response, Pandora says. It will also return personalized results for commands related to your mood or activity – like workout music, something to relax to, music for cooking, and more.

For podcasts, it can dig up episodes with a specific guest, play shows by title, or even deliver show recommendations, among other things.

Voice commands can be used in lieu of pressing buttons, too, in order to do things like add songs to a playlist or giving a song you like a thumbs up, for instance.

The new feature, called “Voice Mode,” taps into Pandora’s machine learning and data science capabilities, which is an active battleground between music services.

Spotify, for example, is well known for its deep personalized with its Discover Weekly and other custom playlists, like its Daily Mixes. But its own “voice mode” option is only available for its Premium users, according to a FAQ on the company’s website.

Pandora, meanwhile, is planning to roll out Voice Mode to all users – both free and paid.

For free users, the feature will work in conjunction with an existing ad product that allows users to opt in to watch a video in order to gain temporary access to Pandora’s on-demand service.

While this option is not live at launch, the plan is to allow any user to use the “Hey Pandora” command, then redirect free users with a request to play music on demand to instead play the opt-in ad first.

Pandora Voice Mode will launch today, January 15 to a percentage of the iOS and Android user base – around a million listeners. The company will track the speed, accuracy and performance of its results before rolling it out more broadly over the next couple of months.

Users with a Google Home device can also cast from their Pandora app to their smart speaker, and a similar feature will arrive on Alexa devices soon, the company believes.

Pandora works with  Siri Shortcuts, too. That means you can now use voice to launch the app itself, then play a personalized selection of music without having to touch your phone at all.

Voice Mode will be available in the Pandora app via the search bar next to the magnifying glass.


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Apple Music subscribers can now get their own ‘year in review,’ too, thanks to this app

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A new app offers Apple Music subscribers a way to look back at their favorite music of the year and other streaming highlights, similar to Spotify’s annual “Wrapped” feature. The app, from developer NoiseHub, is simply called “Music Year in Review,” and its sole purpose is to offer Apple Music customers their own set of music streaming insights for 2018.

If you’re not familiar with “Wrapped,” it’s Spotify’s data-rich yearly review that allows you to find out things like your most-played artists and songs, top genres, minutes streamed, new music discoveries, and more from the past year. The streaming service delivers these insights through a flashy, personalized website. It also puts your top 100 songs from the year into a playlist you can save to your own library.

NoiseHub’s new app, by comparison, is far more basic.

It only crunches the numbers across a few metrics: how many minutes you spent listening to your favorite artist this year on Apple Music, as well as your top five songs and artists, including which are your No. 1 favorites. It will also return your top genre of the year.

However, for Apple Music subscribers, there hasn’t been an easy way to access this data before now. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t offer a personalized, annual review feature like Spotify’s.

One caveat to using the new app is that NoiseHub asks for your email address to get started, which it says it used to “save your data.”

There isn’t a further explanation as to whether or not that email will be used again in the future, nor is there a privacy policy link. If sharing your email makes you uncomfortable, you may want to just use a disposable address – it doesn’t impact the app’s ability to retrieve your data.

Instead, NoiseHub pops up a permissions dialog box to request access to Apple Music in order to do its work.

It then returns a set of three graphics, the first featuring the time you spent with your top artist, the second with your No. 1’s for the year (genre, artist and song), and the third with your top five songs and top five artists.

The graphics are designed to be posted to Instagram or Twitter with a tap on the included sharing buttons, or can be downloaded to your Camera Roll for sharing elsewhere.

The app was developed by NoiseHub, a startup co-founded by Samir Shekhawat and Alex Santarelli, which was previously developing a social network for music lovers.

The Music Year in Review app is a free download on the App Store.

It still seems to be a bit of an undiscovered gem – there aren’t any public posts to speak of, and its Dribble page has just 155 views.

While some early testers experienced a bug that led to crashes, a recent update appears to have addressed that problem. The app worked for us without error.

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Amazon Music customers can now talk to Alexa more naturally

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Amazon Music, reportedly the third-largest subscription-based music service worldwide, is doubling down on voice. The company is today announcing the launch of new set of features that will allow Amazon Music customers to chat with Alexa in a more natural way in order to find and play the music they want to hear. The features allow Amazon Music customers and Alexa to engage in back-and-forth conversations to narrow down playlist options, and will allow users to tell Alexa what songs they like or hate, and have her remember.

Alexa’s integration with Amazon Music isn’t new. The company has been working to add a variety of voice control options for its music service since launch so customers could easily play songs on their Echo speakers and other Alexa-powered devices.

Over the years, it has offered the ability for customers to ask Alexa for music by mood, genre, or even lyrics, and more. But these have been simple voice commands, like “Alexa, play pop music,” for example, or “Alexa, play the song that goes…”, followed by some lyrics.

Now, Alexa will be able to have more of a discussion with the customer.

At launch, this feature will help customers fight the right playlist – like a holiday playlist or one for a dinner party, Amazon suggests.

To get started, customers can say, “Alexa, help me find a playlist,” “Alexa, help me find music for a holiday party,” or “Alexa, help me find dinner music.”

For help finding a playlist by genre, you have to start by saying “Alexa, help me find a playlist,” then direct the assistant to the genre you want. (Asking her, “Alexa, help me find a workout playlist,” didn’t work to trigger this feature during testing, unfortunately).

Amazon says Alexa can also be directed to playlists by mood or tempo, in addition to genre or occasion.

After the initial voice command, Alexa responds with follow-up questions to customize the playlist selection for the individual user.

When answering, the assistant sometimes injects her personality into the conversation, as well, by way of her typical corny jokes and comments.

In testing the feature, the conversations often began in different ways.

For example:

Me: Alexa, help me find a holiday playlist.
Alexa: We’ll be rocking around the Christmas tree. Any vibe in particular? Mellow? Or maybe upbeat?

Me: Alexa, help me find a holiday playlist.
Alexa: Sure, let’s sample a few holiday playlists. Shall we narrow the options down to country or maybe jazz?

Me: Alexa, help me find a holiday playlist.
Alexa: Let’s sample a few holiday playlists. Were you thinking any vibe in particular? Relaxed or upbeat, perhaps?

Me: Alexa, help me find a holiday playlist.
Alexa: It’s the most wonderful time of the year. So many options. Should we narrow it down to a classical style or maybe pop?

You can respond to Alexa’s questions naturally, as she offered her various suggestions.

For example:

Me: Alexa, help me find a holiday playlist.
Alexa: Amazon Music has a ton of merry, merry good playlists. Let’s find the right one for you. Were you thinking any vibe in particular? Relaxed or upbeat, perhap?
Me: Relaxed.
Alexa: Relaxing sounds good. Here’s one of my more popular Christmas playlists, Christmas Choirs.
[A sample of the playlist’s music begins]
Alexa: Will that work?
Me: Let’s do something else.
Alexa: Alright. Try this.
[Another playlist begins]
Alexa: An Irish Christmas. How about that?
Me: Nah. Something else.
Alexa: Okay. You might like this.
[A third playlist begins]
Alexa: Christmas Oldies. Will that work?
Me: Okay, that’s cool.
Alexa: Great. Happy Holidays.
[Music plays]

“It’s a paradigm shift because you’re getting into conversations,” explains  Kintan Brahmbhatt, Director of Product for Amazon Music, about the new feature. “Before, customers would ask Alexa to do something and Alexa would respond with music. Today, we’re shifting into deep personalization and Alexa will have an interactive conversation with the customer,” he says.

“The vision and the mission is to provide a very magical and simple customer experience when it comes to discovering music and enjoying music,” Brahmbhatt adds.

The ability to have back-and-forth chats with Alexa isn’t the only new feature today.

The voice assistant will work to help make the music experience more personalized, too.

Now, you can tell Alexa when you like or dislike the song that’s playing. There isn’t one specific command to use here. Instead, any number of phrases will work, like “Alexa, I like this song,” “Alexa, this is my favorite,” or “Alexa, I don’t like this.”

In addition to these explicit signals of interest, Alexa will also learn from your implicit actions – like which songs you play most often. These signals then feed into her ability to play something you like when you ask her to simply “Play Music.”

That command will now trigger a more personalized response that’s based on algorithms that consider factors like your personalized playlist, songs you’ve said you liked, artists you’ve asked Alexa to follow in the past who have new music out, and even forgotten songs you haven’t heard in a while, but used to like.

The features are rolling out starting to today to Amazon’s tens of millions of Amazon Music subscribers, which includes both Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited. It will work across any Alexa device, not just Echo speakers and screens.

Amazon is also running a deal that gives customers access to the premium streaming service, Amazon Music Unlimited’s 50+ million songs, for $0.99 per month for the first three months.

In the near future, Amazon says Alexa will be able to suggest music, too, when asked for recommendations.

She’ll do so by using cues from your previous listening habits, and by asking a few questions regarding your favorite genres, eras and other preferences. This will allow Alexa to be able to anticipate what customers are in the mood to hear, and suggest relevant music, or new releases tailored to them.

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