Since it launched nearly a decade ago, Apple's iTunes has become almost synonymous with digital music. A beautiful and intuitive user-interface coupled with the most thorough library of legal MP3 downloads available, it was the perfect accompaniment to the iPod…
It's Friday, which means that we round up the top five winners in tech for this week, as well as the biggest loser. Once again we have some hot gadgets and cool new websites, but which is going to take top spot?
Now that it’s gone midday, we’ll give up on the fake news and go back to the real deal. Before that, though, I wanted to salute a few of the better April Fool’s Day stories from around the web this morning.
Have you got a favourite? Email it to us. We want to see it.
This morning, Spotify and 7digital announced a ‘strategic partnership’ that’ll let Spotify users click straight through to buying MP3s on 7digital. Although I’ve awarded both of them an official Tech Digest badge of awesomeness in the past, the tie-up isn’t much more than the sum of its parts. Let’s have a look at five other dream partnerships that could really rock the world of digital music.
Pink Floyd and Guitar Hero
Once, not long ago, that would have read “The Beatles”, but the Fab Four’s estates have now given the thumbs up to Beatles Rock Band, so the net has to be cast a little wider. There are still a few digital standouts – most notably Pink Floyd but also Led Zeppelin – that haven’t worked very much with the Guitar Hero or Rock Band developers.
Other holdouts – Metallica, Tool and AC/DC have reneged on their digital hesitancy to get more heftily involved with the series. Tool provided artwork and several songs to Guitar Hero: World Tour, and Metallica are producing their own version of the game.
Top of my list, though, is Pink Floyd. As a massive fan of The Division Bell, I can’t think of anything more awesome than twiddling my way through “Coming Back to Life”. Blasting through ‘Money’ on bass in 7/4 time.
Major labels and Bittorrent
This might be a bit of a contentious one, and it’s probably the least likely of the lot, but it’s also the one that could prove the most fruitful. The major labels have the content cracked – the one thing people don’t say about them is that they have bad taste in bands – and Bittorrent is one of the most efficient distribution systems that there is.
If a major label set up a subscription-based Bittorrent tracker, where for £5 or a month or equivalent people were free to download and share playlists of as much as they like of that label’s content, then there’d be umpteen different benefits for the label.
Firstly, people in the community would emerge as tastemakers, who’d be great for the label working out which acts can sink or swim. Secondly, they’d not have to worry about distribution at all – the more popular an act, the faster everyone’s downloads would be. Lastly, they could easily track the relative popularity of different bands and allocate the revenues accordingly.
Audiosurf and Mobile Phones
Last year, I met with a senior staff member at Namco Mobile over my allegations that ‘mobile games are almost always awful’ – a view that I generally still hold. We had a good chat, and respectfully differed on a few things. But then I told him that he should convert Audiosurf to mobile.
He looked confused – ‘what’s Audiosurf?’. I explained that it’s a game where you load in whatever MP3s you like, and then it generates a track for you based on that song, where fast bits slope downhill, slow bits slope uphill and obstructions appear in time with the beat. You then race along the course, picking up blocks and lining them up in a grid.
It’s basically a bit like iTunes playing Tetris at WipEout. It’s absolutely perfect for mobile – short games, low graphics requirements, and global high scores uploaded via internet connections. Plus that compulsive ‘must beat the high score’ factor that’s seen me listen to far more Girls Aloud songs than anyone ever should.
Ninjam and Freesound
Think that’ll result in a latency mess? You’d be right, except that it delays the playback of your tracks to other musicians until the end of a bar. You’re playing along, therefore, with what the other musicians were playing during the last bar. As a result, it doesn’t work so well for pop music, but works brilliantly for more ‘jam’-y genres like jazz and post-rock.
Freesound, on the other hand, is a database of samples with creative commons licenses that anyone can use. A tie-up between the two, therefore, would be fantastic for the creation of sample-laden, gently evolving tracks – a bit like Lemon Jelly or Boards of Canada. It’s got to be moddable into the software, right?
Spotify and Last.fm
But I’ve saved my absolute favourite for last. A tie-up between Spotify and Last.fm, with the former supplying music and the latter supplying the social network and recommendations functionality, would be the best thing since sliced bread.
Spotify knows this, and founder Daniel Ek has publicly stated that he’d love to license Last.fm’s recommendations engine. Last.fm’s weakness is that it doesn’t do much in the way of full-track on-demand streaming. Spotify’s is that it doesn’t do radio very well. Surely, a match made in heaven.
Will we ever see it? Despite Spotify’s advances, Last.fm has been a little tight-lipped on the subject. Part of that is that it’s got its own problems to deal with at the moment. Part of that might also be that it thinks it can replicate Spotify’s functionality itself without their help. Whether that’s true or not, Spotify has the buzz right now – and Last.fm doesn’t. You can’t disregard that factor.
What would be your dream matchup? Drop us an email – [email protected] – and tell us, and we’ll showcase the best of your suggestions in a future post.
Mobile World Congress is just round 2009, which means that the dead spell between CES and MWC is nearly over. Next week the trickle of new handsets and mobile announcements will become a veritable flood, so before that begins, let’s talk about five announcements that simply won’t happen at MWC this year.
One: All handsets will henceforth come with a 3.5mm headphone jack
The headphones you get with a new phone ALWAYS suck – they’re flimsy, cheap, tinny, and generally last all of twenty minutes when used in the wild. That’s why it’s possible, indeed desirable, to buy alternative earbuds from the likes of Klipsch, Sennheiser or Jays Headphones.
But the vast majority of handsets won’t let you use them. Some come with an adapter the bulkily attaches to the bottom of your phone, but many simply don’t offer the option. The idea being, of course, that you’ll shell out for the ‘premium’ earbud accessories that don’t sound much better, even if they do stay in your ear for more than ten seconds.
At MWC 2009, expect this trend to continue. Manufacturers, with the exception of a few music-based handsets like the Nokia 5800, have absolutely no interest in helping out consumers with this one.
Two: Battery life will be doubled, not halved
Each year, as handsets get more and more powerful, it seems like my phone’s battery lasts fewer and fewer hours before giving up the ghost. I charge my N95 once a day, and even then it’s usually struggling by the evening. In the old days, my phone could last weeks without a charge.
So it seems that battery technology simply isn’t advancing as fast as phone feature technology. Next year, expect to charge your phone twice a day. The year after it’ll be every hour. The year after that, we’ll all be charging our phones through the movement of our clothes.
But this year, at MWC 2009, don’t expect to hear announcements of dramatically improved battery lift. Marketers know that GPS, more megapixels on the cameras, and more memory are all sexier than a few extra hours’ juice.
Three: A decent handset running Android
The G1 is great, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind its ‘chin’, the irritating need to switch from portrait to landscape whenever you want to enter text, and the rubbish camera. But it’s not the uber-phone that it needs to be to be the true iPhone killer that everyone wants it to be.
And neither are any of the other handsets announced for 2009. Android has so much potential as a platform, but its devices are really letting it down. For our shopping list of what the perfect handset would comprise of, see Dan’s top 10 things to look for in a phone.
So unless someone’s keeping something exceptionally well-hidden from the world, which is rare in the mobile phone space, then we’re not going to see the mother of all handsets for Android announced at MWC this year. Pity.
Four: LTE or WiMax arriving for consumers
Perhaps I’m being unfair here, but it feels like LTE and WiMax have been ‘competing’ for ages as to which will be the next generation of mobile broadband. Well, I’ve had enough competition – can’t we just crown a winner already? All this delay is doing is keeping my mobile internet slow.
I don’t mind which it is, but let’s get whichever into every handset as fast as we can please, without any of the crawling slowness that’s characterised the switch from GPRS to 3G. Even today handsets are coming out without 3G. That’s ridiculous.
At MWC this year, there won’t be an announcement that next-generation mobile broadband will be available to more than a handful of consumers. That’s a pity, especially as the iPhone has shown how much people want mobile internet.
Five: Some decent mobile games
For far too long, ‘mobile game’ has directly translated into ‘tired gaming concept combined with bad movie franchise, shoehorned into an awkward control system on a tiny screen’. There are very very few mobile games that are worth the money they cost, although I’m sure Stuart Dredge over at Pocket Gamer would disagree.
The iPhone has helped matters by upping the quality standards, but it’s also meant that there are few games where accelerometer control hasn’t joined the shopping list above. What’s really needed is for proper developers to make serious – hardcore – games. Games with great narrative, excellent humour and thrilling moments.
It’s possible, even with the limitations of the device. But good games won’t be announced at CES this year – no, it’ll be yet another version of Worms, Deal or No Deal and awful racing games. Sigh. I hope that eventually developers will realise that mobile doesn’t have to mean “rubbish”.
It’s no secret that I love, adore, and worship Spotify. It’s far and away my favourite piece of software that’s emerged over the last year. The reason I love it so much is its simplicity, and the way it does nearly everything exactly right. You can see exactly why I love it from my original writeup here.
Yesterday, Spotify removed its invitation-only status in the UK. It’s been possible to sign up without an invite, via a bit of URL trickery, for a little while, but now it’s open to anyone. Go get your sisters, brothers, parents and neighbors signed up – they’ll love it. However, Spotify, for all its awesomeness, isn’t quite perfect. Here’s five reasons why.
Continuing the chilly theme around Tech Digest Towers today, you’re probably wondering “how on earth can I make the perfect snowball?”, or “how can I make a brilliant home-made snowball cannon?”. Well, fear not, We’ve got you covered.
For our top five snow-related gadgets, just click through to the main post.
Four inches? Five? Twelve? I’m talking about the snow, you filthy individual. You might have noticed the white stuff accumulating outside at an alarming rate today – at the time of writing it’s still coming down in North London – and you’re probably starting to worry if it’s ever going to stop.
I can assure you, it will. As for when – well, it’ll probably be sunnier tomorrow, but then go back to sleety snow for the majority of the week. But you want more detail, right? Right. Well, here’s my top five places where you can track this week’s snowfall online in-depth. Click over the jump to begin.
As the lights go out tonight on 2008, we thought we’d reflect back in the year just gone, and pick a few gadgets that we absolutely, positively, couldn’t live without this year. I’ve contributed a couple, and I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say it was tough to narrow the list down.
I could have nominated my brilliant Acer Aspire One netbook. I could have nominated my beloved Zune 30 MP3 player (and very nearly did). I probably should at least mention my Victorinox WT messenger bag that goes almost everywhere that I do. However, none of those approach the love that I have for the gadgets that made the list.
See those gadgets, and Dan and Gary’s choices, too, by clicking on my beloved N95 below.
Susi from Shiny Shiny is renowned in our office for having the world’s most ridiculous watch. Like Macs, it looks good, but it doesn’t really work very well, and in most cases, she just uses the time on her BlackBerry rather than spending 40 minutes studying her Tokyo Flash timepiece.
Inspired no doubt by the shouty ‘NOW’ watch released the other day, she’s put together the top five most unreadable watches stupidity can buy you. Better keep a hold of your mobile phone just in case, natch…