Bug

iPhone X Owners Experience 'Crackling' or 'Buzzing' Sounds From Earpiece Speaker (macrumors.com) 15

MacRumors reports: A limited but increasing number of iPhone X owners claim to be experiencing so-called "crackling" or "buzzing" sounds emanating from the device's front-facing earpiece speaker at high or max volumes. Over two dozen users have said they are affected in a MacRumors discussion topic about the matter, while similar reports have surfaced on Twitter and Reddit since the iPhone X launched just over a week ago. On affected devices, the crackling sounds occur with any kind of audio playback, including phone calls, music, videos with sound, alarms, and ringtones. The issue doesn't appear to be limited to any specific iPhone X configuration or iOS version.
"The speakerphone for an $1100 phone should be at least as good as it was on the iPhone 6 and 7," complained one user, "but instead, it's crackly, edgy and buzzy."

"I believe we all knew the iPhone X would be highly scrutinized," writes Slashdot reader sqorbit, "but the reported problems appear to be stacking up."
Music

Apple's HomePod Gets Delayed Until 2018 (theverge.com) 40

Apple has reportedly delayed the release of its HomePod smart speaker until 2018. In a statement to The Verge, Apple says that it needs more time to work on the device. "We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers," an Apple spokesperson said. "We'll start shipping in the U.S., UK and Australia in early 2018." From the report: The speaker was originally set to be released in December. Priced at $349, the HomePod is slated to take on higher-end sound systems like Sonos, as well as smart assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The cylindrical speaker features a seven-speaker array of tweeters, a four-inch subwoofer, and a six-microphone array, which puts it right on par spec-wise with the best speakers in its price range, but where it may fall short is Siri, which isn't really in the same class as Alexa or Google Assistant. That challenge is likely why Apple's focus at the launch of the HomePod back at WWDC in June was music first and smart features second.
Music

Ask Slashdot: Can You Convert Old iPods Into A Home Music-Streaming Solution? 118

Slashdot reader zhennian wants to stream music throughout his entire house, "and was hoping that with three old iPods I might be able to put together a centrally managed house-wide audio system." Ideally it would be possible to control what's playing from a central web interface using an app on an IOS or Android device. With the iPods already plugged into docking stations and on the home wifi network, I assume it should be possible.

A search of the Apple app store didn't bring up much and forking out $AUS400 for a Sonos One or equivalent seems wasted when I've already purchased iPod docks. Can anyone recommend an App that will still be compatible with old (ie. 2007) iPods and might do this?

Or is there a better cheap alternative? Leave your best answers in the comments. Can you convert old iPods into a home music-streaming solution?
Music

A Global Shortage of Magnetic Tape Leaves Cassette Fans Reeling (wsj.com) 276

A reader shares a report: Steve Stepp and his team of septuagenarian engineers are using a bag of rust, a kitchen mixer larger than a man and a 62-foot-long contraption that used to make magnetic strips for credit cards to avert a disaster that no one saw coming in the digital-music era. The world is running out of cassette tape (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). National Audio Co., where Mr. Stepp is president and co-owner, has been hoarding a stockpile of music-quality, an-eighth of an inch-wide magnetic tape from suppliers that shut down in the past 15 years after music lovers ditched cassettes. National Audio held on. Now, many musicians are clamoring for cassettes as a way to physically distribute their music. The company says it has less than a year's supply of tape left. So it is building the first manufacturing line for high-grade ferric oxide cassette tape in the U.S. in decades. If all goes well, the machine will churn out nearly 4 miles of tape a minute by January. And not just any tape. "The best tape ever made," boasts Mr. Stepp, 69 years old. "People will hear a whole new product."
Businesses

Pandora Loses 7 Million Listeners (siliconvalley.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes the Bay Area Newsgroup: So many listeners have turned off Pandora that Friday could have been called the day the music died for the internet radio streaming pioneer. Late Thursday, Pandora said it ended its third quarter with 73.7 million active listeners, a decline of more than 7 million listeners from the 81 million it had in the same quarter a year ago. Declining listener numbers, along with weaker-than-expected advertising revenue and a disappointing fourth-quarter forecast, had investors tuning Pandora out on Friday, as the company's shares fell by almost 25 percent, to close at $5.59.

Pandora still has more listeners than Apple Music, which has 27 million paying subscribers. But the Oakland-based music streaming business trails its other major rival, Spotify, which has 140 million active listeners, including 60 million who pay a monthly fee for on-demand streaming and to avoid listening to commercials with their music.

For comparision, Pandora now has just 5.19 million paying subscribers for its two ad-free streaming music services.
Music

Ambitious Augmented Reality Startup Doppler Labs Shuts Down (theverge.com) 24

Wired reports that Doppler Labs, the company behind Here One smart earbuds, has announced that it's shutting down all operations today. The Verge reports: Founded in 2013, Doppler Labs debuted the prototype of its Here Active Listening System two years later in 2015. The battery-powered earbuds, according to Doppler Labs founder and CEO Noah Kraft, were built to enhance sound in the world around you. By using the accompanying app, users could, in theory, apply any manner of EQ settings that did everything from reduce overwhelming bass frequencies at a concert to dim the midrange chatter of co-workers while in an office. Kraft's vision for Doppler's future was an compelling idea -- "we want to put a computer, speaker, and mic in everyone's ear" -- but the Here Active Listening System was met with mixed reviews. In 2016, the company announced a new version of the earbuds, now called Here One. Dubbed "augmented reality earbuds," these earbuds allowed for streaming audio via Bluetooth, combined with the sound-enhancement tools seen in the Here Active Listening System. It seemed to offer the best of both worlds: a way to not only blend music or content playing in-ear with ambient noise, but the ability to adjust that ambient noise as well. Unfortunately, in bringing Here One to market the company was met with a raft of problems. According to Wired, a manufacturer change pushed production delivery from the fall 2016 to February 2017. There was also bad news on the battery front. The company hoped to offer 4.5 hours of battery life using augmented hearing and three hours of music streaming, but the unit's Bluetooth chip wound up diminishing those expectations.
Media

Is the Optical Cable Dying? (cnet.com) 299

Geoffrey Morrison from CNET explains how the optical cable is "dying a very slow death": The official term for optical audio cable is "Toslink," short for Toshiba Link. Developed in the early '80s to connect their CD players to their receivers, it was a red laser optical version of the Sony/Phillips "Digital Interconnect Format" aka S/PDIF standard. You've seen standard S/PDIF connections a bunch too; they're often called "coax digital." Optical had certain benefits over copper cables, but they were also more fragile, and for a long time, more expensive. Though glass cables were available, for even more money, most optical cables were made from cheap plastic. This limited their range to in-room use, primarily. Through the '90s and 2000's, the optical cable was near-ubiquitous: The easiest way to get Dolby Digital and DTS from your cable/satellite box, TiVo, or DVD player to your receiver. Even in the early days of HDMI, right next to it would be the lowly optical cable, ready in case someone's receiver didn't accept HDMI. But now more and more gear are dropping optical. It's gone completely on the latest Roku and Apple TV 4K, for example. It's also disappeared from many smaller TVs, though it lingers on in larger ones, a potentially redundant backup to HDMI with ARC. The reason for this? Soundbars...
Japan

Virtual Singer Uses Crowdsourced Songs To Become a Star In Japan (bloomberg.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg. [Alternate version here]: During her 10-year career, she's released more than 100,000 songs in a variety of languages and opened shows for Lady Gaga. And yet Hatsune Miku, who boasts 2.5 million Facebook followers, doesn't actually exist -- at least not in the typical way we think of a flesh-and-blood diva. Miku is a computer-simulated pop star created more than a decade ago by Hiroyuki Ito, CEO of Crypton Future Media in Sapporo, Japan.

She started life as a piece of voice-synthesis software but since has evolved to become a singing sensation in her own right -- thanks to the creativity of her legions of fans. Crucial to Miku's success is the ability for devotees to purchase the Yamaha-powered Vocaloid software and write their own songs for the star to sing right back at them. Fans then can upload songs to the web and vie for the honor of having her perform them at "live" gigs, in which the computer-animated Miku takes center stage, surrounded by human guitarists, drummers and pianists.

Bloomberg's article includes some video clips of the virtual artist -- as well as her real-world fans.
Android

Some Pixel 2 Users Are Complaining About A High-Pitched Whine and Clicking Noises (arstechnica.com) 105

After dealing with all sorts of screen issues, another problem with Google's flagship smartphone is popping up. This time it's an audio issue: users on Google's official forums and elsewhere are reporting odd sounds coming from the Pixel 2 speakers. Ars Technica reports: Customers are complaining of "clicking" and a "high-pitched whine" coming from the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Most reports on the forums say the noises are coming from the top or bottom speaker on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Some reports say the sounds come through during calls, while other users say the speaker noises happen any time the screen is on. A user made a recording of the sound, which can be heard here. Most users are being told to return their devices after contacting support, but at least one person claims they were told this issue would be patched in an upcoming update. One possible workaround is to turn off NFC, which some users say stops or lowers the noises.
Google

How Google's Pixel 2 'Now Playing' Song Identification Works (venturebeat.com) 129

An anonymous reader shares a report from VentureBeat, written by Emil Protalinski: The most interesting Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL feature, to me, is Now Playing. If you've ever used Shazam or SoundHound, you probably understand the basics: The app uses your device's microphone to capture an audio sample and creates an acoustic fingerprint to compare against a central song database. If a match is found, information such as the song title and artist are sent back to the user. Now Playing achieves this with two important differentiators. First, Now Playing detects songs automatically without you explicitly asking -- the feature works when your phone is locked and the information is displayed on the Pixel 2's lock screen (you'll eventually be able to ask Google Assistant what's currently playing, but not yet). Secondly, it's an on-device and local feature: Now Playing functions completely offline (we tested this, and indeed it works with mobile data and Wi-Fi turned off). No audio is ever sent to Google.
Android

Android Oreo Helps Google's Pixel 2 Smartphones Outperform Other Android Flagships (hothardware.com) 91

MojoKid highlights Hot Hardware's review of Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones: Google officially launched it's Pixel 2 phones today, taking the wraps off third-party reviews. Designed by Google but manufactured by HTC (Pixel 2) and LG (Pixel 2 XL), the two new handsets also boast Google's latest Android 8.0 operating system, aka Oreo, an exclusive to Google Pixel and certain Nexus devices currently. And in some ways, this is also a big advantage. Though they are based on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor as many other Android devices, Google's new Pixel 2s manage to outpace similarly configured smartphones in certain benchmarks by significant margins (Basemark, PCMark and 3DMark). They also boot dramatically faster than any other Android handset on the market, in as little as 10 seconds. Camera performance is also excellent, with both the 5-inch Pixel 2 and 6-inch Pixel 2 XL sporting identical electronics, save for their displays and chassis sizes. Another notable feature built into Android Oreo is Google Now Playing, an always-listening, Shazam-like service (if you enable it) that displays song titles on the lock screen if it picks up on music playing in the room you're in. Processing is done right on the Pixel 2 and it doesn't need network connectivity. Another Pixel 2 Oreo-based trick is Google Lens, a machine vision system that Google notes "can recognize places like landmarks and buildings, artwork that you'd find in a museum, media covers such as books, movies, music albums, and video games..." The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are available now on Verizon or unlocked via the Google Store starting at $649 and $849 respectively for 64GB storage versions, with a $100 up-charge for 128GB variants.
Music

SUSE Shares Linux-Themed Music Video Parodies (itwire.com) 28

Long-time Slashdot reader troublemaker_23 quotes ITWire: German Linux company SUSE Linux is well-known for its Linux and other open source solutions. It is also known for producing videos for geeks and debuting them at its annual SUSECon conference. This year, in Prague, was no different. The company, which marked its 25th year on 2 September, came up with two videos, one to mark the occasion and the other all about Linux and open source. Both videos are parodies of well-known songs: the video Linus Said is based on "Momma Said", while 25 Years is a parody of "7 Years". Some of the lyrics in both SUSE videos would be meaningless to the average person -- but every word will ring a bell, sometimes a very poignant one, with geeks. And that's the primary audience it targets.
The article embeds both videos -- and also links to the music videos they're parodying. And it includes links to SUSE's two previous annual music video parodies -- Uptime Funk (based on Bruno Mars' blockbuster hit "Uptown Funk"), and Can't Stop the SUSE, a parody of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling".
Google

Google Slashes Prices of Its USB-C Headphone Dongle Following Minor Outrage (mashable.com) 198

At its hardware event last week, Google unveiled its two new flagship smartphones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. While these devices feature high-end specifications and the latest version of Android, they both lack headphone jacks, upsetting many consumers who still rely heavily on wired headphones. To add insult to injury, Google announced a USB-C adapter for a whopping price of $20 -- that's $11 more than Apple's Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. This resulted in some minor outrage and caused Google to rethink its decision(s). As reported by 9to5Google, Google decided to slash the price of the dongle by over 50%. It is now priced at a more reasonable $9.
IBM

How Does Microsoft Avoid Being the Next IBM? (arstechnica.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: For fans of the platform, the official confirmation that Windows on phones isn't under active development any longer -- security bugs will be fixed, but new features and new hardware aren't on the cards -- isn't a big surprise. This is merely a sad acknowledgement of what we already knew. Last week, Microsoft also announced that it was getting out of the music business, signaling another small retreat from the consumer space. It's tempting to shrug and dismiss each of these instances, pointing to Microsoft's continued enterprise strength as evidence that the company's position remains strong. And certainly, sticking to the enterprise space is a thing that Microsoft could do. Become the next IBM: a stable, dull, multibillion dollar business. But IBM probably doesn't want to be IBM right now -- it has had five straight years of falling revenue amid declining relevance of its legacy businesses -- and Microsoft probably shouldn't want to be the next IBM, either. Today, Microsoft is facing similar pressures -- Windows, though still critical, isn't as essential to people's lives as it was a decade ago -- and risks a similar fate. Dropping consumer ambitions and retreating to the enterprise is a mistake. Microsoft's failure in smartphones is bad for Windows, and it's bad for Microsoft's position in the enterprise as a whole.
Businesses

Is Amazon Lowering The Global Rate of Inflation? (businessinsider.com) 146

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: Another investment bank analyst has signed on to the idea that the internet is holding down the rate of inflation. Bilal Hafeez, the global head of G10 FX strategy and head of EMEA research at Nomura, published two notes last month on whether the value of the dollar was being held down by Amazon and its ilk. In one note he called it "the Amazonization of inflation"... [O]nline commerce typified by Amazon is making the supply and distribution of goods so cheap that "Amazonisation" itself is now a deflationary force at a macro level, Hafeez argues. He writes: "While globalisation was the meme of the 2000s, this decade's has to be the 'Amazonisation' of commerce. Given the bulk of the cost of goods is distribution costs, Amazon's unique distribution model and widening range of products could impart a new disinflationary impulse on goods prices."

This idea is becoming more popular among analysts as the months roll by. Back in September 2016, we told you about the "Spotify problem," in an interview with HSBC's James Pomeroy. His theory is that the internet allows consumers to shop around and compare prices incredibly easily. It also substitutes cheap digital goods over more expensive physical ones. For instance, people stop paying £20 every month for a CD when they start paying £10 a month for endless music from Spotify. The result is that businesses are aggressively driving down their own prices because consumers simply won't go to the ones that charge more, and are no longer trapped into shopping in their own neighbourhoods. Sweden is so advanced as a digital economy that it may be importing its own deflation via digital shopping, Pomeroy argued.

Google

Clever Hack Fakes A Sleep Timer For Google Home (vortex.com) 50

Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein writes: I've long been bitching about Google Home's lack of a basic function that clock radios have had since at least the middle of the last century -- the classic "sleep timer" for playing music until a specified time or until a specific interval has passed... Originally, sleep timer type commands weren't recognized at all by GH, but eventually it started admitting that the concept at least exists... Officially, GH still responds with "Sleep timer is not yet supported" when you give commands like "Stop playing in an hour"... A somewhat inconvenient but seemingly serviceable way to fake a sleep timer is now possible with Google Home. I plead guilty, it's a hack. But here we go.
The hack exploits the new "Night Mode" in the firmware, which lets you set a maximum volume for specific hours of the day, creating silent (but still-active) music streaming. "Yep, a hack, but it works," writes Lauren. "And it's the closest we've gotten to a real sleep timer on Google Home so far."

Any other Slashdot readers have their own favorite personal assistant tricks?
Google

Bluetooth Won't Replace the Headphone Jack -- Walled Gardens Will (theverge.com) 380

Last year, when it was rumoured that the then upcoming iPhone models -- 7 and 7 Plus -- won't have the 3.5mm audio jack, The Verge's Nilay Patel wrote that if Apple does do it, it would be a user-hostile and stupid move. When those iPhone models were official announced, they indeed didn't have the audio jack. Earlier this week, Android-maker Google announced the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones that also don't feature the decades-old audio jack either, a move that would likely push rest of the smartphone makers to adopt a similar change. The rationale behind killing the traditional headphones jack, both Apple and Google say, is to move to an improved technology: Bluetooth. But there is another motive at play here, it appears. Patel, writes for The Verge: As the headphone jack disappears, the obvious replacement isn't another wire with a proprietary connector like Apple's Lightning or the many incompatible and strange flavors of USB-C audio. It's Bluetooth. And Bluetooth continues to suck, for a variety of reasons. Newer phones like the iPhone 8, Galaxy S8, and the Pixel 2 have Bluetooth 5, which promises to be better, but 1. There are literally no Bluetooth 5 headphones out yet, and 2. we have definitely heard that promise before. So we'll see. To improve Bluetooth, platform vendors like Apple and Google are riffing on top of it, and that means they're building custom solutions. And building custom solutions means they're taking the opportunity to prioritize their own products, because that is a fair and rational thing for platform vendors to do. Unfortunately, what is fair and rational for platform vendors isn't always great for markets, competition, or consumers. And at the end of this road, we will have taken a simple, universal thing that enabled a vibrant market with tons of options for every consumer, and turned it into yet another limited market defined by ecosystem lock-in. The playbook is simple: last year, Apple dropped the headphone jack and replaced it with its W1 system, which is basically a custom controller chip and software management layer for Bluetooth. The exemplary set of W1 headphones is, of course, AirPods, but Apple also owns Beats, and there are a few sets of W1 Beats headphones available as well. You can still use regular Bluetooth headphones with an iPhone, and you can use AirPods as regular Bluetooth headphones, but the combination iPhone / W1 experience is obviously superior to anything else on the market. [...] Google's version of this is the Pixel Buds, a set of over-ear neckbuds that serve as basic Bluetooth headphones but gain additional capabilities when used with certain phones. Seamless fast pairing? You need Android N or higher, which most Android phones don't have.
Google

Google Pixel Buds Are Wireless Earbuds That Translate Conversations In Real Time (arstechnica.com) 163

At its hardware event today, Google debuted new wireless earbuds, dubbed "Pixel Buds." These are Google's first wireless earbuds that give users access to Google Translate so they can have conversations with people who speak a different language. Ars Technica reports: Unlike Apple's AirPods, the Pixel Buds have a wire connecting the two earpieces. However, that wire doesn't connect to a smartphone or other device. Pixel Buds will pair via Bluetooth to the new Pixel smartphones -- and presumably any other devices that accept Bluetooth wireless earbuds. All of the Pixel Buds' controls are built in to the right earpiece, which is a common hardware solution on wireless earbuds. You can access Google Assistant by tapping or pressing on the right earbud, and the Assistant will be able to read notifications and messages to you through the Buds.

But the most intriguing feature of the Pixel Buds is the integrated Google Translate feature. Demoed on stage at Google's event today, this feature lets two Pixel Bud wearers chat in their native languages by translating conversations in real time. In the demo, a native English speaker and a native Swedish speaker had a conversation with each other, both using their native languages. Google Translate translated the languages for each user. There was barely any lag time in between the speaker saying a phrase and the Buds' hearing those words and translating them into the appropriate language. The Pixel Buds will use Google Translate to comprehend conversations in 40 different languages.
Some other features include a 5-hour battery life, and a charging case that can hold up to 24 hours of battery life. They're available for preorder today for $159.
Google

Google Debuts Its $400 Google Home Max Speaker To Rival Apple's HomePod (techcrunch.com) 60

In addition to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google debuted a $400 speaker, called Home Max, that looks to compete directly with Apple's recently announced HomePod. The Home Max is a larger Google Home that features stereo speakers and more premium looks and materials. It's expected to go on sale in December in the U.S. TechCrunch reports: It can tune its audio to its own space, analyzing the sound coming from the speaker using its built in microphones to determine the best equalizer settings. This is called Smart Sound, and it evolves over time and based on where you move the speaker, using built-in machine learning. It has Cast functionality, as well as input via stereo 3.5 mm jack. Home Max can output sound that's up to 20 times more powerful than the standard version of Home, Google says, and it has two 4.5 inch woofers on board with two 0.7 inch custom-built tuners. It can sit in either vertical or horizontal orientation, and it comes in both 'chalk' and 'charcoal.' Of course, this bigger speaker also includes a noise isolating array that makes it work even in open rooms with background noise, and it's Assistant-enabled, so you can use it to control your music playback via voice, or manage your smart home devices, set yourself reminders, alarms, and timers and much more. Google also launched a budget-friendly Google Home Mini that features the Google Assistant but in a smaller form factor. 9to5Google reports: Google touts the Home Mini as having a powerful speaker with "crisp" 360 degree sound. The Mini can also be connected to any Chromecast wireless speaker, but there is no 3.5mm jack like Amazon's Echo Dot. In the center, there are four white lights that note when the Home Mini is listening or responding. Besides saying the "Ok, Google" hotword, users can tap on the Home Mini to issue a command. Google also retained the Home's original button for disabling the microphone with a toggle next to the charging port. The Google Home Mini will be go on sale later this month for $49, with pre-orders starting today.
Microsoft

Microsoft Shutters Groove Music, Will Move Users To Spotify (techcrunch.com) 51

Microsoft announced today that it will soon shutter both its Groove Music Pass streaming service and the ability to purchase songs and albums in the Windows Store. The biggest surprise isn't that the service never took off, it's that Microsoft has partnered with Spotify to move all its Groove Music Pass customers over to Spotify. TechCrunch reports: Starting December 31, the Groove Music app will lose its features for streaming, purchasing and downloading music. Microsoft promises that moving to Spotify will be pretty seamless and that virtually all the songs and playlists that Groove users created over the years will transfer to the new service. Windows Insiders will be able to test this out with the next update, which is scheduled to roll out next week. Users will have until at least January 31, 2018 to make the move, though. For the most part, Spotify offers a superset of Groove's music catalog, so except for a few edge cases, there's no reason to believe that moving to Spotify would be a great loss for Groove Music Pass customers. And because Spotify is available on Windows Phone, too, even the few users still left on Microsoft's failed mobile platform won't miss out. As for Groove Music itself, Microsoft says the actual app won't go away anytime soon. It'll still be available for playing back and managing music that's stored locally.

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