All posts in “Podcast”

How cheap Fire TV devices power Amazon’s streaming war

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

If you did some online shopping this holiday season, chances are you bought something from Amazon. And if you did, you certainly saw a splash ad for the company’s own devices, including one for the Fire TV Stick, which was slashed from the regular $39.99 to just $24.99.

I know I did. And when I saw the ad for the 17th or 18th time, even though I wasn’t planning to buy the Stick (I already had a first-gen device, which lacks Alexa integration), I found myself clicking “Add to Cart.”

I wasn’t the only one. Amazon says its customers bought 2.7x times as many Fire TV Sticks over the Black Friday shopping period than it did over the same period last year. It also claimed to have sold “millions” of Alexa-compatible devices.

That’s impressive. It also might make you wonder: How can any other purveyor of video streaming devices compete? Apple didn’t help itself when it decided to offer its Apple TV 4K at a prohibitive price point, starting at $179. To be fair, the Apple TV 4K more directly competes with the new Fire TV box, but the price difference is still eye-popping — you can buy a Fire TV today for just $54.99. Even if you look to streaming mainstay Roku, it’s 4K Ultra streaming box sells for $89.99.

Beware what you buy, though, since it might not be compatible with the services you want. Google made that abundantly clear recently by restricting YouTube from Amazon devices, and Amazon famously doesn’t make its streaming apps Google Cast-compatible, meaning they don’t work on Google Chromecast. It doesn’t even offer any Chromecast or Apple TV in its store… or at least it didn’t until this week.

Will things get better among streaming competitors? How does Amazon get away with selling its devices so cheap? And what are the guiding principles for its Fire TV line? Scott Henson, Amazon’s director of product management for Fire TV, swings by the MashTalk podcast to give some insights into Amazon’s streaming-box plans, as well as some thoughts on why how we’re watching is almost as important as what we’re watching. He also tackles the question: Will we ever see ads on Amazon video?

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

(Note: This podcast was recorded before Amazon announced it would accept Google Chromecast and Apple TV back into its online store.)

Listen on Google Play Music

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Why it’s hard to get an iPhone on a budget wireless carrier

Image: Haley Hamblin/Mashable

Got a smartphone? Then you must also have a wireless plan, and if you live in the U.S., chances are it’s with one of the big four — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint.

However, there are a bunch of other carriers you may have seen around, carriers with names like Cricket, Jolt, metroPCS, and Virgin. These are MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators, and they exist by leasing spectrum from the major carriers. They’re also often a better deal, thanks to selectively targeting demographics and relying heavily on Wi-Fi to support the network.

One of those MVNOs is Republic Wireless. Founded in 2010, it made a name for itself by putting Wi-Fi calling on the map. Thanks to a Wi-Fi-centered strategy, Republic was able to offer incredibly cheap deals, which had the potential to cut big money off a wireless bill — a Mashable editor actually saved over $150 every month by switching. The big catch: The number of phones that actually worked on Republic was very limited. Notably, it didn’t — and still doesn’t — offer the iPhone.

After quietly expanding the number of phones that are compatible with its network, Republic Wireless is making noise again. It’s just announced two new hardware products that will debut in early 2018: a phone with no screen that looks more like a panic button, and its own smart speaker.

On this week’s MashTalk, Republic Wireless co-founder and CEO Chris Chuang explained who the products are for: families. The screenless phone, called Relay, functions as both a kid tracker and a way to communicate directly with them. The single button directly calls the parent, and it’s equipped with GPS so the parent can check the kid’s location anytime. The device also provides access to Google Assistant, so the kid can ask questions and get answers without bothering mom or dad (and yes there are parental controls for what information the Assistant can surface).

The smart speaker is called Anywhere HQ, and it’s also equipped with Google Assistant. It looks like any other wireless speaker, but if you pick it up off its (heavy) charging cradle and look at the bottom you’ll see all the buttons for a cordless phone. The big difference is that it’s a phone that works with your smartphone’s phone number, and it also works over the 4G LTE network — so you can take it anywhere.

If this all sounds great to you, but you’re still not psyched to jump to a carrier without the iPhone, Chuang has some good news for you: On the podcast he reveals Republic Wireless will offer an iPhone in 2018. He just didn’t say which one.

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

Listen on Google Play Music

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Learn Spanish with this innovative podcast

If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you’ll know how important listening can be. 

That’s why Duolingo has launched the Duolingo Spanish Podcast, for English speakers who are learning Spanish. The first episode is available for free on Duolingo’s website, iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify, and Stitcher. New episodes will roll out every Thursday. 

Each 15-minute episode is a narrative nonfiction story, similar to an episode of This American Life. Though they take place all around the world, the episodes feature Latinx characters, and discuss Latinx culture. 

The podcast is hosted by Martina Castro, co-founder of NPR’s Spanish language podcast Radio Ambulante. She is also the founder and CEO of Adonde Media, a bilingual podcast production company. 

Castro narrates the stories slowly in clear, intermediate-level Spanish. A paragraph is read in Spanish first, followed by an English translation, with segments clocking in at about a minute long. 

The English translations make it easy to check how much of the preceding segment you understood. They can also pull you back into the story if you got lost, or zoned out, during the Spanish section. 

Don’t expect the monotonous listening exercises from your high school Spanish class (or those you might hear on the Duolingo app itself). The stories are interesting, unnerving, heartwarming, and a unique portrait of Latinx culture.

Having taken four years of high school Spanish many years ago, I was able to get the gist of each section if I focused hard (though the English translations were certainly helpful). That said, you’ll want to listen at a time when you can focus — my intermediate-speaker’s brain had a lot of trouble translating if it was also doing something else. 

The first episode features the story of Rodrigo Soberanes, a Mexican journalist, who builds a friendship with a disgraced soccer player and makes a documentary about it. 

Upcoming segments will document a Chilean journalist who unexpectedly meets her future (Chilean) husband on a trip to China, and a woman’s journey to build a life in Buenos Aires after her boyfriend (whom she moved there for) leaves her.  

Duolingo told Mashable that it hopes the podcast will motivate intermediate and advanced Spanish learners to keep up with their studies throughout their daily, while communing, exercising, etc. (But as I said, for speakers as inexperienced as me, this is probably wistful thinking). 

It also hopes users who have completed Duolingo’s Spanish course will maintain their grasp on the language (and, incidentally, their involvement with Duolingo) by listening to the podcast regularly. 

The company also noted that Spanish speakers who are learning English could benefit from the podcast. 

If you want to learn Spanish, and you love a good story, check this podcast out. 

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Digital ethicist James Williams talks about the rise of bad social media


James Williams is a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute. He studies the ethics of attention and persuasion in technology design and spoke with us about the rise of attention-grabbing advertising and media and how we can fight back against the onslaught.

I talked to him just before Thanksgiving for this enlightening episode of Technotopia.

Before fighting against bad advertising Williams worked at Google on “advertising products and tools.” His work now is aimed at reversing exactly what he built and he wants to use the tools he made to help fix advertising.

Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.

Amateur podcasters — this device will make your setup run more smoothly for only $10

Apple is cruelly trying to rip the headphone jack from us, but we’re not buying it. 

In addition to all the reasons that have already been brought up ad nauseam, one problem with the missing headphone jack is the inability to easily use a headphone splitter to share audio. For those of us fortunate to still have a jack, though — on our phones, computers, or audio equipment — this Belkin device is the Cadillac of headphone splitters.

The uses for this are numerous and obvious — more people can listen to what you’re listening to without bothering people around you. Just plug the device into whatever you’re listening to and everyone else can plug in their headphones. It’s great for traveling, classrooms, or gaming where you want several people to listen to something but not the whole room.

It can also be used by amateur musicians, podcasters, and filmmakers who need to record multiple people on a single microphone. Everyone will be able to hear how they sound on mic, which is absolutely necessary in order to record audio that doesn’t suck. 

You can pick up the Belkin Rockstar audio splitter on Amazon now. It comes in five colors and is only $10. Stop fighting over headphone jacks and just be grateful you have one (or five.)