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12.06.16 | 7:37 pm

Pandora is now officially gunning for Spotify

In May 2015, Pandora acquired the music-analytics powerhouse Next Big Sound, followed by concert ticket-seller Ticketfly five months later. Now it's launching the third piece of the puzzle, Pandora Premium, which makes plainer than ever the company's intention to eat Spotify's lunch.

Launching in the first quarter of 2017, Pandora Premium is an on-demand music subscription service that merges Pandora's data-powered personalized radio with an extensive, all-you-can-stream music catalog like the ones you can find on Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer.

Pandora Premium takes the guts of Rdio (which Pandora also acquired last year) and fuses it together with the massive trove of data about music and listeners that Pandora has been collecting for the last 11 years. The result, promises chief product officer Chris Phillips, is a service with both a thorough music catalog and a personalized approach: Everything from the search results to the songs Pandora suggests while you're building a new playlist will be unique to each user.

Pandora Premium is part of the company's broader effort to keep up with an ever-changing streaming music market while trying to serve both listeners and artists. It's the next major step for the company as it charts its new course and, according to rumors, potentially looks for a buyer.

07.25.17 | 24 minutes ago

Apple appeals to ‘Merica in new Music ad

The new Apple Music ad features motorbikes, country music, small town folk, open fields and open roads, and the flag. The star of the ad is country singer Brantley Gilbert, who narrates an ode to his old home town and his love of country.  The spot debuted Sunday before a NASCAR race. Getting the idea? Apple is reaching out to Red State America with just the simple, wholesome stuff that audience craves. Apple Music has based its ads around specific genres before, so it may just be country music's turn; and the video (shot in black and white for a more authentic feel) is OK. For me it's just a little hard fitting (refined, cosmopolitan) Apple in the same frame with NASCAR country. 

07.25.17 | an hour ago

John McCain, fresh out of the hospital, casts crucial yes vote in GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort

The fight to repeal Obamacare is not over yet, despite recent polls showing a majority of people want the current health care law to stay. Today, the Senate voted to advance a debate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. It was a close vote, but ultimately a few Republicans who had vowed to vote against it changed course.

Most apparent among them is John McCain, who just announced a brain cancer diagnosis. The Arizona senator returned to Congress specifically to vote for this motion, and voted yes. With the vote tied at 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the tiebreaker

Following today's vote, the GOP will begin floor debate and roll out amendments to the Senate's health care bill. A House version of the bill passed in May.

07.25.17 | 2 hours ago

Trump is confused about Amazon and taxes. Here’s what Amazon really wants

Lower taxes, but not sales taxes. Trump fired off a series tweets on Monday night and Tuesday morning suggesting that Amazon is "using the Washington Post as a lobbyist" to keep Congress from scrutinizing Amazon's "no-tax monopoly." First of all, the Post is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, not by Amazon. The question of whether Amazon should pay state sales tax was settled in March, when Amazon relented and began to collect tax in any state that has it. So it's very doubtful Amazon would be spending lobbying hours on that issue. 

Amazon spent a healthy $3.2 million on lobbying in the second quarter, filings show, but it was very likely to influence lawmakers on the same key issues concerning other large tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The top two items on the tech policy agenda this year are a lower corporate tax rate and a low tax rate on profits returned from overseas (repatriated). 

Ironically, Trump and Amazon are probably aligned on both those issues. The Trump administration's tax reform plan is centered around reducing the corporate tax rate (that's why the markets went up after Trump was elected), and Trump has proposed a low 10% tax rate (it's normally 35%) on repatriated profits. Amazon currently holds about $22 billion in overseas accounts.

07.25.17 | 11:50 am

Study: CTE present in 110 out of 111 former NFL players’ brains

A neuropathologist recently examined the brains of 111 players in the National Football League (NFL) and discovered that almost all of them, 110 to be exact, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease that has previously been linked to blows to the head. The disease can cause memory loss, depression, confusion, and dementia, and often exhibits symptoms years after blows to the head have stopped.

The study involved examining the brains of 202 deceased players, including the 111 former members of the NFL. Players ranged from age 23-89, and included players from every position on the field.

The NFL released this statement to NPR:

We appreciate the work done by Dr. McKee and her colleagues for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE. Case studies such as those compiled in this updated paper are important to further advancing the science and progress related to head trauma. The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes. As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence, and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE. The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.

07.25.17 | 11:22 am

Report: Lyft is now growing faster than Uber

It's an understatement to say the last year has been rough for Uber. The company has been mired in multiple scandals, each of which tainted its public image. Conversely, Lyft has kept a relatively low profile, which seems to have helped it better compete with the larger Uber.

In fact, growth for Lyft has been accelerating rapidly, reports Bloomberg. Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg writes that Lyft's gross bookings grew by over 25% over this quarter to exceed $1 billion. This is allegedly faster growth than Uber, which reportedly told investors it was in the "mid-teens." 

Of course, Uber is still much bigger than Lyft. Thanks to its international business, the ride-hailing app saw gross bookings exceed $8 billion this past quarter, reports Bloomberg. Still, this Lyft growth will surely be something Uber—which is still looking for a new CEO—will keep tabs on. 

07.25.17 | 10:40 am

Snopes has already hit its $500k crowdfunding goal

Yesterday, the oft-cited fact-checking website Snopes took to crowdfunding due to a dispute that left it without a steady flow of ad revenue. In a plea to its readers, the site asked people to donate to help keep things afloat as the legal mess gets figured out.

It's been only a day, and the GoFundMe for Snopes has already exceeded the $500,000 goal. As of the writing of this post, over 18,000 people have helped raise nearly $509,000. The campaign is still roaring on, so it's anyone's guess how much the site will be able to raise.

07.25.17 | 10:04 am

Cord-cutter watch: Nielsen starts counting some Hulu and YouTube TV viewing as traditional ratings falter

Audience measurement is a messy thing in 2017, and Nielsen has been trying to clean things up with new ways to count viewers who watch TV shows across various platforms and devices. In its latest move, the measurement firm said it will start reporting "eligible TV viewing" from Hulu and YouTube TV in its ratings. That would give the ad industry a better sense of how many people are watching a particular show on platforms other than traditional TV sets, Nielsen says. The company says the new Hulu and YouTube TV measurement will contribute directly to C3 and C7 currency—which is when people watch a show within three or seven days of its original airdate. 

With TV audiences fragmenting, and viewers cutting the cord at a faster pace, Nielsen is facing an existential crisis of sorts as it seeks to measure 21st-century audiences in ways that advertisers and media companies can agree on. The company has been the focus of blame-the-messenger backlash from some TV executives who, in the face of declining ratings, have called Nielsen's relevance into question. 

Check out the full story here.

[Photo: courtesy of Hulu]

07.25.17 | 7:38 am

India won’t allow driverless cars if they take away jobs

In language that is sure to frighten the likes of Google, Tesla, and every other company with a foot in the driverless car game, India's road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari has said that driverless cars will not be allowed in the country if they take away jobs, reports the HindustanTimes. Speaking on Tuesday, Gadkari said:

"We won't allow driverless cars in India. I am very clear on this. We won't allow any technology that takes away jobs. In a country where you have unemployment, you can't have a technology that ends up taking people's jobs."

India is one of the top destinations tech companies are focusing their resources on for growth. With a consumer market of 1.2 billion people, if India actually ends up not allowing driverless cars in the country it will effectively seal off one-sixth of the world's population from the autonomous car market.

07.25.17 | 7:30 am

Language-learning app Duolingo is almost a unicorn

Duolingo is the funny little app that could. With cute illustrations, playful chatbots, and humorous practice phrases, such as "Your bear drinks beer," the foreign-language learning app has gained over 200 million users. Most of them pay nothing—other than a flicker of attention to occasional ads. (The paid version has a few bonus features, like that ability to use it when the phone is offline.) But investors are paying a lot. A new funding round of $25 million led by Drive Capital brings Duolingo's total take to $108.3 million, the company said today, giving it a $700 million valuation.

Founded by Carnegie Mellon computer science professor and MacArthur "genius award" winner Luis von Ahn five years ago, Duolingo has grown to support 27 languages, mostly crowdsourced from bilingual volunteers. It also provides an English certification exam and a flashcard-making app called Tinycards. By the end of the year, the Pittsburgh-based company says it will nearly double its staff from 80 to 150.

07.25.17 | 7:02 am

Michael Kors just bought Jimmy Choo for $1.2 billion

Michael Kors, which has pitched itself as an "affordable luxury" brand, is hoping to improve its fortunes with the acquisition of Jimmy Choo, a high-end shoe brand that targets an upmarket consumer.

Michael Kors has been struggling over the last few years. The company's strategy of discounting has backfired, severely hurting the brand's image, and causing its share price to plummet by 20% in 2017. It is now planning to shutter as many as 125 stores. Jimmy Choo, on the other hand, has been thriving, largely due to strong sales in Asia. 

Michael Kors is following in the footsteps of Coach, another "affordable luxury" brand which recently acquired the high-end shoe brand Stuart Weitzman and accessories brand Kate Spade in an effort to better compete. 

Read more in the New York Times.

07.25.17 | 6:02 am

Hey, Apple and Google: iRobot wants to sell its Roomba vacuum indoor mapping data

The Roomba 900 series doesn't just clean your floors, it collects valuable indoor mapping data by doing so, thanks to its use of simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology. SLAM enables the high-end Roomba to build a map of the room it's operating in, which is what allows it to do things like automatically return to its docking station when it needs a recharge.

As much of the outside world has already been mapped by Google and Apple, the two companies are now turning to mapping indoor locations, which makes iRobot's mapping data potentially very valuable, as iRobot CEO Colin Angle told Reuters, "There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared." Angle said he thinks iRobot could reach a deal to sell its indoor mapping data to "one or more" of the "Big Three" (Amazon, Apple, and Google) in the next few years, but notes he would not sell a Roomba user's room data without their permission.

[Image: iRobot]

07.25.17 | 5:45 am

Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are having a spat about whether AI will kill us all

It's recently come to light how the two tech titans disagree on how badly things could go wrong with artificial intelligence. When asked by a Facebook user during a recent Facebook Live broadcast about his thoughts on AI and Musk's assertion that it could pose a threat to humanity, Zuck said Musk's doomsaying was "irresponsible" (via Business Insider):

"I have pretty strong opinions on this. I'm really optimistic. I'm an optimistic person in general. I think you can build things and the world gets better. With AI especially, I'm really optimistic and I think that people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios … I don't understand it. It's really negative and in some ways I actually think it's pretty irresponsible."

"Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future I think: 'Yeah technology can generally always be used for good and bad and you need to be careful about how you build it and you need to be careful about what you build and how it's going to be used. But people who are arguing for slowing down the process of building AI, I just find that really questionable. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that. If you're arguing against AI then you're arguing against safer cars that aren't going to have accidents and you're arguing against being able to better diagnose people when they're sick."

Not having any of that, the Tesla CEO took to Twitter to respond:

We'll let these two tech luminaries continue to fight it out amongst themselves. But just one note to Zuck: No one believed Sarah Connor's warnings either.