TIME Media

Beyoncé’s Latest Album Is Finally on Spotify

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Arrivals
Singer Beyoncé attends the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards in Inglewood, Calif., on Aug. 24, 2014 Jason Merritt—Getty Images

Spotify gets a big release following Taylor Swift's exodus

It took nearly a year, but Beyoncé’s self-titled album is finally available on Spotify.

A platinum edition of Beyoncé, with six new remixes and bonus tracks, is now available on the music-streaming service. The album, released as a surprise last December, was originally only available as an iTunes exclusive but was later released on CD as well. Spotify previously only had a couple of big singles from the album available to stream.

Landing Beyoncé could help Spotify improve what’s been a very rough November. Taylor Swift removed her entire catalogue from the service while very vocally questioning whether Spotify’s model compensates artists appropriately for their work. Later, a Sony Music executive expressed doubts about Spotify’s ability to convert free users into paying customers, saying Swift’s exodus had sparked “a lot of conversation.” Spotify believes its free version is critical to eventually convincing users to purchase premium subscriptions and says its royalty payouts will continue to grow as it gains more customers.

For Beyoncé, releasing her album on Spotify could help it land higher on the album charts. Billboard just announced that it would begin including songs played on music-streaming services in its weekly album rankings. That could help Beyoncé unseat 1989, Swift’s blockbuster release that has topped the charts for three straight weeks.

TIME Media

Google Takes Over North America’s Biggest Digital Billboard

Billed as Times Square's largest and most expensive digital billboard, a new megascreen is debuted in front of the Marriott Marquis hotel on Nov.18, 2014 in New York City.
Billed as Times Square's largest and most expensive digital billboard, a new megascreen is debuted in front of the Marriott Marquis hotel on Nov.18, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

And it's even higher-res than 4K displays

The lights of Times Square just got a little bit brighter, as Google is taking over a massive new digital billboard that spans an entire city block in the heart of New York.

The new screen is more than 25,000 square feet in size and has a pixel density even greater than high-definition 4K displays. Clear Channel, the company that built the ad space, says it’s the largest digital screen in North America.

Google is taking over the space just in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season. The search giant will use the screen to present an interactive mobile game this week in which people can “Androidify” themselves, becoming cartoon characters similar to the ones in Google’s new Android marketing campaign. Google hopes to present 25,000 personalized Android characters on the screen each day. In addition to pushing products like Android, Chrome and Nexus, Google will offer some billboard screen-time to nonprofits such as Charity Water and Khan Academy.

The new screen is located on Broadway between 45th Street and 46th Street. The price of the ad wasn’t disclosed.

 

TIME How-To

8 Netflix Tricks You Just Can’t Live Without

US Online Streaming Giant Netflix : Illustration
In this photo illustration the Netflix logo is seen on September 19, 2014 in Paris, France. Pascal Le Segretain—Getty Images

Find out how to hide the embarrassing stuff you've been streaming

One of the main reasons Netflix is so popular is because of its simplicity. It’s painfully easy to queue up a movie on your laptop, video game console or mobile device and start watching in mere seconds. But that simplicity means there are a lot of features to Netflix that the average customer may not be using.

Here, we’ve rounded up some useful tips to help you get the most out of Netflix:

See What Movies Are Coming and Going

Netflix’s lineup of movies and TV shows is constantly changing as the company gains and loses licensing rights for different content. It’s difficult to get a full picture of the Netflix library from within the app itself, but a variety of third-party websites can help. Sites like Instant Watcher and What’s New On Netflix offer a daily rundown of new releases on the streaming service. Finding out when movies are going to be removed is a little trickier, because Netflix has purposefully obscured that information. However, the site Now Streaming updates regularly with lists of movies that will soon be going offline.

Get Better Search Options

Search options on Netflix are fairly limited, which can make it hard to ferret out quality movies from the service’s vast amount of content. Sites like Instant Watcher let you filter options by parameters such as year released as well as rating on Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes. And if your favorite movie isn’t on Netflix right now, you can use Can I Stream It or WhereToWatch to find out where else a film might be available to stream legally online.

Use Your Phone As a Remote

On the PlayStation 3, customers can use their phone or tablet to control Netflix instead of a video game controller. First, make sure your mobile device and your PS3 are connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Then boot up the Netflix app on both devices, and your phone or tablet can be used to control the movie playing on the big screen — this also works if you’re watching Netflix via a Google Chromecast.

Get Smarter Recommendations

Netflix prides itself on its algorithms that are supposed to serve up content you’ll love that you didn’t even know you wanted. But the process only works if you feed the company a lot of info about what you enjoy. Rate movies regularly to get more precise recommendations, and don’t forget to fill out your taste preferences in your account settings. You can access the taste preferences list by selecting the “Your Account” option on the Web-based version of Netflix.

Change Subtitles

Tired of Netflix’s signature yellow subtitles? You can choose among eight different text colors as well as a background color to place behind the text. The font and text size can also be adjusted. The options are available in the “Your Account” settings on the Web version of Netflix.

Eliminate Buffering

There’s no bigger buzzkill during a riveting movie than being hit with a buffering screen. Netflix has a hidden menu to help you banish buffering. Press Shift + Alt + Left Click (or Shift + Option + Click on a Mac) while streaming a show to bring up a diagnostic screen. Click “Screen Manager,” then select the “Manual” checkbox to alter the stream’s bit rate. A lower number will lower the image quality of the program but will also allow you to watch on a slower connection without constant hiccups. When the buffering screen hits video game consoles and other living room streaming devices, try inputing the code Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Up, Up, Up on the controller or remote to deactivate Netflix, then reboot it.

Make Profiles for Multiple Users

When you’re sharing your Netflix account with multiple friends and family members, the service’s recommendation algorithm can get pretty muddled. Separate the Law and Order fans from the documentary junkies by setting up separate profiles. You can have five in total and each will get its own viewing history and tailored recommendations. Create new profiles using the “Manage Profiles” option in the settings menu on Netflix.com.

Erase Your Viewing History

You gave into your base desires and binged on Bridezillas for five hours one rainy Sunday afternoon. It’s OK—no one ever has to know. Netflix will let you see a log of your vieiwng history and wipe specific items from the record books across all devices. Simply go to the “Your Account” option in the settings menu, click “Viewing Activity” and click the X on any shows you want to erase. Then you can go on watching trashy reality TV with impunity.

Read next: How to Stop Accidentally Closing Your Browser All the Time

TIME Gadgets

Google Sweetens the Chromebook Deal Ahead of the Holidays

Google Chromebook To Be Available Online On June 15
Google Inc. Chrome and Samsung Electronics Co.'s logos are seen on a Chromebook in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 9, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Free storage promotion runs until the new year

Google is offering a terabyte of free storage with its Chromebook computers for the holiday season, the company announced Friday.

Customers who buy qualifying Chromebooks priced at $199 or more will receive a two-year subscription to Google Drive with a terabyte of free storage space. That amount of space typically costs $9.99 per month, so the deal is worth about $240.

Chromebooks are stripped of many of the programs typically found on PCs, and instead offer apps that are accessed online, like Google Docs. They’ve slowly gained in marketshare since Google first unveiled the barebones laptops in 2011 — Chromebook sales are expected to triple by 2017.

The Google Drive promotion runs through January 1.

TIME Companies

Google Just Took its First Step Back Into China

The Google logo is reflected in windows
The Google logo is reflected in windows of the company's China head office as the Chinese national flag flies in the wind in Beijing on March 23, 2010. AFP/Getty Images

Chinese developers can now sell their apps as exports in Google's app store

Google is trying to woo mobile developers in China.

The search giant has announced that Chinese app developers will now be able to sell apps to Google Play users in more than 130 other countries. It’s one of Google’s first attempts to engage with the Chinese marketplace since leaving the country in 2010 in following conflicts with the government over national censorship policies.

The Google Play Store is severely restricted in China, so app makers in the country will be selling their wares as exports. It’s no surprise that Google is having second thoughts on leaving the country behind: China has more than 600 million Internet users, and that figure is expected to reach 800 million next year.

This olive branch to developers may be the first step in a more ambitious strategy. Google is reportedly looking to partner with a Chinese phone manufacturer or wireless carrier to launch a full-featured version of the Play store in the country, according to the The Information.

TIME Toys

Nintendo Wants to Cash In on the Toy Industry’s New Billion-Dollar Craze

"Toys to life" genre combines virtual play with classic action figures

In Nintendo’s wildly popular fighting game series Super Smash Bros., action figures spring to life so they can pummel each other in multiplayer bouts. When the next installment in the series debuts Friday on the Wii U, that fantasy will actually come close to reality. Along with the new game, Nintendo is launching a line of toy figurines that can actually be transferred into the digital world of Smash Bros. to fight against the game’s rowdy characters.

The new toys, called amiibo, are the latest entrants in the rapidly growing “toys to life” sector, a melding of the physical toys of yesteryear and the software kids now enjoy on their tablets and video game consoles. The idea is to expand the play kids are already enjoying in virtual games into the physical world—and let video game companies generate a tidy profit selling figurines and peripherals in the process.

The concept was first proven a hit by Activision, which launched its Skylanders video game franchise in 2011. In that series, gamers can purchase dozens of different figurines embedded with an electronic chip. When players place the figures on a special peripheral that can scan the chip, the characters are transported into Skylanders‘ virtual world. As the character levels up in the virtual world, so does the figurine. If a kid takes his figure over to a friend’s house to play, it’ll retain the same data from his own game.

“By combining the immersive world of video games with the physical connection that kids have with action figures, it was incredibly powerful,” says John Coyne, Activision’s senior vice president of consumer marketing.

While Activision made toys-to-life games viable, Disney has been able to leverage its massive trove of iconic intellectual property to popularize the genre even more. The company’s Disney Infinity series uses technology like that used by Skylanders to let gamers place their figurine characters into virtual worlds based on hit Disney properties like Brave and Lilo & Stitch. A separate, open-ended mode lets players create their own worlds, populate them with Disney characters and share them online.

“It’s very much about building things in there and kind of telling your own stories,” says John Blackburn, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Infinity.

Experts say these titles have been a hit because they spark kids’ imaginations more than a traditional video game can. “It’s really an extension of what kids want naturally, which is to not really have parameters in how they play,” says Liam Callahan, an analyst at research firm NPD. “It’s about breaking down that barrier.”

Skylanders and Disney Infinity have generated $600 million in software sales and nearly $1 billion in hardware sales in the U.S. between them since the genre was first introduced in 2011, according to NPD. Sales in the sector have risen 22% in the last year. Exactly who’s leading the market is a point of contention—Disney Infinity sold more than any version of Skylanders in 2013, but the latest version of Skylanders outsold Disney’s new Marvel-focused Infinity game in October.

It’s not yet clear how Nintendo will fit into this increasingly competitive space. Skylanders and Disney Infinity perform best on Nintendo consoles, according to NPD, which means Nintendo already has a user base actively interested in toys-to-life games. The strength of Nintendo’s intellectual property is also a selling point, as is the ability to use amiibo in games across different genres on the company’s Wii U system, like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8. “These characters have tremendous fan bases already,” says Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president for sales and marketing.

Whether these titles will become a permanent fixture in gaming remains to be seen. A few years ago, millions of gamers were buying plastic musical instruments to play games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero—now those titles are forgotten in bargain bins. But toys-to-life titles may evolve in more dynamic ways than past gaming fads. A new entrant called Anki Drive, for instance, has melded a mobile game with actual stock cars that players can race on a physical track, directing them with a smartphone and the cars’ built-in AI. The cars saw limited retail exposure in 2013 but will be available at Toys R Us and Target this holiday season.

The Anki Drive game uses AI-enabled stock cars that players can control with their smartphones.

The success of these physical toys in an age when apps dominate our lives shows that the next generation doesn’t want play with only their thumbs — there’s hope yet for the real world. “At the end of the day, it’s still very classic play,” says Chris Byrne, a toy industry analyst at Time to Play Magazine. “The technology has just made the toy box bigger.”

TIME Media

HBO Go Is Now on Xbox One

US-ENTERTAINMENT-IT-INTERNET-VIDEOGAMES-MICROSOFT-XBOX
A member of the Microsoft security team watches over the newly unveiled Xbox One videogame console at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, on May 21, 2013. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

It hasn't hit Sony's PlayStation 4 yet

HBO Go is now available on Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming console.

The online streaming service rolled out on the next-gen console Thursday, according to a Microsoft blog post. HBO Go is already available on the Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3, but hasn’t yet arrived on the PS4.

Currently, you’ll need a cable subscription to use HBO Go. However, in 2015, the cable network is planning to launch a standalone online version of its channel that Internet users can subscribe to without paying for cable.

TIME Companies

Netflix Is Now a Whopping One-Third of Peak Internet Traffic

US Online Streaming Giant Netflix : Illustration
In this photo illustration the Netflix logo is seen on September 19, 2014 in Paris, France. Pascal Le Segretain—Getty Images

But YouTube leads on mobile

Netflix now accounts for more than a third of all downstream Internet traffic during peak evening hours in North America, according to research firm Sandvine.

Netflix’s share of traffic during the second half of 2014 rose to 34.89%, up from 34.21% in the first half of the year, Sandvine found in its biannual report. The figure is the highest for Netflix in Sandvine’s publicly available data since 2011. The streaming service has long dominated downstream Internet usage — a point that’s sparked battles between it and Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon, which have argued Netflix should pay up for the bandwidth it uses.

While Netflix’s share inched up slightly, other tech companies also made gains. Facebook, which has been pushing video heavily this year, saw its traffic share increase from 1.99% to 2.98%. Amazon Video, Netflix’s most direct competitor, rose from a share of 1.9% to 2.58%. YouTube’s share also increased, rising from 13.19% to 14.09%. These gains in traffic came at the expense of iTunes and bitTorrent, which both had their shares dip below 3%.

These figures don’t account for Internet connections made via cellular data networks on mobile devices. On that front, YouTube is the leader with a 19.75% share, and Facebook is right behind it with a 19.05% share.

TIME Media

Spotify Streams Will Soon Be Included on the Billboard Charts

SWEDEN-MUSIC-COMPANY-SPOTIFY
This photo illustration shows the Swedish music streaming service Spotify on March 7, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden. Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images

1,500 streams will count as a sale

Streams from music streaming services like Spotify will soon be included on the charts that rank music album sales.

Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan will begin including streams in the rankings of the Billboard 200, the album charts that are the weekly benchmark for success in the music industry, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The new ranking formula will equate 1,500 streams from an album on services like Spotify, Beats Music and Rhapsody as a sale. Online downloads of ten or more individual tracks by consumers will also be counted as an album sale.

The inclusion of more digital services will likely help move acts that appeal to younger audiences further up the charts. Legacy acts whose audiences mostly buy CDs, however, could be negatively affected.

The music charts are increasingly being influenced by online music services. Last year, Billboard announced that it would begin including music streams in its Hot 100 ranking of the most popular singles.

[New York Times]

TIME Media

Apple Reportedly Making Beats Music a Pre-Installed iPhone App

Apple Said To Be In Talks To Purchase Beats Headphones Company
Beats headphones are sold along side iPods in an Apple store on May 9, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The change could come as soon as March

Apple is, unsurprisingly, planning to use the massive reach of the iPhone and iPad to put its newly acquired Beats Music streaming service in front of more people.

The company is planning to make Beats Music one of the pre-installed iOS apps in an upcoming software update, according to the Financial Times. The move could happen as soon as March.

Apple acquired Beats for its headphone and music streaming businesses for $3 billion earlier this year. While the headphones are a bona fide hit, Beats Music is thought to have a tiny user base—founder Jimmy Iovine pegged the number of subscribers at 250,000 in May, whereas rival Spotify has 50 million monthly active users, 12.5 million of whom pay for an ad-free experience.

Making Beats a default iOS app would instantly give it exposure to hundreds of millions of potential new users. But the strategy isn’t fool-proof—iTunes Radio is now a default offering in iOS, but it’s done little to upset Pandora as the king of Internet radio.

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