Wireless speaker tries to read your mind


A new gadget combines a simple loudspeaker with music recommendation services such as Pandora. Cone combines hardware and software to learn your musical tastes.

On the face of it, Cone is simply a wireless speaker with a single button (for pause and unpause) and a dial. It connects to your Mac and/or iOS device and lets you choose a specific track either with a mobile app or through voice control, with which you can choose a track or an artist.

Unlike many other wireless music gizmos, Cone also has a simple mode, which is the main selling point. To use it you simply turn the dial once and it will choose some music to play. This could come from a streaming service, a podcast, or your computer’s music library (via Airplay), but in this mode you don’t make the selection yourself: the device draws from across all sources.

Once the music is playing, you can keep listening to it if you like it, in which case it will keep playing tracks that are musically similar. Alternatively, you can turn the dial (a bit like scanning radio stations) and it will switch to a different type of music.

The idea is that over time, the device not only learns more about the type of music you most like, but also makes better connections between different songs and styles. The theory is that exactly what Cone does when you turn the dial depends on context.

For example, if you switch it on, it plays a jazz track, and you turn the dial, it will likely try out a completely different genre of music. However, if you listen to 10 jazz tracks in a row and then turn the dial, the device may figure out that the 11th track — let’s say an acid jazz number — isn’t quite as good a match as it thought and try out another more traditional jazz song. Turn the dial a couple more times in quick succession and it will conclude you’ve had enough of jazz altogether.

There’s also an accelerometer that lets the device track when you move it from room to room. The idea is that it can put your preferences in context, for example knowing that you prefer something mellow in the bathroom. The device also takes note of the time of day you make your actions, presumably realising that the power ballad you play early on a Friday evening is not going to be suitable for a bleary-eyed Monday morning. (Then again, playing anything other than Manic Monday in that situation is a wasted opportunity.)

The most obvious limitation is that as things stand, the device doesn’t distinguish between different individuals in the home, which could make for an awkward merger of musical preferences. That said, at $399, it’s a purchase many people with joint marital finances may struggle to get past a skeptical spouse.

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