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Netflix is testing an audio-only mode to compete with podcasts and audiobooks

The new feature would allow subscribers to stream shows and movies without video.

Netflix is testing an audio-only mode to compete with podcasts and audiobooks

Netflix is already experimenting with what can best be described as audiobooks with video, partnering with Black celebrities to read children's books from Black authors.

Image: Netflix

Netflix is testing a new audio-only mode with a subset of its Android users, according to code snippets found in the latest version of its Android app. The feature allows users to stream just the audio track of a show or movie in the background. This would effectively allow for a listening experience that's similar to podcasts or audiobooks, while also cutting down on data consumption.

XDA Developers was first to report about the new test after spotting related code lines in Netflix's latest Android app. "Save your data by turning off the video and listening to your favorite shows," one of the snippets found in the app explains. "The video is off, but you can continue listening to your show while you are busy doing other things," another text string notes.

Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This isn't the first time that Netflix has experimented with an audio-only experience. Back in 2017, a team of Netflix engineers developed an "audiobook mode" as part of one of the company's hack days. The company regularly hosts these hack day events to encourage creative experiments, but most hack day projects never turn into actual product features.

Netflix also regularly tests new features with subsets of its audience, and only implements these features after tests show a clear positive impact on engagement and retention. Still, an audio-only feature would make a lot of sense for the service. Netflix has long produced stand-up comedy specials that would work well in an audio-only experience.

More recently, Netflix has also experimented with what can best be described as audiobooks with video. As part of its efforts to spotlight Black creators, Netflix recently teamed up with Black celebrities like Tiffany Haddish, Lupita Nyong'o and Jill Scott to read children's books from Black authors.

Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings in particular has also long made the argument that the company doesn't just compete with other streaming services, but with anything that its users spend their time on. "We compete for a share of members' time and spending for relaxation and stimulation," the company states in its long-term view for investors, which calls out video gaming, web browsing and magazine reading as just some examples.

"We strive to win more of our members' 'moments of truth,'" the long-term view document continues. "Those decision points are, say, at 7:15 p.m. when a member wants to relax, enjoy a shared experience with friends and family, or is bored. The member could choose Netflix or a multitude of other options."

An audio-only mode could arguably help Netflix win more of those moments by providing an alternative to podcasts and audiobooks.

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Google wants to (try to) make Google Glass cool again

Also this week: savvy virtual assistants, surveillance without violating people's privacy, and more patents from Big Tech.

Is making these cool even possible?

Image: Google

This week was so full of fun patent applications that I didn't know where to start. We've got a throwback to 2013, a virtual assistant that knows when I've stopped talking, and headphones that can determine a user's hearing abilities.

But as always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

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J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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