Google Podcasts, which is an actual thing, to shut down next year

The Google Podcasts app is heading to a farm upstate run by Marc Maron and Sarah Koenig, as the service is shuttering next year. The app has been around since 2018, but it never approached the kind of mass adoption enjoyed by rivals Overcast, Spotify and the recently-improved Apple Podcasts. In other words, don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it.

The entire service is being folded into YouTube and its companion app YouTube Music. This is for good reason, as YouTube's already a popular destination for podcast fans. According to statistics provided by Edison Research and published by Variety, YouTube services 23 percent of podcast listeners in the US. Google Podcasts, on the other hand, accounts for just four percent of listeners, despite having podcasts right in the name. It’s easier to pick up stakes and head to the where the fish are instead of trying to lure the fish to a random podcast app that nobody knows about.

YouTube announced that 2024 will see a significant increase in its “investment in the podcast experience,” right after parent company Alphabet puts the kibosh on Google’s dedicated app. It looks like YouTube Music will receive the lion’s share of these investments, with forthcoming “robust creation and analytics tools” in addition to streamlined RSS uploads for podcasters.

The company promises to also expand the ability to listen to podcasts in more locations, stating they’ll be available “everywhere YouTube Music listeners are already consuming their favorite content — in the background, in the car, offline and more.” Additionally, new “YouTube-only” tools and capabilities will be coming to podcasts on YouTube Music, though Google remains cagey on the specifics.

As for current Google Podcasts users, there’s going to be a “simple migration tool” to help with the transition to YouTube Music. You’ll also be able to manually add podcast RSS feeds to your YouTube Music library. The company even announced options for adding current podcast subscriptions to rival platforms, if you just want to start fresh. Google's still gathering feedback regarding the migration process, so some of these features are liable to change before next year.

This isn’t the first big move YouTube Music has made this year to shore up some of those sweet, sweet podcast dollars. Back in April, the app launched the ability to watch and listen to podcasts without requiring a paid subscription, though you’ll still have to suffer through endless ads for Better Help. Podcasts on YouTube Music are already full-featured, with offline downloads, background play and the ability to switch between audio and visual content on smart speakers.

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LinkedIn adds accessibility features with the help of Microsoft’s Immersive Reader

LinkedIn is making its platform more accessible by integrating Microsoft’s Immersive Reader. The service says that, in honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month, it's providing users with more ways to digest articles and newsletters. That seems particularly useful at a time when LinkedIn has been embracing longer-form content.

Every article and newsletter will feature the Immersive Reader icon, which provides access to several accessibility tools. A text-to-speech function can read articles out loud. LinkedIn says that "distinguishing between words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently makes it easier for auditory learners and those with visual impairments to consume and process content." The tool supports more than 60 languages. On a similar note, Immersive Reader powers real-time translation for more than 100 languages.

GIF showing the features of LinkedIn's Immersive Reader tool, including a text-to-speech function, isolating text from other content and translation options.

Other features include one called Content Isolation. This separates the main text of an article or newsletter from everything else that's on the screen to help people focus on reading. Immersive Reader is able to isolate a line or two at a time as well. It also supports a feature called Syllable Splitting. According to LinkedIn, this breaks more complex words down into smaller components to help users understand and pronounce them.

Immersive Reader has been making its way into several Microsoft products and services over the last few years. It's been available in Office and Minecraft: Education Edition for some time. Bringing the tool to LinkedIn should make the platform easier to use for folks with dyslexia and other conditions.

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The FTC accuses Amazon of ‘monopolistic practices’ in long-expected antitrust suit

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon today in Western Washington district court, with 17 states joining the federal agency. The case isn’t surprising (the FTC was reportedly nearly ready to file in late August), but its specifics weren’t yet known.

The FTC accuses the online retailer of monopolistic practices, including preventing merchants from offering lower prices on other platforms and forcing them to use Amazon’s logistics service if they wanted to be included in customers’ Prime shipping perks. Those anticompetitive practices allegedly led to higher prices and an inferior shopping experience.

The suit describes “Amazon's one-two punch of seller punishments and high seller fees” that forces vendors to “use their inflated Amazon prices as a price floor everywhere else.” The complaint reads, “Amazon's punitive regime distorts basic market signals: one of the ways sellers respond to Amazon's fee hikes is by increasing their own prices off Amazon.”

“Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition,” said FTC chair Lina Khan, according toThe New York Times.

“Amazon is a monopolist,” the lawsuit reads. “It exploits its monopolies in ways that enrich Amazon but harm its customers: both the tens of millions of American households who regularly shop on Amazon's online superstore and the hundreds of thousands of businesses who rely on Amazon to reach them.”

The 17 states joining the FTC include New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

The FTC has had its eye on Amazon for several years. This is the fourth action the agency has taken against the company this year. Amazon settled a previous lawsuit (for $30.8 million) filed in May over Alexa children’s privacy concerns and snooping with Ring cameras. In June, the FTC sued the retailer again, claiming the company tricked customers into signing up for Prime subscriptions and then made it hard to cancel them.

Amazon claimed that the FTC’s actions are out of line. “Today’s suit makes clear the FTC’s focus has radically departed from its mission of protecting consumers and competition,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon's Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy and General Counsel. “The lawsuit filed by the FTC today is wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to making that case in court.”

The media’s narrative about the suit will likely frame it as a long-awaited title bout between Khan and Amazon. The FTC chair gained prominence by publishing a 2017 Yale Law Journalpaper arguing US antitrust laws fell short of adequately reining in the tech giant. That helped begin a national conversation about whether the nation’s anti-monopoly laws were prepared to handle modern Silicon Valley behemoths. 

But more important than one-on-one championship fight framing, the showdown will serve as a test for Washington regulators and Amazon, as the federal agency tests its authority and the retailer faces its most consequential political fight to date.

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Uber partners with LA taxi companies to expand its fleet

Uber announced Tuesday that it’s struck a deal with Los Angeles Yellow Cab to deploy taxi fleets across Southern California. The multi-year partnership, also extending to five other SoCal affiliates, will allow traditional yellow taxis to pick up Uber passengers. The collaboration between the strange bedfellows follows similar trials in New York City and San Francisco.

Uber describes the alliance as mutually beneficial for all parties. Taxi drivers, struggling to recover from pandemic losses while competing with ridesharing, get access to Uber referrals. Meanwhile, riders could see faster pickups. (They can opt out of yellow taxis in the app if they prefer typical ridesharing cars.) And, of course, Uber gains a greater supply of rides.

The partnership stretches down the SoCal coast to the Mexico border. It includes 1,200 vehicles from Los Angeles Yellow Cab, San Diego Yellow Cab, California Yellow Cab, Long Beach Yellow Cab, Fiesta Taxi Cooperative, Inc. and United Checker Cab. Onboarding for taxicab drivers in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties begins this week. Once fully onboarded, drivers can start accepting trips at UberX prices.

The unusual pairing follows years of contentiousness between ridesharing and traditional taxi businesses. The two sides have often been at war since the early 2010s when Uber and Lyft’s existence began threatening the taxi industry. Uber claims cab drivers who took ridesharing fares in the NYC and SF pilots raked in an extra $1,767 per month from those trips alone and earned 23.8% more on average than taxi drivers who eschewed Uber.

“We are thrilled to announce this partnership with Uber because it’s a clear win-win for drivers and riders,” said William Rouse, CEO of Yellow Cab of Los Angeles. “We anticipate that this partnership will have a positive impact for our driver-owners as the pandemic recovery continues. No longer will drivers have to worry about finding a fare during off peak times or getting a street hail back into the city when in the outer suburbs.”

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Beats Studio Buds + earbuds fall to a new low of $100

The well-reviewed Beats Studio Buds + earbuds have fallen to an all-time low price of $100, beating a previous record discount by a whopping $30. All told, that’s a 40 percent discount, as the MSRP for these earbuds is $170. You can only access this deal at Amazon-owned Woot for the next five days or until the stock flies away into the loving arms of happy customers.

We gave these earbuds a score of 84 in our review and a primary ding was the price increase over the previous version, which this sale more than makes up for. Otherwise, the Beats Studio Buds + earbuds are a marked improvement over the previous gen, with larger microphones, acoustic vents added to the front and side and a 16 percent increase in battery life. The control button has also been moved to limit accidental presses during use.

All of these improvements combine to create a stellar pair of earbuds with top-notch sound quality and active noise canceling technology. Like many modern personal audio devices, there’s also a robust transparency mode so you can adjust the level of ambient noise you hear. The company’s custom acoustic platform has been designed to provide immersive sound when listening to music or when taking calls.

This Beats product ships with four pairs of silicone tips to suit different ear canal sizes, all while maintaining a comfortable seal. They are IPX4 rated for sweat and water-resistance, in addition to offering Bluetooth support and the capacity for spatial audio.

These earbuds are only four months old, so a refresh is still a ways off. It’s practically unheard of to get a discount this steep so early in the lifespan of a product, so take advantage if you need a new pair of buds. Remember, the Woot sale ends in five days or when the stock runs out, and the latter is likely to happen before the former.

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How to make a Contact Poster in iOS 17

Apple officially released iOS 17 into the wild on September 18. The latest update packs a number of new tools that make engaging with your iPhone a more personal experience. One of those features, Contact Posters, allows you to create your own digital calling card that pops up on other people’s iPhones when you call them.

While a Poster is visual, it's linked to your contact information, such as your phone number or email address. There’s also the option to link a Medical ID through the Poster, which may be helpful for people who have allergies or serious medical conditions. If you're keen on jampacking your contact card with links to things like your Instagram profile, or if you simply are not sure how to digitally connect a Medical ID, just follow these instructions.

Select your sharing settings

To create your Poster open the Contacts app and navigate to My Card at the top of the screen, then select Contact Photo & Poster. Before editing or creating your Poster, you have the option to enable or disable sharing. If you toggle the green button to off, when you call or text a new number they won't see your Poster or associated info.

Poster Card
Malak Saleh

If you choose to keep the sharing feature on, you have two options. First, you can select to automatically share your contact photo with existing contacts only. Alternatively, you can enable the Always Ask feature, which will prompt you for approval before you share your contact with new people.

Edit your photo and Poster

After tapping Contact Photo & Poster and customizing your sharing settings, you'll be directed to a page that displays your current Poster if you had one previously set up. If not, it will be blank and prompt you to create a new one.

If you choose to create a new Poster, you have several options for a lead visual. You can select a main image from your recent photos, take a new photo using the camera button or use a straightforward monogram. Alternatively, you can opt to use a Memoji — a virtual avatar that you can design to resemble yourself as a human or a cartoon animal. Once you've chosen your Poster image or created an avatar, you'll need to crop it or select a different visual for your Contact photo, which appears in the circular bubble in Messages.

Malak Saleh Poster
Malak Saleh

From there, you can insert whatever personal information you want available to your contacts. Besides the traditional options to share alternative phone numbers, emails and a home or work address, you can also add pronouns, social media profiles and personalized notes. You can also link contacts like family or loved ones to your own contact card, creating a clear digital association.

contact information on iPhone
Malak Saleh

Create a contact card for your friends and family

Similarly, you can add or modify a contact's Poster right on the Contacts app landing page. By clicking the + button located at the top of your contacts list, you'll generate a blank card for a new contact. When you choose tap to Add Photo, you'll go through the same process you used to create your own Poster in order to complete the new contact's card. This feature becomes particularly handy if the other person either doesn't have a pre-existing Poster made or if the user does not have an iPhone with the updated iOS 17 software. Apple says Posters will also be available for third-party calling apps.

New friend Poster
Malak Saleh

Create a Medical ID on your contact card

Through the contact card, you can now create a Medical ID that links to your name and phone number. This can include your medical history, specify allergies or list medications you're currently taking. You can also report your blood type, indicate whether you're an organ donor, and link emergency contacts.

This could be helpful for people dealing with chronic health issues or for those who have loved ones with chronic medical conditions. While it’s unclear how beneficial this would be during an actual emergency, you have the option to automatically send your Medical ID to either an emergency contact or emergency services if you initiate a crisis call. In other words, when and if you call 911 from your iPhone, it will instantly share your vital medical information.

Medical ID
Malak Saleh

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AIAIAI unveils portable wireless studio monitors with low-latency tech

AIAIAI, which is best known for its headphones, is moving into new territory with a set of wireless speakers. The Unit-4 Wireless+ studio monitors use the same low-latency tech as the Danish brand's headphones. AIAIAI suggests that they will enable folks "to create and mix music with accurate sound representation and powerful performance" wherever they might happen to be.

That suggests the speakers will be useful for those who like to make music while they're on the road, but would rather have studio monitors than headphones despite the extra bulk. (Even though they weigh a relatively paltry 2.5kg, the speakers will be more cumbersome than carrying around a set of cans.). The speakers may also be useful for garden DJ sets or any other environment in which latency is key and wired options are impractical. They will run you $800 for a pair.

These monitors employ W+ Link wireless technology, which requires the use of an X02 transmitter (you can also use Bluetooth 5.2 or a cable to connect them to an audio source). AIAIAI says they have 16ms of latency via W+ Link and deliver uncompressed audio. The system employs dual antennas and higher bandwidth than Bluetooth can handle in an effort to maintain a robust connection. The batteries will run for up to 20 hours on a single charge, the brand claims, and it will take two hours to fully recharge them.

AIAIAI Unit-4 Wireless+ studio monitors on wither side of a laptop someone is using.

AIAIAI says these speakers offer reference monitor sound. You'll be snapping up a two-way active monitor that features a four-inch high-excursion woofer and one-inch silk-dome tweeter. Thanks to a bass vent (which can also be used as a carrying handle) and tuned boosting EQ, the monitors will deliver "a clean bass extension down to 40Hz," AIAIAI claims. Since they employ a stage monitor design, you can angle the speakers horizontally to optimize the audio for your surroundings.

Using the AIAIAI Unit-4 app, you'll be able to further align the sound field with the environment you're working in. There's a customizable five-band EQ and five presets. You can use the app to adjust the brightness of the LED ring too.

Meanwhile, AIAIAI has designed the Unit-4 speakers with sustainability in mind. The main plastic components are made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. The monitors have a glue-free design, so it should be easy to replace components such as the battery or speaker drivers when necessary. You'll be able to upgrade parts as well. On top of that, the Unit-4 is designed to be completely recyclable.

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Xiaomi’s 13T Pro brings its Leica goodness to more western markets

Xiaomi has a habit of releasing a mid-cycle flagship phone around this time of the year, mainly catering to markets outside of China. The good news with the freshly-announced Xiaomi 13T Pro is that, unlike last year's 12T Pro, this one comes with Leica's branding and photographic enhancements. This means fans in Europe will have another Leica-branded option for their next smartphone upgrade, in addition to the earlier — and more expensive — 13, 13 Pro and 13 Ultra.

The 13T Pro is, in fact, the global variant of China's Redmi K60 Ultra, which looks almost identical, but lacks Leica tuning and Google services. Another key difference is that the more expensive 13T Pro packs better photography hardware in order to get Leica's approval. The 24mm-equivalent main camera, for instance, is powered by a 50-megapixel sensor with a larger-than-usual 1.22um pixel size. While this is no match to the 1.6um pixels on the real flagships' 1-inch sensors, it's still more generous than what many other handsets offer, not to mention that it can achieve a 2.44um-equivalent effect by way of pixel-binning technology. 

You'll also find a 50-megapixel f/1.9 telephoto camera (50mm-equivalent) and a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide camera (15mm-equivalent) on the Leica-branded camera island. All three cameras have access to both Leica Authentic and Leica Vibrant color modes and, when in portrait mode, the telephoto camera offers a "Master-lens system" which can emulate a 35mm "Documentary" lens, a 50mm "Swirly" bokeh lens or a 90mm "Soft focus" lens. The 20-megapixel f/2.2 punch-hole selfie camera doesn't get any Leica love, but it does support night mode, portrait mode and HDR.

An exploded view of the Xiaomi 13T Pro.

Like the Redmi K60 Ultra, the 13T Pro packs MediaTek's flagship Dimensity 9200+ processor, with which it apparently has a 10 percent boost in both CPU and GPU performance over the 12T Pro (which had a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chip, also based on a 4nm process). Xiaomi paired this with a 5,000mm² stainless steel vapor cooling plate — the company's biggest ever for a phone, allegedly — for improved thermal dissipation.

Xiaomi made a sensible decision with the 6.67-inch screen here: it's flat rather than curved, which makes photo viewing, video playback and gaming so much more practical. It's also a nice AMOLED panel, featuring a 2,712 x 1,220 resolution, a 144Hz refresh rate, a 480Hz touch sampling rate, a peak brightness of 2,600 nits, DCI-P3 color gamut and support for both Dolby Vision plus HDR10+. For those with sensitive eyes, the display's fast 2,880Hz PWM (pulse-width modulation) dimming in lower brightness should induce less eye fatigue as well. This is shielded by a piece of Gorilla Glass 5, but more importantly, the entire device is IP68-rated for dust and water resistance.

Another noteworthy feature on the Xiaomi 13T Pro is its 5,000mAh battery, which supports 120W "HyperCharge." it only takes 19 minutes to go from zero to 100 percent, but if you're in a real hurry, even a mere 5-minute charge will apparently fill you up back to 36 percent. Such charging speeds aren't entirely new, of course, and likewise with Xiaomi's dual-chip system — the Surge G1 power management chipset plus Surge P1 fast-charging chipset — to ensure battery safety while prolonging its lifespan.

Xiaomi 13T Pro

The Xiaomi 13T Pro is now rolling out across Europe, starting from 799 euros (around $846) for the 12GB LPDDRX5 RAM plus 256GB UFS 4.0 storage model, with the top model maxing out at 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage for a yet-to-be-disclosed price. There's also an identical-looking Xiaomi 13T which starts from 649 euros (around $687; 8GB LPDDR5 RAM and 256GB UFS 3.1 storage), with the only differences seemingly being the lesser Dimensity 8200-Ultra processor, slower 67W charging and lack of 8K video recording.

Colors for both models include green or black which feature a glossy glass back, or "Alpine Blue" with a soft "BioComfort vegan leather" back. These dual-SIM devices run on MIUI 14 based on Android 13, and Xiaomi promises four years of Android updates along with five years of security patches. The company is also offering European customers one free screen repair within six months after purchase, and one out-of-warranty repair without labor cost within a year after purchase. It goes without saying that these freebies reflect Xiaomi's western ambitions, not to mention how it's strategically added more affordable options to its flagship lineup, in the hopes of putting up a better fight in the declining market.

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The Quest 3 and AI chatbots: What to expect at Meta Connect

Meta is gearing up for Connect, its annual event devoted to all things VR, AR and the metaverse. This year, the company is once again set to show off a new VR headset, with the Meta Quest 3, as well as its next-generation smart glasses.

It’s also an opportunity for Meta to showcase some of its latest AI advancements, which will reportedly come in the form of new generative AI chatbots. This year will also mark the return of an in-person component to Connect, which has been online-only since 2020. The main keynote will still be livestreamed for remote viewers, but the change will hopefully make for a more lively event than the largely pre-recorded sessions of the past few years.

Here’s a rundown of everything we’re expecting to hear about during Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote, which kicks off at 1PM ET on September 27.

Meta Quest 3 and second-gen Ray-Ban Stories update

We already know quite a bit about the Meta Quest 3, thanks to a preview from Zuckerberg earlier this year. The $499 headset has been considerably slimmed down from its predecessors and comes with redesigned controllers. It will also have better graphics and run on a new “next-gen” Qualcomm chipset, which will power new mixed-reality features akin to last year’s high-end Quest Pro. But with an official reveal at Connect, we should finally get a lot more details about the Quest 3 and its capabilities.

The VR headset likely isn’t the only Reality Labs gadget we’ll hear more about. As UploadVR noted last week, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth recently hinted that a second-generation of Meta’s Ray-Ban-branded smart glasses are also in the works and coming "pretty soon." The new frames are expected to come with better cameras and some new features, like livestreaming, according to Janko Roettgers of the Lowpass newsletter. It’s not clear when the glasses could make an official debut — unlike the Quest 3, Meta has been fairly tight-lipped about its plans for the product — but considering Bosworth’s comments and earlier reports of a possible fall launch, it seems safe to say we’ll at least get an update on their plans.

Meta has at least one other major piece of hardware in the works, the augmented reality glasses it’s been teasing since 2020. Last year at Connect, Zuckerberg showed off a prototype for a wrist-based controller that could have AR applications, but didn’t offer a look at how the glasses themselves are progressing.

That could change this year. The Verge previously reported the company is readying a pair of smart glasses, which will use the wrist-based interface, for a 2025 release. Those glasses, however, would be something of a precursor to “full-fledged AR glasses,” which are slated for 2027. Given the timeframe, it seems more likely we’ll hear about the former, wrist-controlled frames, rather than the more ambitious AR ones, but it would make sense for the company to preview more details about the project.

Chatbots and AI

It looks like Meta is set to (once again) borrow a page from Snap’s playbook with a generative AI assistant. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Meta is readying dozens AI chatbots with distinct personalities in a bid to attract younger users.

Zuckerberg has been teasing the idea of “AI personas” for Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger for some time. But it now sounds as if Meta intends for these AI personalities to play a role in its VR applications as well. According to The Journal, these bots, which have names like “Alvin the Alien” and “Bob the Robot,” will also live in the company’s metaverse apps. While many aspects of the plan sound a bit cringey — and even some Meta employees are reportedly skeptical of the bots — it offers an interesting window into how Meta is using AI to boost interest in the metaverse. Which brings us to…

What about the metaverse?

The company once known as Facebook has now had nearly two years to sell the public on its vision for the metaverse. So far, that’s largely fallen flat. Reality Labs losses have ballooned to more than $20 billion since last year and are expected to climb further. Meta’s investors have been openly skeptical, while new metaverse features, like the addition of legged avatars, have proved underwhelming.

So it’s not surprising that in recent months Zuckerberg has spent more time publicly hyping the company’s AI investments than the metaverse (though he’s said the company remains committed to both). So while Meta will likely share updates on Horizon Worlds, which recently began rolling out to non-VR platforms, I expect Zuckerberg and other executives will highlight the role AI plays in its vision for the metaverse much more than they have in the past.

Though the current AI boom and rise of large-language models has drawn its share of critics, the technology has already generated much more enthusiasm than the metaverse ever has. That could end up working in Meta’s favor if it can recast some of its metaverse projects as cutting-edge AI innovation rather than a virtual world most people don’t really understand.

Update September 26 12:30PM ET: This story was modified after publish to include the starting time of the Meta Connect keynote.

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YouTube’s ad-free Premium Lite tier is going away

After October 25, YouTube users paying for Premium Lite will have to pay for the more expensive full-fledged Premium tier if they don't want to see ads in their videos without resorting to ad blockers. The video hosting platform is discontinuing the subscription option, it told users in an email, where it also said that it will be developing more versions of it in line with feedback from creators and viewers. 

YouTube never rolled out Premium Lite to all users around the world, and access to it remained limited after it first became available in select European countries in 2021. For those who did get access to it, though, it's been a great option to remove ads from the viewing experience, which is the only thing it can do, for only €7 ($7.42) a month. The regular Premium tier removes ads and comes bundled with YouTube Music, the ability to download videos for offline viewing, as well as the capability to watch videos in the background while using other apps. However, it's double the price at $14 a month. 

The website is giving current subscribers a month-long regular Premium subscription at no cost even if they've trialed it in the past in a bid to win them over. They have to either cancel their subscription right now or wait for their subscription to be canceled before they can redeem the offer. But based on responses from users lamenting the Lite option's impending removal on Reddit, a lot of people are unwilling to spend twice the amount of what they've been paying when all they want is to watch videos ad-free. 

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