Apple’s revamped App Store pricing allows $0.29 software

Apple is expanding developers’ options for pricing their App Store apps. The company announced 700 new price points and tools today in what it describes as the App Store's biggest pricing upgrade in its 14-year history. Additionally, devs can now set regional costs automatically in response to exchange rates.

The App Store’s new structure lets developers choose from 900 price points for their apps, nearly 10 times what was previously available. Pricing now starts at $0.29 and can go as high as $10,000 upon request. (If you’re old enough to remember the I Am Rich app, you can imagine that developer salivating over this higher cap.) Additionally, app prices can now go up incrementally across different ranges. For example, they can now increase every $0.10 up to $10, every $0.50 between $10 and $50 and so on.

Apple is also adding different pricing conventions for all 175 regional storefronts. Deves can now use two repeating digits (like ₩110,000) and rounded dollar amounts ($10.00 instead of $9.99).

The update also makes it easier for devs to deal with global exchange rates. Apple uses the example of a Japanese game developer who gets most of their business from Japanese customers. Now they can set their price for the Japan storefront and see global pricing change automatically based on exchange and tax rates. Previously, developers had to do that manually.

Apple says the new pricing structure is available today for apps offering auto-renewable subscriptions. They will arrive for all other apps and in-app purchases in the spring of 2023.

Giphy is adding alt text to make GIFs more accessible

Giphy is looking to improve accessibility and help more people understand what the platform's GIFs are depicting with the help of alt text descriptions. It has teamed up with a content accessibility solutions provider called Scribely to add descriptive text to the platform's content. Screen readers will be able to read the alt text aloud, which will help visually impaired folks to know what's happening in a GIF.

The alt text won't be automatically generated. Giphy says Scribely's writers "are well-versed in accessibility guidelines and write effective and engaging descriptions that take the message and the meaning in mind." Giphy's most popular content, based on the top search terms, now includes alt text. The company plans to add alt text to more of its GIFs.

Screen readers can now read aloud alt text from GIFs on Giphy's web and mobile apps. The company is also making alt text available through its APIs. So third-party companies with Giphy integration can let their users access the alt text on other platforms.

In 2020, Twitter enabled users to add alt text to GIFs. However, if the company, which has a partnership with Giphy, employs the latest feature of the latter's APIs, Twitter users would be able to access professionally written alt text in GIFs.

“GIFs are an important part of our daily lives, thanks to their unique ability to convey ideas, emotions, and humor in ways that static images often can’t. These looping videos move us to moments of joy and happiness," Scribely founder and CEO Caroline Desrosiers said. "But without alt text, the moment is lost and excludes millions. That’s why this project with Giphy is so monumental and necessary.”

Samsung storage sale drops SSDs and microSD cards below Black Friday prices

Amazon has rolled out another round of discounts on Samsung storage devices, dropping various microSD cards and SSDs we recommend to their lowest prices to date. Among the highlights, the 1TB version of Samsung's 980 Pro SSD is down to $100, which is about $25 off its average street price over the last few months and beats its Black Friday pricing by $10. (Amazon mistakenly lists this as the standard 980 SSD, but it's the upgraded model.) This deal is also available at B&H

Samsung launched an updated 990 Pro SSD earlier this year, and in general, not everyone needs the faster speeds of a PCIe 4.0 drive like this. At less than $100, though, the 980 Pro is still a fine value for those looking to build out a more performant PC for gaming. This SSD also meets Sony's requirements for expanding the PlayStation 5's storage, though you'll need to add a heatsink for that to work properly. If you're buying for a PS5 specifically, it's likely worth paying a little bit extra for the model with an integrated heatsink, which, at $112, is also down to its lowest price to date. 

If you want to save some cash on a less intense build, meanwhile, the 1TB 970 Evo Plus is worth noting at $90. Outside of a brief drop to $84 in April, that's the lowest price we've seen for that recommended PCIe 3.0 drive.

Beyond those, the 128GB Evo Select microSD card is on sale for $14, which is within 50 cents of its all-time low and a couple bucks lower than what we saw over Black Friday. This price is also available at Samsung's online store. Again, this isn't the absolute fastest choice, but its U3-rated speeds are more than enough if you just want to add space to a device like the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck. If you need a little extra speed for shooting 4K video, the 256GB Pro Plus card is a better buy at $25. That also matches the best price we've seen. The T7 Shield, meanwhile, is a portable SSD we recommend to those looking for a more rugged design; at $90 for 1TB, it's $9 above its all-time low but still $10 below its Black Friday price. You can see the full sale at the link below.

Shop Samsung storage device sale at Amazon

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The Morning After: Nothing is in talks to bring its smartphones to the US

While many phone fans in the US are intrigued with the Nothing Phone 1, with its transparent back and flashing glyph design, they couldn’t buy one. At least, not easily. It might be easier for its follow-up devices, though.

TMA
Engadget

Nothing co-founder Carl Pei told CNBC the Nothing Phone 1 isn't available in the US because the company wasn't ready to deal with the complexities of the market, which usually entails dealing with powerful US carriers. "Now we are in discussions with some carriers in the US to potentially launch a future product there," he said. Nothing already sells its Ear Stick wireless buds in the US, which apparently made up a third of that product's sales. And as the co-founder of OnePlus, Pei is already well acquainted with the US smartphone market. It took years for OnePlus to launch a device with carrier support.

Nothing has topped 600,000 Phone 1 devices sold so far. But Pei has big ambitions, matched by similarly big challenges. He previously said the company has a "zero-percent margin" on its phones, due to the strong US dollar and less-than-favorable terms from suppliers. "The goal is to be profitable in 2024," he said.

– Mat Smith

The Morning After isn’t just a newsletter – it’s also a daily podcast. Get our daily audio briefings, Monday through Friday, by subscribing right here.

The biggest stories you might have missed

Neuralink is reportedly under federal investigation over animal testing

The development pressures have allegedly led to animal deaths.

The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) inspector general is apparently investigating Neuralink over potential animal welfare violations related to research testing. Reuters reports the company has killed 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, since 2018. Those numbers don't automatically mean Neuralink is violating the law, and the company has passed all USDA inspections of its facilities. According to the report, internal documents suggest staff have raised concerns that the company has rushed animal testing, causing needless suffering and death.

Continue reading.

Honor’s Magic VS is a cheaper foldable here to scare Samsung

We’ve tested a prototype.

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Engadget

The Magic VS is Honor’s second folding phone, but it’ll be the first available outside China when it launches in early 2023. This feels like a polish rather than an evolution of the 2022’s Magic V foldable. The major difference is a vastly redesigned hinge with far fewer parts, which should make it more reliable. It still looks an awful lot like Samsung’s premium-priced Galaxy Z Fold series. Honor has given attention to the external display, which is arguably just as important as the fold-out display. Check out our impressions.

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Blizzard makes it easier to unlock new 'Overwatch 2' heroes

You won't need to grind through as many levels to get them.

One of the major (and controversial) changes Blizzard made in Overwatch 2 was locking new heroes behind a battle pass. However, it should be a little easier for players to unlock the latest character, Ramattra, in the game's second season. Players who opt for the free track of the battle pass won't need to grind through as many levels before they can use the new tank in all game modes. However, those who buy the season-two premium pass will get access to Ramattra right away.

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Google’s Pixel 7 update brings Clear Calling and a free VPN

Other updates include better Pixel Watch sleep tracking.

Google is releasing its latest round of Pixel updates, including the free VPN the company teased at its October event. However, the Google One VPN doesn’t support regional location switching, so no sneakily streaming different services around the world – but it does secure your browsing activity. Clear Calling, which had been in beta since October, is also now available for all Pixel 7 series owners. The AI-powered feature makes calls in noisy environments sound better by bringing your voice to the forefront while drowning out background noise.

Continue reading.

Here’s another 'immersive' gaming pod

If you have the space.

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Cooler Master

Cooler Master’s Orb X is its newly announced semi-enclosed work and gaming station. The built-in recliner is made of “genuine leather” and has a fully adjustable headrest, lumbar support and leg rest. Once you’re seated, the motorized dome at the top of the Orb X lowers a screen to eye level. You can configure the pod with either a single 34-inch monitor or up to three 27-inch displays. If you’re going to own a gaming pod, I demand you get all three.

Continue reading.

Apple’s Self Service Repair program comes to Europe

After launching it in the US earlier this year, Apple's Self Service Repair program has arrived in eight European countries. Customers there will be able to perform many of the most common fixes on the iPhone 12 an iPhone 13 lineups, along with MacBooks with Apple silicon (not Intel models). "The Self Service Repair Store provides access to more than 200 individual parts and tools, as well as repair manuals," Apple said in a press release

Spare parts and tools can be purchased at Apple's Self Service repair store in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Apple said that they're the same ones, at the same prices, as those available to authorized repair providers. If you'd rather not purchase a tool for a one-time repair, you can rent a kit for a week at £54.90. Customers can send back replaced parts for refurbishment and recycling and potentially receive a credit.

A few examples of part prices include a battery module for £70.78 (€77.04), a display module for £282.28 (€327.11) and a camera module for £168.55 (€192.76). A lot of tools are required for an iPhone 13 repair, including a battery press, display press, adhesive cutter, various torque drivers and a magnetizer (among others), so the rental seems like a good solution. Also, it goes without saying that you should feel confident doing relatively complex repair jobs.

Apple's Self Service Repair program comes to Europe
Apple

It's a good option for folks who may be far from an authorized Apple repair center. At the same time, you may want to compare the price of the parts, tool rental and your own time with the cost of a professional repair from Apple or a third party. 

"We believe the best technology for our customers and for the planet is technology that lasts, which is why we design our products to be durable and rarely require maintenance or repair," said Apple COO Jeff Williams. "But when a repair is needed, we want customers to have many options for safe, reliable, and secure repair."

That's well and good, but Apple was essentially forced into this position by right-to-repair rules both in the United States and Europe. The EU also wants you to be able to go back more than two generations for repairs. It recently proposed new rules that would require 15 components (batteries, displays, chargers, etc.) to be available for at least five years after a phone is released in the EU — or back to the iPhone X, in Apple's case. 

The EU also passed a law requiring USB-C charging for mobile devices by the end of 2024, meaning that Apple will have to eliminate its Lightning connector on iPhones by that time. The law represents an effort to eliminate e-waste in the form of cables, since even owning two Apple devices (an iPad Pro and an iPhone) requires two separate cables. 

Waze is getting its own dedicated Android Automotive app

Waze is France's most popular navigation app, to the point that it was recently updated with three regional accents (Toulouse, Provençal and ch'ti). So it makes sense that Waze elected to partner with French automaker Renault to launch a new, dedicated version of the app for cars. It's available on infotainment systems via Google integration, starting with the Austral Hybrid and Megane E-Tech EV

To be clear, it's already possible to use Waze on Android Auto by installing it as an app from your smartphone. What's different is that Renault drivers can now install the app directly to the infotainment system and use it without the need for a mobile device.

"When you drive, you can experience safer and more convenient journeys while eliminating the hassle of using a smartphone," Waze wrote on its blog. "With this new experience, Renault drivers will have all Waze real-time routing, navigation and alerts, plus settings, preferences and saved places, built into their car display."

Renault's latest multimedia system supports CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly and has a number of apps like Google Maps and Spotify pre-installed — with no need to connect your phone for those apps. You can install Waze either from the Play store in the above vehicles' infotainment systems, or from Renault's dedicated app. 

Waze appears set to expand to other vehicles and brands, saying it's "looking forward to bringing this excellent driving experience to more users across the globe in 2023." So if you prefer Waze to Google Maps and have a car that supports Android Auto, you may be able to switch soon. 

Xbox will start charging $70 for some Series X/S games

Microsoft has confirmed it will increase the prices of some of its first-party Xbox games to $70 starting in 2023. Specifically, major games built for Xbox Series X/S will cost $10 more in the US, including Starfield, Redfall and Forza Motorsport. Regional price increases may vary.

"This price reflects the content, scale, and technical complexity of these titles," a Microsoft spokesperson told IGN, which first reported the news. "As with all games developed by our teams at Xbox, they will also be available with Game Pass the same day they launch.”

Other major publishers, including Sony, EA and Take-Two Interactive, have been charging $70 for select current-gen games. Microsoft was able to hold off on increasing prices, likely because the company doesn't rely on games as its primary revenue driver.

In August, Sony increased the price of the PlayStation 5 in most countries, but not the US. Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said in October his company wouldn't raise Xbox prices ahead of the holiday season (the Xbox Series S actually went on sale in November), but noted that "I do think at some point we'll have to raise the prices on certain things." We're starting to see that play out now.

One possible outcome of Xbox raising prices on first-party games is that more people may be willing to try out Game Pass. Starfield, Redfall and Forza Motorsport will all be available on Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass on day one. That could make Game Pass more attractive and an even better value proposition — at least until Xbox inevitably raises the price of its subscription services too.

Furthermore, this seems to mark the beginning of a shift away from releasing major new games on previous-generation consoles. With the exception of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Microsoft has made native Xbox One versions of its Series X/S games.

Honor’s Magic VS, even in prototype form, feels like a contender

Allow me to pull the curtain back on something that happens when you get to spend some time with a very early phone prototype: Often, there’s a list of conditions that mean you can’t really talk about your experiences in a specific manner. Bear this in mind when I talk about this prototype Honor Magic VS that I’ve been diddling around with for the last few days. I’m actually pretty impressed by it, although I’ve been asked not to make any solid conclusions about its non-final hardware, software, imaging, performance and display quality.

The Magic VS is the company’s second folding phone, albeit the first that’ll be available on sale outside of China when it hits selected global markets at the start of 2023. It’s a close cousin of Honor’s first folder, the Magic V, which was first released at the start of 2022, and this feels like a polish, rather than an evolution, of the existing model. The major difference is a vastly redesigned hinge with far fewer parts, which should make it more reliable. And the company promises that the handset will withstand 400,000 folds, or more than 100 per day for the better part of a decade. It’s also two grams lighter than Samsung’s Z Fold 4, which Honor is very proud of, but it’s still only two grams.

The rest of the differences between the Magic VS and the Magic V are all fairly minor; a 5,000mAh battery, up from the last model’s 4,750mAh. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 gets swapped for an 8+, and there’s one major change on the imaging front. Whereas the V was packing a trio of 50-megapixel lenses, the VS dropped the third in favor of an 8-megapixel, f/2.4 3x optical zoom. Of course, I can’t talk about the power of those beefy zoom lenses, or the speed at which it takes an image. Or that, much like many other Android handsets, you do wish that images weren’t so washed out.

As for the displays, you’ll find the 6.45-inch exterior OLED screen is no slouch, especially since it has a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. Honor knows that most people will default to the external display for the bulk of their smartphone use, and so it’s almost the first thought here. The 21:9 ratio is still cramped, and initially disorientating, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. And, if I’m honest, you’ll accept a slightly narrow external display in order to get at that 7.9-inch, foldable OLED inside. Now, it’s not as high-res, or as fast (it tops out at 90Hz) but it’s just so much bigger that you’ll want to use it as much as you possibly can.

Image of the Honor Magic VS closed on a table.
Daniel Cooper

Honor says that the display is “creaseless,” a term which I’ll take a small amount of issue with, if only because there’s no such thing. Hold the device face-on and, when watching video or browsing, you’ll barely notice the crease unless you catch the light at a bad angle. Sit anywhere off center, and you can see the bumps in the terrain just fine – but that’s not to say that this is a dealbreaker at all. Just that some promises sound better on paper than they do when you’re looking at a very faint ridge in a flexible OLED display.

One thing I can talk about is the hinge, which helps the two halves of the handset fold flat (except for the dreaded camera bump) and sit very comfortably in my pocket. No doubt, this is still a hulking slab of a device, with a 6.45-inch display that’ll be uncomfortable if you’ve a penchant for ultra-skinny jeans. But if you’re looking for something that’ll pull double duty as a slate, this feels like the most elegant in the admittedly limited pantheon.

I probably can’t draw conclusions about the speed of the power button-mounted fingerprint sensor, or the camera face unlock. Certainly, you wouldn’t expect a Snapdragon 8+ handset to stutter, especially when it’s paired with 12GB storage, as is the case here. Honor gave strict instructions not to test app performance on the device, but I can’t imagine that – given the performance of what’s pre-loaded, this device will struggle to deal with much. I did try out a very popular Battle Royale-type game, that I won’t name to respect Honor’s wishes, and it ran beautifully.

The Magic VS won’t ship with, but does support, Honor’s Magic Pen stylus input, which I’d say is a good start, but not really what this device should be about. After all, the benefit of a device like this is in what it can offer you when you need to get a little blast of focused work done when you’re out and about. (Okay, that’s my interest, I’m sure others just want a bigger screen to play Fortnite on, and that’s absolutely okay.) If Honor shipped this thing with a little stand and a matching wireless keyboard (or both) then I can see it becoming every commuter's dream purchase.

Now, here’s something that I think should make the folks over at Samsung feel just a little bit jittery. It’s an imperfect comparison, but imagine you’re keeping an eye on the Z Fold 4, currently retailing for $1,700 in the US. Honor’s planning on selling the Magic VS for 7,499RMB in China, which shakes out to around $1,048. Now, for one, Honor probably won’t sell to the US market, and taxes and exchange rates will play their part. But if the final version of this handset can offer something very similar to the Z Fold 4 for a significantly lower price, I can imagine it turning plenty of would-be Fold owners’ heads.

Now, as I said, I can’t make any solid conclusions about this device, but what I can say is that I really think it’s worthy of a full review when it hits global markets early next year. And that there’s enough here to say that Honor may be making a very compelling case to be spoken about as a fair competitor to Samsung at the highest end of the Android space.

Pixel 7 update brings promised Clear Calling and free VPN

Google is releasing its latest round of Pixel updates today, including the free VPN the company teased at its October event. Clear Calling also launches to the public alongside updates for its voice memo app and new sleep features for the Pixel Watch.

Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro users can now use the Google One VPN on their phones for free (rather than buying it bundled with a $10-per-month storage plan). Although Google’s VPN doesn’t support regional location switching, it secures your browsing activity on the web and in apps.

Clear Calling, Google’s voice isolation for calls which had been in beta since October, is now available for all Pixel 7 series owners. The AI-powered feature makes calls in noisy environments sound better by bringing your voice to the forefront while drowning out background noise. Recorder, Google’s AI-based voice memo app, now transcribes and organizes recordings for multiple people. It labels each speaker’s text, separating their transcriptions with line breaks — handy for meetings or interviews. That feature is also exclusive to the Pixel 7 series.

Screenshot of Recorder app on Pixel phones, which separates transcriptions of different speakers.
Google

Google says spatial audio will arrive in January for Pixel Buds Pro paired with a Pixel phone. Like the iPhone/AirPods feature of the same name, it provides a head-tracked surround-sound effect for movies and shows. However, Google’s version doesn’t yet support music or a fixed-position surround effect.

Pixel owners will also see a new security and privacy hub. The app shows risk levels and settings for protecting your data, and it will alert you to any concerns it detects while recommending fixes.

Screenshot of a new Security & Privacy hub on Pixel phones
Google

New sleep features are available for Pixel Watch owners. Fitbit Sleep Profiles analyze your slumber with insights like “time before sound sleep” and “nights with long awakenings.” It also assigns you a monthly Sleep Animal, a critter whose sleep patterns mirror yours. Anyone who already tracked their sleep for at least two weeks this past November will see their animal today, while everyone else will have to wait until January.

The Pixel Watch also receives new Wear Tiles (Wear OS widgets) for Weather and Contacts. Additionally, Google says the smartwatch will receive a Fall Detection feature in 2023. Like the Apple Watch feature of the same name, it contacts emergency services if you fall and don’t respond.

Cooler Master has a big ‘immersive’ gaming pod too

Why settle for a desk and an ultrawide monitor when you can buy a multi-purpose computing pod? That’s the question Cooler Master hopes the Orb X, its newly announced semi-enclosed work and gaming station (via Gizmodo), will prompt you to ponder. While the Orb X won’t completely isolate you from the outside world, your family and roommates will definitely accuse you of being antisocial once you’re cocooned inside its ABS plastic shell.

The built-in recliner is made from “genuine leather,” and features a fully adjustable headrest, lumbar support and leg rest. Once you’re seated, the motorized dome at the top of the Orb X lowers a screen to eye level. Speaking of screens, you can configure the pod with either a single 34-inch monitor or up to three 27-inch displays. Completing the multimedia experience, the Orb X also comes with a built-in surround sound system that Cooler Master says will let you enjoy a realistic soundstage without fancy headphones.

Cooler Master Orb X
Cooler Master

Other nifty features include a hidden compartment where you can store your PC and consoles. Inside, you'll also find a desk with built-in wireless charging and a handful of USB-A and USB-C ports. Oh, and the whole thing obviously features RGB accent lighting.

While it’s far from a crowded market, Cooler Master isn’t the only company producing a behemoth like the Orb X. In 2018, Acer announced the $20,000 Predator Thronos before following it up with the more affordable Thronos Air one year later. Cooler Master has yet to announce pricing details for the Orb X, or, for that matter, a release date. If you’re keen on finding out when it’s available for pre-order, you can register for a waiting list.