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Spotify's latest fancy feature for Premium users is a play button

Mon, 2022-08-01 12:30

It’s 2022 and Spotify is adding the most basic of functions to its iOS and Android apps: dedicated play and shuffle buttons on playlists and album pages. Until now, tapping the button on most playlists started playback with shuffle mode enabled. To play tracks in order, you’d need to tap an individual song.

The split play and shuffle buttons will only be available to Spotify Premium subscribers. While at first glance it might seem odd to only grant paying members access to the separate icons, it makes sense. Beyond select playlists, free users are only able to use Spotify in shuffle-only mode on mobile (this doesn’t apply to the desktop or tablet app). In the coming weeks, Spotify will roll out the separate play and shuffle buttons, which really should have been baked into the app from the jump.

Last year, Adele pressured the streaming platform to remove the shuffle button from albums. She argued that albums should be listened to in order, in the way artists intended. It seems Spotify agreed, as it started displaying only a regular play button for albums — though it's bringing the shuffle button back to those pages with the latest update.

Sony is retiring the PlayStation 5's Accolades feature because people aren't nice

Mon, 2022-08-01 11:53

Sony plans to remove a software feature many PlayStation 5 users may not know even exists. In fall 2022, the company will discontinue support for Accolades. As the name suggests, Accolades allow you to commend players you meet online for sportsmanship and good behavior. Sony launched the feature alongside the PS5 but now plans to remove it as it’s not widely used.

“The feature hasn’t seen the level of usage we anticipated, so we are refocusing our efforts,” the company says in a notice spotted by Eurogamer. “We encourage the community to continue to send positive messages to one another." It’s not surprising to see Sony make the decision to do away with Accolades. Many online games, including Overwatch, feature built-in systems for rewarding welcoming and supportive players. It also didn’t help that you had to dig through the PS5’s Ribbon UI to find the menu for awarding commendations.

Sony AccoladesSony

Chromecast with Google TV is on sale for $40 once again

Mon, 2022-08-01 11:26

While many modern TVs already have streaming services baked in, you might still need (or want) a dedicated device for accessing the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The Chromecast with Google TV is a solid option and it's currently on sale once again at a record low price of $40. That's $10 less than it typically costs.

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Amazon - $40

We gave the device a score of 86 in our review after being impressed with the voice remote. The dongle has Google Assistant support, of course, and along with telling a smart speaker what you want to watch, you can simply bark instructions at the remote. It's a cinch to navigate the Google TV interface with the remote, which includes dedicated buttons for launching YouTube and Netflix. In addition, the dongle provides access to YouTube TV, Hulu, Disney+, Prime Video, Apple TV+ and HBO Max, among many other streaming services. There's support for 4K HDR content, as well as Dolby Vision and Atmos.

You can also use the device to play games through Google Stadia if you have a compatible controller. Despite recent rumors to the contrary, Google has said Stadia isn't going away. On top of that, you'll have the option to effectively use your TV as a smart display when you're not streaming something. Chromecast with Google TV can show live feeds from some security cameras, display weather forecasts and help you control smart home devices, all with the aid of Google Assistant. The Ambient Mode, meanwhile, can display your Google Photos when you're not actively watching, playing or listening to anything.

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Solo Stove's Fire Pit 2.0 fixes the original's biggest flaw

Mon, 2022-08-01 10:31

Solo Stove's fire pits have been a staple of Engadget buyers guides for a while now. They burn wood with incredible efficiency and minimal smoke. Plus, they're nearly indestructible and come with a lifetime warranty. I personally purchased a Bonfire model last year and couldn't be happier. My one complaint (other than price) is that it's a giant pain to clean. After a couple of fires you have to pick the whole thing up and turn it upside down into a garbage bag to get the ash out. And I'm sure it's far worse for anyone that went with Solo Stove's largest model — the 40-pound Yukon

The Fire Pit 2.0 lineup solves this massive headache by introducing a removable base plate and ash pan. After the pit has cooled down you just reach in, lift up the base plate then remove the ash pan and dump it out. I've been testing the new Bonfire 2.0 side by side with my OG model and confirm that this is a huge improvement. Some ash will inevitably get in the space under the ash pan— it doesn't quite reach to the edges of the nook it's nestled into. But it's easy enough to vacuum that little bit out with a dust buster or something.  

Solo Stove Fire Pit 2.0Solo Stove

Most importantly Solo Stove hasn't changed anything its 360° Signature Airflow Technology. I had some slight concerns that changes to the bottom of the pit would mess with airflow and result in a less efficient burn, but that's not the case. I'm still rarely left with even a splinter at that end of a fire and smoke is barely an issue once it gets roaring. All the original accessories still work with the new models too.

The other thing that hasn't changed is price. Solo Stoves aren't cheap, and I was admittedly a little skeptical when I decided to splurge on one last year, but honestly it's a far better investment than a $99 fire pit from home depot that will just need to be replaced in a year or two — especially if you pick one up on sale. Right now the entire lineup is up to 45-percent off with the Solo Stove Ranger 2.0 going for $230, the Bonfire 2.0 $260 and the Yukon $460. 

Solo Stove Fire Pit 2.0Solo Stove

Jabra's Elite 7 Pro ANC earbuds drop to a new low of $130

Mon, 2022-08-01 10:10

If you missed out on picking up Jabra's Elite 7 Pro noise-canceling earbuds when they got a 30 percent price cut a month ago, you might actually be in luck. They're currently on sale for $130, which is $70 off the regular price. That's the lowest price we've seen for the earbuds to date — it's $10 less than what they were selling for just ahead of Prime Day.

Buy Jabra Elite Pro 7 at Amazon - $130

Jabra positioned the Elite 7 Pro, which it announced almost a year ago, as the successor to the Elite 85t. Those earbuds were previously the brand's smallest model, but the Elite 7 Pro is now the holder of that title. Even so, Jabra has squeezed in bone conduction tech that works with microphones and algorithms in an effort to improve voice quality.

When it comes to battery life, Jabra claims the earbuds can run for nine hours with active noise cancellation enabled. That rises to 11 hours if ANC is turned off. The case offers up to three additional full charges.

In January, Jabra released an update that brought Bluetooth multipoint connectivity to Elite 7 Pro. This allows you to connect to two devices at the same time and switch between them seamlessly (such as when you receive a call on your phone while listening to music on your computer).

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The best Xbox games for 2022

Mon, 2022-08-01 09:15

A series of missteps put Microsoft in second place before the Xbox One even came out. With the launch of the Xbox Series X and S, though, Microsoft is in a great position to compete. Both are well-priced, well-specced consoles with a huge library of games spanning two decades.

Microsoft’s console strategy is unique. Someone with a 7-year old Xbox One has access to an almost-identical library of games as the owner of a brand-new Xbox Series X. That makes it difficult to maintain meaningfully different lists for its various consoles — at least for now. But while “next-gen” exclusives may be few and far between, with PS4 outselling Xbox One by a reported two-to-one, there are a lot of gamers who simply haven’t experienced much of what Microsoft has had to offer since the mid ‘10s.

It’s with that frame of mind that we approach this list: What games would we recommend to someone picking up an Xbox today — whether it’s a Series X, a Series S, One X or One S — after an extended break from Microsoft’s consoles?

This list then, is a mixture of games exclusive to Microsoft’s consoles and cross-platform showstoppers that play best on Xbox. We’ve done our best to explain the benefits Microsoft’s systems bring to the table where appropriate. Oh, and while we understand some may have an aversion to subscription services, it’s definitely worth considering Game Pass Ultimate, which will allow you to play many of the games on this list for a monthly fee.

ControlControl505 Games

Take the weird Twin Peaks narrative of Alan Wake, smash it together with Quantum Break's frenetic powers and gunplay, and you've got Control. Playing as a woman searching for her missing brother, you quickly learn there's a thin line between reality and the fantastical. It's catnip for anyone who grew up loving The X-Files and the supernatural. It's also a prime example of a studio working at their creative heights, both refining and evolving the open-world formula that's dominated games for the past decade.

Control on the last-gen Xbox is a mixed affair, with the One S struggling a little, but the One X being head-and-shoulders above the PS4 Pro when it comes to fidelity and smoothness. With the launch of the next-gen consoles, an ‘Ultimate Edition’ emerged which brought the ray-tracing and higher frame rates that PC gamers enjoyed to console players. Although you’ll only get those benefits as a next-gen owner, it also includes all the released DLC and is the edition we recommend buying, even if you’re not planning to immediately upgrade.

Buy Control at Amazon - $30Halo InfiniteHalo Infinite343 Industries / Microsoft

Master Chief's latest adventure may not make much sense narratively, but it sure is fun to play. After the middle efforts from 343 Industries over the last decade, Halo Infinite manages to breathe new life into Microsoft's flagship franchise, while also staying true to elements fans love. The main campaign is more open than ever, while also giving you a new freedom of movement with the trusty grappling hook. And the multiplayer mode is wonderfully addictive (though 343 still needs to speed up experience progression), with a bevy of maps and game modes to keep things from getting too stale. The only thing keeping it from greatness is its baffling and disjointed story, but it's not like Xbox fans have many options when it comes to huge exclusives right now.

Buy Halo Infinite at Amazon - $60Forza Horizon 5Corvette in 'Forza Horizon 5'Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios

Forza Horizon 5 deftly walks a fine line by being an extremely deep and complex racing game that almost anyone can just pick up and play. The game has hundreds of cars that you can tweak endlessly to fit your driving style, and dozens of courses spread all over a gorgeous fictional corner of Mexico. If you crank up the difficulty, one mistake will sink your entire race, and the competition online can be just as fierce.

But if you’re new to racing games, Forza Horizon 5 does an excellent job at getting you up and running. The introduction to the game quickly gives you a taste at the four main race types you’ll come across (street racing, cross-country, etc.), and features like the rewind button mean that you can quickly erase mistakes if you try and take a turn too fast without having to restart your run. Quite simply, Forza Horizon 5 is a beautiful and fun game that works for just about any skill level. It’s easy to pick up and play a few races and move on with your day, or you can sink hours into it trying to become the best driver you can possibly be.

Buy Forza Horizon 5 at Amazon - $60Gears 5Gears 5Microsoft

Gears 5 tries to be a lot of things, and doesn't succeed at them all. If you're a Gears of War fan, though, there's a lot to love here. The cover-shooter gameplay the series helped pioneer feels great, and the campaign, while not narratively ambitious, is well-paced and full of bombastic set pieces to keep you interested. As they stand, the various multiplayer modes are not great, but Gears 5 is worth it for the campaign alone.

It’s also a true graphical showcase, among the best-looking console games around. Microsoft did a great job optimizing for all platforms and use-cases, with high-resolution and ultra-high (up to 120fps on series consoles) frame rates.

Buy Gears 5 at Amazon - $30Nier: Automata AutomataSquare Enix

It took more than a while to get here, but Nier: Automata finally arrived on Xbox One in the summer of 2018. And boy, was it worth the almost-18-month wait. Nier takes the razor-sharp combat of a Platinum Games title and puts it in a world crafted by everyone's favorite weirdo, Yoko Taro. Don't worry, you can mostly just run, gun and slash your way through the game, but as you finish, and finish and finish this one, you'll find yourself pulled into a truly special narrative, one that's never been done before and will probably never be done again. It’s an unmissable experience, and one that feels all the more unique on Xbox, which has never had the best levels of support from Japanese developers.

On Xbox One X and Series X, you effectively have the best version of Nier: Automata available, short of a fan-patched PC game. On Series S and One S... not so much, but you do at least get consistent framerates on the Series S and a passable experience on the One S. 

Buy Nier: Automata at Amazon - $40Ori and the Blind ForestOri and the Blind ForestMicrosoft

Arriving at a time when "Gears Halo Forza" seemed to be the beginning, middle and end of Microsoft's publishing plans, Ori and the Blind Forest was a triumph. It's a confident mash of the pixel-perfect platforming popularized by Super Meat Boy, and the rich, unfolding worlds of Metroidvania games. You'll die hundreds of times exploring the titular forest, unlocking skills that allow you to reach new areas. It looks and sounds great — like, Disney great — and its story, while fairly secondary to the experience, is interesting. Ori might not do much to push the boundaries of its genres, but everything it does, it does so right. Its sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is very much “more of everything,” so if you like Blind Forest, it’s well worth checking out too.

Buy Ori and the Blind Forest at Amazon - $40Red Dead Redemption 2Red Dead Redemption 2Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption 2 is the kind of game no one but Rockstar, the team behind the GTA series, could make. Only when a studio is this successful can it pour millions of dollars and development hours into a game. Rockstar's simulation of a crumbling frontier world is enthralling and serves as a perfect backdrop to an uncharacteristically measured story. While the studio's gameplay may not have moved massively forward, the writing and characters of RDR2 will stay with you.

While Rockstar hasn’t deemed fit to properly upgrade Red Dead Redemption 2 for the next-gen yet, Series X owners will at least benefit from the best last-gen (Xbox One X) experience with the addition of improved loading times. The Series S, on the other hand, gets the One S version, but with an improved 30 fps lock and swifter loading.

Buy Red Dead Redemption 2 at Amazon - $27Resident Evil VillageResident Evil VillageCapcom

Resident Evil Village is delightful. It’s a gothic fairy tale masquerading as a survival-horror game, and while this represents a fresh vibe for the franchise, it’s not an unwelcome evolution. The characters and enemies in Village are full of life — even when they’re decidedly undead — and Capcom has put a delicious twist on the idea of vampires, werewolves, sea creatures, giants and creepy dolls. The game retains its horror, puzzle and action roots, and it has Umbrella Corporation’s fingerprints all over it. It simply feels like developers had fun with this one, and so will you.

A word of caution before you run to buy it, though: This game doesn’t play great on every Xbox. On Series X, things are great: There's the option to turn on ray-tracing with the occasional frame rate issue, or to keep it off and have perfect 4K/60 presentation. With the Series S, while there is a ray-tracing mode, it’s almost unplayable. With ray-tracing off, the Series S does a decent job, though. The One X’s 1080p/60 mode is also fantastic, although its quality mode feels very juddery. If you own a base Xbox One or One S, though, there’s really no mode that actually feels enjoyable to play.

Buy Resident Evil Village at Amazon - $31Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Shadows Die TwiceActivision

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn't just another Dark Souls game. FromSoftware's samurai adventure is a departure from that well-established formula, replacing slow, weighty combat and gothic despair for stealth, grappling hooks and swift swordplay. Oh, and while it's still a difficult game, it's a lot more accessible than Souls games — you can even pause it! The result of all these changes is something that's still instantly recognizable as a FromSoftware title, but it's its own thing, and it's very good.

This is one game that’s really not had a lot of love from its developer or publisher, as, despite the fact next-gen consoles should be easily able to run this game at 60 fps, the Series S is locked to an inconsistently paced 30 fps, while the Series X doesn’t quite hold to 60 either. With that said, it’s more than playable.

Buy Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice at Amazon - $43Lost JudgementLost JudgementMicrosoft

This is private eye Takayuki Yagami’s second adventure; a spin-off of Sega’s popular, pulpy and convoluted Yakuza saga. He lives in the same Kamurocho area, the same yakuza gangs roam the streets, and there’s the very occasional crossover of side-story characters and, well, weirdos. But instead of punching punks in the face in the name of justice or honor, which was the style of Yakuza protagonist Kazuya Kiryu, Yagami fights with the power of his lawyer badge, drone evidence and… sometimes (read: often) he kicks the bad guys in the face.

The sequel skates even closer to some sort of serialized TV drama, punctuated by fights, chases and melodrama. For anyone that’s played the series before, it treads familiar ground, but with a more serious (realistic) story that centers on bullying and suicide problems in Japanese high schools, which is tied into myriad plots encompassing the legal system, politics and organized crime.

Yagami has multiple fighting styles to master, while there are love interests, batting cages, mahjong, skate parks and more activities to sink even more hours into. On the PS5, Lost Judgment looks great. Fights are fluid and the recreated areas in Tokyo and Yokohama are usually full of pedestrians, stores and points of interest. While Yakuza Like a Dragon takes the franchise in a new (turn-based, more ridiculous) direction, Lost Judgment retains the brawling playstyle of the Yakuza series, with a new hero who has, eventually, charmed us.

Buy Lost Judgement at Amazon - $60Game Pass UltimateMicrosoft's new Series X console and its accessories.Engadget

We already mentioned this one but it's difficult to overemphasize how good a deal Game Pass is for Xbox owners. For $15 a month you get access to a shifting and growing library of games. The company does a good job explaining what games are coming and going in advance, so you won't get caught out by a game disappearing from the subscription service just as you're reaching a final boss. There are 11 games mentioned in this guide, and seven of them are currently available with Game Pass. The full library is broad, and, while still Microsoft's cloud service is still just in beta, you'll have access to many of the games on your tablet, phone or browser through xCloud at no extra fee.

Subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate at MicrosoftBuy Game Pass Ultimate gift card at Amazon starting at $15

Apple's 10.2-inch iPad is back on sale for $300 at Amazon

Mon, 2022-08-01 08:26

If you missed last month's sale on the base iPad, you have another opportunity to pick up the tablet for less right now. Amazon knocked $30 off the 64GB, WiFi-only iPad, bringing it back down to a near record low of $300. At the time of writing this, both the silver and space gray models have this discount and you can even save on the 256GB model, too, if you want the extra space. The higher-capacity iPad is $50 off and down to an all-time low of $429.

Buy iPad (64GB) at Amazon - $300Buy iPad (256GB) at Amazon - $429

We gave the base iPad a score of 86 when it came out last year and have since dubbed it the best budget slab you can get right now. It runs on Apple's A13 Bionic chip and the company raised the base amount of storage from 32GB to 64GB when it updated the tablet last year. That means you'll have more space for apps, photos, documents and the like by default, which will be important if you plan on using the tablet for work or for the upcoming school year. Speaking of school, the 10.2-inch iPad works with the first-generation Apple Pencil as well as the company's Smart Keyboard, so it could act as your main digital notebook, too.

While it doesn't have as slick of a design as some of the more expensive iPads, the entry-level model still has a lot going for it. Aside from solid performance, it has a 2,160 x 1,620 resolution Retina touchscreen with True Tone technology, a physical Home button with TouchID, an 8-megapixel rear camera and an updated 12MP front-facing camera with Center Stage, which will keep you in the middle of the frame when you're on FaceTime calls. We also appreciate the iPad's solid battery life — while apple promises up to 10 hours of life, we were able to eek roughly 14 hours out of it in our testing.

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TikTok might be working on a music service

Mon, 2022-08-01 07:51

TikTok has helped users discover both current and past musical artists, and now it might be starting its own music streaming service. Parent ByteDance has filed a trademark application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for "TikTok Music," Insider has reported. The service would let users "purchase, play, share, download music, songs, albums, lyrics... live stream audio and video... edit and upload photographs as the cover of playlists.. [and] comment on music, songs and albums." 

ByteDance already has a music streaming app called Resso, but it's only available in India, Brazil and Indonesia. That app has some of the features mentioned in the trademark filing, like playlists, song-sharing and community interaction. On top of that, TikTok redirects users in Brazil to the full song on Resso, as Insider notes.

The trademark application was first submitted in Australia and then filed in the US on May 9th. It's not clear if it intends to base such a service on Resso, but it has to demonstrate that it will actually use the trademark before applying for it in the US — so it's not just a placeholder, according to Insider. The company also described said you could "live stream audio and video interactive media programming in the field of entertainment, fashion, sports, and current events," as other possible use cases. 

The Morning After: No, Google isn’t shutting down Stadia

Mon, 2022-08-01 07:17

Google has responded to last week’s rumors that it may sunset its Stadia gaming service this year: “Stadia is not shutting down,” the official Stadia Twitter account told a concerned fan in a tweet spotted by PC Gamer. “Rest assured we’re always working on bringing more great games to the platform and Stadia Pro.”

I mentioned in my story about Xbox’s streaming adventures into Samsung TVs that it’s all been a little too quiet on the Stadia front when rival game streaming options have upped their game. Hopefully, Google has some exciting plans to reveal sooner rather than later.

— Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missedSamsung's Repair Mode keeps your data hidden from techniciansBut it's only available on Galaxy S21 phones in Korea for now.

With horror stories of hackers selling personal information, it can be stressful to send your smartphone for repair. Yes, you could wipe your phone, but then you have to go through the hassle of restoring it afterward. Now, Samsung has introduced a solution with its own Repair Mode.

According to a Korean announcement spotted by SamMobile, you can activate the new mode under Battery and Device Care in Settings. Samsung didn't explain the technology behind the feature, but when activated, it’ll hide your personal information, photos, messages and linked accounts. Only the device's pre-installed apps will be visible to the technician.

Continue reading.

Some former ‘Witcher 3’ developers are making an online action game set in JapanThe project doesn’t have a release date yet.

A group of former CD Projekt Red developers is working on a new online action game set in feudal Japan. This week, Dark Passenger co-founders, Jakub Ben and Marcin Michalski, announced the formation of their studio and put out a call for talent in a series of tweets. Ben and Michalski were part of the art team on The Witcher 3 and did contract work on Cyberpunk 2077.

Continue reading.

Free AI tool restores old photos by creating slightly new loved onesThere's a risk of a 'slight change of identity.'TMAWang, X. et. al

A free tool developed by Tencent researchers, GFP-GAN (Generative Facial Prior-Generative Adversarial Network) can restore damaged and low-resolution portraits. The technology merges info from two AI models to fill in a photo's missing details with realistic detail in a few seconds. However, it's making educated guesses about missing content, so you might see a "slight change of identity." That’s not grandma. You can test it out right here.

Continue reading.

This is probably what Samsung's new foldables will look likeThese look like official press images of the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Fold 4.TMAEvan Blass

Samsung is set to unveil its next foldable phones in just a few days, but these marketing photos leaked by Evan Blass give the game away a little. He posted images of the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4 in different colors, suggesting hardware design that doesn’t differ too much from Samsung’s last foldables. The company’s Unpacked event is scheduled to take place on August 10th.

Continue reading.

An e-bike sharing company co-founded by Usain Bolt appears to have shut down

Mon, 2022-08-01 06:15

An e-bike- and scooter-sharing startup co-founded by Olympian Usain Bolt appears to have shut down operations, highlighting recent problems in the micromobility sector, TechCrunch has reported. Bolt Mobility was present in around five cities including Portland, Burlington, Vermont and Richmond in California, along with others via an acquisition, and some of those are facing abandoned equipment and unanswered calls. 

"We learned a couple of weeks ago (from them) that Bolt is ceasing operations," a transportation planner in Chittenden County, Vermont, told TechCrunch. "They’ve vanished, leaving equipment behind and emails and calls unanswered. We’re unable to reach anyone, but it seems they’ve closed shop in other markets as well."

Bolt Mobility actually expanded not less than 18 months ago, buying the assets of Last Mile Holdings, which operated Gotcha and OjO Electric. That opened up 48 new markets to the company in mostly smaller cities like Raleigh, NC and Mobile, Alabama. (Bolt Mobility is not to be confused with the Bolt ride-sharing and scooter app in Europe.)

However, Bolt Mobility lost its permit to operate in Portland in July due to issues with insurance and outstanding fees. A spokesperson in Burlington said that around 100 bikes were left inoperable and with dead batteries, with the city telling the company to claim them before the country takes ownership. "All of our contacts at Bolt, including their CEO, have gone radio silent and have not replied to our emails," a Burlington representative said. 

As CrunchBase reported earlier, scooter startups like Bird have hit the skids after starting as billion-dollar "unicorns." Bird's problem is essentially that it charges a fair amount of money, around $6 for a 20-minute rental — quite a bit more than a metro or bus ride.t Bird lost a huge amount of money in 2020 after taking in just $79 million in revenue — down 40 percent over 2019. Following a SPAC merge, it's stock price has subsequently cratered from $10 to just over 50 cents today.

Apple's App Store homepage will soon feature ads

Mon, 2022-08-01 04:41

Apple has famously bragged that it will never invade your privacy to serve ads, but it does have an ad business on its App Store and elsewhere. The company is now expanding that business by adding a new ad slot to its "Today" homepage tab and on individual app pages, 9to5Mac reported. Those are on top of the ads already found on the App Store's main "Search" tab and in the Search results. 

"Apple Search Ads provides opportunities for developers of all sizes to grow their business," Apple wrote. "Like our other advertising offerings, these new ad placements are built upon the same foundation—they will only contain content from apps’ approved App Store product pages, and will adhere to the same rigorous privacy standards."

The Today tab is the first thing that loads in the App Store and features a curated and personalized selection of apps to browse (it arrived in 2017 with a significant App Store redesign). The other new space is in the "You Might Also Like" section of an app's product page. The new ads will let developers promote apps alongside Apple's own content and are clearly marked as ads. 

The new slots will adhere to Apple's policies on privacy and transparency, by not offering personalized ads to users under 18, never using sensitive data and avoiding hyper-targeting, Apple said. The company didn't say when the new ad slots will appear, but Apple plans to start testing them "soon." 

BioLite adds portable power stations and a solar array to its charging lineup

Mon, 2022-08-01 00:01

After years of providing off-the-grid camping, cooking and pocketable charger tech, BioLite has moved further into the genre with its newest and more robust power-backup solutions. The company just announced the BaseCharge 600 and BaseCharge 1500 portable power stations, along with an accompanying SolarPanel 100. As with most products of this type, they’re great for powering entertainment tech, appliances and workspaces when you’re far from an outlet. They’re also helpful in the home when the electricity goes out.

Both power stations provide an LCD dashboard with power metrics, system notifications, temperature alerts, port activations and battery life status. You can also view cumulative usage over time and reset the counter as needed. They should hold a charge for quite a while, but its recommended to top these up every six months, so they're ready when you need them.

Each device is encased in a hard plastic shell with small rubber feet on the bottom. There are inset areas on each side to help carry these relatively heavy devices. As for ruggedness, they’re not exactly built for big drops considering the weight. And while they’re great for bringing along as off-the-grid power backups, there’s no IP rating or weather protection to speak of, so you’ll want to keep them out of rain.

BaseCharge 600The BioLite BaseCharge 600 power station.BaseCharge 600BioLite

The more affordable of the power station pair is the BaseCharge 600 ($699). This has a Li-ion battery capacity of 622 Wh, with three types of inputs: a combo wall and solar charger input, plus a port for USB-C PD input. Charge times range from seven hours via wall charger, three and a half hours with both wall and USB-C PD charging and six hours using a SolarPanel 100 at peak sunlight. It weighs 13 pounds and measures 12.2 x 7.9 x 7.9 inches.

There are ten outputs:

  • 2 - 110V AC (600W up to 1,000W surge)

  • 1 - Wireless charging for Qi and related devices on the top platform (10W)

  • 2 - 12V DC barrel ports (120W)

  • 1 - 12V car port (aka cigarette lighter port - 120W)

  • 2 - USB-A (5V)

  • 1 - USB-C (5V)

  • 1 - USB-C PD (5V / 100W)


BaseCharge 1500The BioLite BaseCharge 1500 power station.BaseCharge 1500BioLite

The larger, heavier and more powerful model is the BaseCharge 1500 ($1,699). It has a Li-ion battery capacity of 1521 Wh and the same three inputs as the 600 model. Charge times range from 13.5 hours using the wall charger, eight hours with wall charger and USB-C PD, and four hours at peak sunlight if you have four SolarPanel 100 units. This larger device weighs 26.5 pounds and measures 14.4 x 12.2 x 8.2 inches.

There’s a total of 12 outputs on this device:

  • 3 - 110V AC (1,200W up to 2,400W surge)

  • 1 - Wireless charging for Qi and related devices on the top platform (10W)

  • 2 - 12V DC barrel ports (120W)

  • 1 - 12V car port (aka cigarette lighter port - 120W)

  • 2 - USB-A (5V)

  • 2 - USB-C (5V)

  • 1 - USB-C PD (5V / 100W)


SolarPanel 100The BioLite SolarPanel 100.SolarPanel 100BioLite

If you want to turn your portable power station into a solar generator, there’s the new SolarPanel 100 ($400). This is a single foldable unit, with four panels that offers a power output of 100 watts in peak sunshine. You can also pretend you’re Astronaut Mark Watney and daisy chain up to four SolarPanel 100s to quadruple the wattage.

These panels are rated IPX4 making them relatively durable and resistant to water, such as a continuous light rain. There’s no onboard battery, but you can charge two devices directly from the panel as it soaks up the sun via two USB-A ports and one USB-C PD.

All the panels fold into one 20.1 x 14.3 x 1.5-inch rectangle, with a built-in carrying handle so you can lug around all 9.5 pounds of panel. The backside of the unit, which is the only exposed side when folded, is a gray fabric-like material. There’s also a zippered pouch for storing cables.

When expanded, there’s a surface spanning 20.1 x 57.5 inches and a shallow depth of about one inch, plus two relatively low-slung legs when fully extended. The “optimal sun system” is the same as you’d find on BioLite’s previous solar panels, consisting of a small target and a recessed white area so you can track the angle of the sun by its shadow.

Customers can sign up on a waiting list starting today on the company’s website, with pre-orders opening up on September 7th for all three new products. They’re scheduled to hit retail outlets including Amazon and REI in October 2022.

Cellular service is coming to New York's subway tunnels, but it's going to take a while

Sun, 2022-07-31 18:16

Cellular service is coming to New York’s subway tunnels. This week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it was embarking on a 10-year project to wire all 418 miles of underground track underneath the city with wireless connectivity. Transit Wireless will build the necessary infrastructure and foot the resulting $600 million bill as part of an ongoing public-private between the two organizations.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Transit Wireless operates the MTA’s existing underground WiFi network. It’s also a subsidiary of BAI Communications, a company that has completed similar projects in Toronto, Hong Kong and other parts of the world. The agreement will also see Transit Wireless wire all of the MTA's 191 aboveground stations and 21 Staten Island Railway stations with WiFi. The good news for New Yorkers and visitors is that work on the project won’t lead to additional subway service interruptions.

According to The New York Times, Transit Wireless plans to pay for the project through data collection and fiber-optic cable leases to carriers. The company will begin revenue sharing with the MTA once it recoups its initial investment. At first, the agency can look forward to a 20 percent cut before that amount increases to 40 percent in the 15th year after Transit Wireless earns its money back.

The MTA isn’t the only transit agency working to provide cellular service to its riders. Last year, Transport for London said the Underground would get full mobile access by 2024. Other cities such as Seoul and Paris have had similar systems in place for years.

Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols has died

Sun, 2022-07-31 16:14

Actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, has died. Nichols’ son Kyle Johnson shared the news on Sunday. “I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years,” he wrote on Instagram. “Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.” Nichols was 89 when she passed away on Saturday, July 30th of natural causes.

To say Nichols was a trailblazer would be an understatement. She broke into Hollywood at a time when the opportunities for Black women were few and far between. In interviews years after The Original Series ended, Nichols said she had considered quitting the show during its first season to pursue a career on Broadway but had a change of heart after meeting Martin Luther King Jr. King, as a fan of the show and someone who saw Nichols as a role model, was apparently horrified to find out she wanted to leave and convinced her to stay with it. 

We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actor, trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible. She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars. pic.twitter.com/pmQaKDb5zw

— NASA (@NASA) July 31, 2022

Beyond starring in The Original Series and its film sequels as well as making memorable appearances in shows like Heroes and Futurama, Nichols spent decades working with NASA to help the space agency diversify its talent pool. She also famously attended the christening of the Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1976 alongside Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and much of the cast of The Original Series. In 2015, she also flew aboard NASA’s SOFIA telescope during an eight-hour flight where the observatory studied Mars and Saturn. She will be missed.

Debris from an out-of-control Chinese rocket fell over the Indian Ocean

Sun, 2022-07-31 14:24

After carrying the latest piece of the country’s Tiangong space station to orbit on July 24th, a Chinese Long March 5B rocket reentered Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday, creating a dazzling (albeit somewhat unsettling) display as it crashed down in the Indian Ocean. A Twitter user named Nazri Sulaiman captured a 27-second clip of the rocket’s first stage breaking up in the skies above Kuching, Malaysia. Sulaiman and others initially confused the spacecraft with a meteor shower until astronomers correctly identified the debris as the remains of a Chinese rocket.

On Saturday afternoon, US Space Command confirmed the Long March 5B re-entered Earth’s atmosphere at 12:45PM ET. China said most of the debris burned up in re-entry over the Sulu Sea between the Philippines and Malaysia. Unlike many modern rockets, including the SpaceX Falcon 9, the Long March 5B can’t reignite its engine to complete a controlled atmospheric re-entry. That has led to worry about where the rocket would land every time China has launched one. On a test flight in 2020, remnants of a Long March 5B fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, leading to property damage.

Reentry looks to have been observed from Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia. Debris would land downrange in northern Borneo, possbily Brunei. [corrected] https://t.co/sX6m1XMYoO

— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 30, 2022

Following Saturday's re-entry, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson criticized China for lack of transparency. “The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth,” he said on Twitter. “All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices, and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.”

China plans to employ the Long March 5B at least two more times. In October, the rocket will carry the third and final part of Tiangong to space. Next year, it will do the same with the country’s Xuntian space telescope.

BMW recalls 83 iX and i4 EVs over battery fire concerns

Sun, 2022-07-31 12:24

BMW is recalling 83 iX and i4 vehicles after investigating multiple battery fire incidents involving the two EVs. In an advisory spotted by Autoblog, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns owners of select iX xDrive 50, iX M60, i4 eDrive40 and i4 M50 vehicles not to drive their cars, charge them or park them inside.

After first investigating an overseas incident involving a 2022 i4 eDrive back in April, BMW found a manufacturing defect with select Samsung SDI battery cells in iX models produced between December 2nd, 2021 and June 30th, 2022, and i4 models built between November 22nd, 2021 and June 13th, 2022.

BMW has already notified dealers of the recall. The automaker will replace the batteries in affected vehicles free of charge. BMW adds it’s not aware of any accidents or injuries due to the battery defect. Affected owners can expect a notification letter by September 19th. You can also contact BMW support ahead of time for more information.

For those worried about a potential repeat of the situation Chevy Bolt owners went through with GM, it’s worth noting BMW sources batteries for its iX and i4 EVs from two manufacturers: CATL and Samsung SDI. By contrast, GM single-sourced the Bolt’s battery from LG Chem before it announced a worldwide recall in 2021.

Hitting the Books: How Moderna dialed-in its vaccine to fight COVID's variants

Sun, 2022-07-31 11:00

The national news cycle may have largely moved on from coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic — despite, as of this writing, infections being on the rise and more than 300 deaths tallied daily from the disease. But that certainly doesn't diminish the unprecedented international response effort and warp speed development of effective vaccines. 

In The Messenger: Moderna, the Vaccine, and the Business Gamble That Changed the World, veteran Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Loftus takes readers through the harrowing days of 2020 as the virus raged across the globe and biotech startup Moderna raced to create a vaccine to halt the viral rampage. The excerpt below takes place in early 2021, as the company works to adapt its treatments to slow the surging Delta variant's spread.

Messenger CoverHarvard Business Review Press

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from The Messenger: Moderna, the Vaccine, and the Business Gamble That Changed the World by Peter Loftus. Copyright 2022 Peter Loftus. All rights reserved.

Delta

Viruses of all types frequently change. They mutate as they jump from person to person. The coronavirus was no different. Throughout the pandemic, health officials tracked variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus first found in Wuhan, China, as those variants arose. None seemed a big concern, until one was flagged in the United Kingdom in December 2020, right as Moderna’s vaccine neared approval. This UK variant appeared to be as much as 70 percent more transmissible. It was given the name the Alpha variant.

Alpha reinforced the possibility that the virus could mutate enough to become resistant to vaccines and treatments that were designed to target the earlier, predominant strain. Or it could fizzle out. But variants would keep coming. Shortly after Alpha, researchers identified another variant circulating in South Africa. Beta.

In late December—just a few days after the United States authorized its vaccine — Moderna issued a statement that it was confident the vaccine would be effective at inducing the necessary immune response against variants. The original vaccine targeted the full length of the spike protein of the coronavirus, and the new variants appeared to have mutations in the spike protein that represented less than a 1 percent difference from the original.

“So, from what we’ve seen so far, the variants being described do not alter the ability of neutralizing antibodies elicited by vaccination to neutralize the virus,” Tal Zaks said during a virtual appearance at the all-important J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January 2021. “My definition of when to get worried is either when we see real clinical data that suggest that people who’ve either been sick or have been immunized are now getting infected at significant rates with the new variants.”

Even if the vaccine proved less effective against a new variant, Moderna could use its mRNA technology to quickly tweak the design of its Covid-19 vaccine, to better target a variant of the virus, Zaks said. After all, the company and its federal health partners had already demonstrated the year before how quickly they could design, manufacture, and test a new vaccine.

Still, Moderna needed to run a series of tests to see if its original vaccine offered the same high level of protection against variants as it showed in the big Phase 3 clinical trial.

Moderna collaborated again with researchers from NIAID including Barney Graham and Kizzmekia Corbett. They analyzed blood samples taken from eight people who were vaccinated with Moderna’s shot in the Phase 1 trial back in early 2020. They essentially mixed these blood samples with the coronavirus variants, engineered so they copied the mutations of the variants but couldn’t replicate and pose a threat to lab researchers. Researchers then analyzed whether the vaccine-induced antibodies present in the human blood samples could effectively neutralize the virus variants.

The results were mixed. They suggested the vaccine worked as well against the UK Alpha variant as against the original strain of the coronavirus. That was good news. Even if the UK variant spread more easily than the original virus, Moderna’s vaccine could probably mute its effects.

But the Beta variant first identified in South Africa seemed to pose a problem. The vaccine-induced antibodies had a significantly reduced neutralization effect on this strain in the lab tests. “Oh shit,” Bancel said when Stephen Hoge showed him the data. It wouldn’t be the last time. Moderna’s leaders saw the data on a Friday in late January 2021 and spent the weekend discussing it. They hoped that a modified, variant- targeted vaccine wouldn’t be needed, and that Moderna’s original vaccine would suffice, even if it had a reduced neutralizing effect. But Moderna didn’t want to be caught flat-footed if a variant-specific booster was needed.

They decided by the next Monday it was time to take action. They would develop a new version of the vaccine, one that more closely matched the mutations seen in the strain that circulated in South Africa, and which could potentially be given as a booster shot to better protect people who had gotten the original vaccine.

“It really highlights the fact that we need to continue to stay vigilant,” Moderna’s president, Stephen Hoge, said. “This virus is evolving, it’s changing its stripes. And we need to keep testing the new variants, and make sure the vaccine works against them.”

Moderna repeated the steps it took a year earlier: it quickly designed a new variant vaccine and manufactured an initial batch for human testing, shipping it to NIAID in late February, a year to the day after it had shipped the original batch of the original vaccine. The new batch was called mRNA-1273.351, appending the “351” because researchers initially called the variant seen in South Africa “B.1.351.”

“Moderna is going to keep chasing the variants until the pandemic is under control,” Bancel said that day.

Moderna also developed other plans to test. It would try a third dose of its original vaccine, given several months after the second dose, to see if that booster shot would protect against variants. It would also develop a combined vaccine that targeted both the original strain and the Beta strain.

Once again, volunteers stepped up to test these various approaches. Neal Browning, the Microsoft engineer who was the second person to get Moderna’s vaccine, showed up once again to volunteer. In the intervening year, he had gotten married, in a small outdoor ceremony to minimize Covid risk. Now he received a third dose of the Moderna vaccine. He felt tenderness at the injection site and a low-grade fever and chills, but the symptoms went away after several hours. He continued to visit the research site to give blood samples to be analyzed for immune responses.

By early May, Moderna had some answers. It gave booster shots — either the original vaccine or the Beta variant – targeting vaccine — to people about six to eight months after they had been vaccinated with two doses of the original vaccine. The company found that in the new analysis, both types of booster shots increased neutralizing antibodies against the Beta variant. And they increased antibodies against a related variant that had been detected in Brazil. But the newer version of the vaccine that targeted Beta induced a stronger immune response against the Beta variant than the booster shot of Moderna’s original vaccine.

At the time, Moderna’s plan was to continue testing the different booster approaches, with an eye toward possibly getting government approval to sell the booster shot that specifically targeted the Beta variant. But it didn’t seem particularly urgent. The existing mass vaccination campaign was making good progress at the time.

Then, with the virus on the retreat in the United States, scientists discovered a new variant driving an alarming surge in India. This variant had already jumped to other countries, including the United States. Initially, it was code-named B.1.617.2. It was even more contagious than the Alpha variant and there were fears that it could evade vaccines. This was the Delta variant.

The previous winter the hope provided by vaccines was juxtaposed with the deadliest virus surge in the United States. Again, in early summer 2021, the lifting of mask mandates and reopening of public life was bringing great hope and a sense of relief. And again, this would be juxtaposed with public-health officials sounding the alarm about the Delta variant. It could become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States, they said. The best way to stop its spread, officials said, was to get more people vaccinated, with any of the three vaccines available.

By mid-June, about 55 percent of the US adult population was fully vaccinated, which was good but still left many people exposed to the new Delta variant that spread much more easily than earlier strains. And there were clear geographic vulnerabilities. The Northeast United States had higher vaccination rates than the national average, particularly in some New England states, like Vermont with its 62 percent vaccination rate. But in the South the numbers were much lower in states like Alabama, where only 30 percent were fully vaccinated.

The high proportions of unvaccinated people in those places would serve as a breeding ground for Delta. And the more the variant spread, the more it could mutate into more variants.

By late July, the effects of an ill-fated combination — stubbornly low vaccination rates in some regions, the winding down of masking and distancing, and a rapidly spreading Delta strain—were clearer. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths were climbing again, especially in open states like Florida, which suffered one of the highest rates of Covid-19 hospitalizations, and low-vaccinated states.

Doctors and nurses who thought they had put the worst of the pandemic behind them were once again scrambling to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients in intensive-care units. By the end of August, the United States was averaging about fifteen hundred Covid-19 deaths a day, versus fewer than two hundred in early July. Nearly all of the patients who ended up in the ICU were unvaccinated.

Some vaccinated people were beginning to test positive for Covid-19, too — commonly called “breakthrough” cases—and a few progressed to severe cases. The vaccines, after all, weren’t 100 percent effective in the clinical trials, either. A small percentage of vaccinated people in the studies got sick with Covid. But it was becoming clear that the vaccines weren’t entirely blocking transmission of the virus or stopping asymptomatic infections, as initially hoped.

Vaccinated people were better protected than unvaccinated people, even when Delta took over. In states like Massachusetts, less than 1 percent of fully vaccinated people in the state had tested positive for Covid-19 by the fall of 2021. Other analysis showed that people who weren’t fully vaccinated were nearly five times more likely to get infected, ten times more likely to be hospitalized and eleven times more likely to die from Covid than fully vaccinated people.

But Delta reminded people, or made them understand for the first time, that the vaccines weren’t bullet-proof. New indoor mask mandates were imposed, including at schools, where educators just weeks earlier had been eager for the first normal back-to-school season in two years. No vaccine was yet authorized for children under twelve (both Moderna and Pfizer were studying that population), raising concerns that Delta would spread rapidly among them as they gathered in classrooms.

By the end of the summer, people wondered if the pandemic would ever end. Some started talking about the coronavirus as endemic, not a pandemic.

And a big slice of America was still saying “No thanks” to the vaccine.

The 2021 Apple TV 4K drops to $120 at Amazon

Sun, 2022-07-31 10:56

If you missed the chance to buy the Apple TV 4K when it was $59 off a few weeks ago, now is your opportunity to purchase it at that price again. Amazon has discounted the 32GB model to $120, making it only $10 more than it was during Prime Day. That’s a compelling price for one of the best streaming devices you can buy.

Engadget senior editor Devindra Hardawar awarded the 2021 Apple TV 4K a score of 90. Highlights include a much improved Siri remote and a more powerful A12 Bionic chip. The latter allows the Apple TV 4K to output HDR video at up to 60 frames per second and deliver excellent gaming performance.

Buy Apple TV 4K at Amazon - $120

If you own a handful of other Apple devices, you’ll appreciate the Apple TV 4K’s support for AirPlay. The wireless protocol makes it easy to share video, photos and music from your iPhone, iPad or Mac to your TV. With SharePlay built-in, you can even participate in watch parties over FaceTime with friends and family. For those with AirPods, Apple updated the Apple TV 4K last fall to add support for spatial audio so you can enjoy a more immersive experience without buying an expensive sound setup.

The Apple TV 4K also supports all of the most popular streaming services, including Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu and more. One of the most significant drawbacks of Apple’s streaming device is its expensive price tag, but that's something the $59 discount helps address.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Indonesia blocks Steam, PayPal and other services over missed regulatory deadline

Sat, 2022-07-30 17:36

Indonesia is blocking residents from accessing various online platforms after those services failed to comply with a July 29th regulatory deadline, reports Reuters (via The Verge). Among the affected platforms are PayPal, Steam and Yahoo (owned by Engadget’s parent company Apollo Management).

Under the country’s 2020 MR5 law, companies labeled as “Private Electronic System Providers” had until this week to register with a government database or face an outright ban. Similar to India’s restrictive 2021 IT law, MR5 gives Indonesia the power to force online platforms to take down content the government deems unlawful or a threat to public order. In instances involving “urgent” requests, services have four hours to take action.

According to Reuters, a handful of tech companies, including Google, Meta and Amazon, rushed in recent days to meet Friday’s deadline. Indonesia may restore access to some of the online services that are currently blocked in the country, provided they register with the government.

PayPal and Valve did not immediately respond to Engadget’s request for comment. Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan, the general director of Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information, told a local news network that the government could temporarily lift restrictions on PayPal to allow users to withdraw their money.

Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch have criticized Indonesia’s new content moderation rules. “[MR5] is a tool for censorship that imposes unrealistic burdens on the many digital services and platforms that are used in Indonesia,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor at Human Rights Watch. “It poses serious risks to the privacy, freedom of speech, and access to information of Indonesian internet users.”

Many Indonesians have also come out against the law, using hashtags like “BlokirKominfo” to voice their opposition to the government’s actions. On Saturday, Pangerapan dismissed those criticisms, saying the measure would help protect the country's internet users.

Uber starts showing more US drivers how much they will earn on potential trips

Sat, 2022-07-30 12:46

Uber has launched a couple of features designed to improve the experience of and increase transparency for drivers. A few months ago, the ride-hailing giant started piloting a feature called "Upfront Fares" in a handful of cities. Now it's expanding its availability and rolling it out to most of the US over the coming months. When they get access to the features, drivers will see how much they'll earn and where they're going for a trip on the request screen before they accept the booking. 

According to the Help page explaining how Upfront Fares work, Uber calculates the amount it shows using several factors, "including base fares, estimated trip length and duration, pickup distance and surge pricing." Uber will also show drivers the cross streets closest to the pick up and drop-off points to help them make a decision. In addition, Uber will also expand the availability of "Trip Radar," a feature that shows drivers a list of possible trips nearby, along with Upfront Fares. They'll still get individual trip requests, but now they can pick another booking that might suit them better. 

Uber is positioning these new features as a way to support its drivers, but as Axios notes, the impact they may have on customers remains unclear. They could end up being misused and lead to the increase of rider and trip discrimination if drivers look at them as tools to avoid specific neighborhoods. That said, the features could also prevent canceled trips, because they allow drivers to make a conscious decision when accepting trips.

The company has also launched a new Uber Pro debit card that will enable drivers to earn cashbacks for getting gas at select stations. Back in March, Uber added a fuel surcharge to rides and deliveries, as well, to help drivers keep up with skyrocketing gas prices.

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