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Thursday’s top tech news: PlayStation soars as Amazon’s drones struggle to get off the ground

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We’ve got a pair of PlayStation stories to start your day this Thursday. First is the news that Sony’s latest console is rolling out support for Discord voice chat to beta testers, which is great news for anyone who’s online gaming friends are organized around the chat service. Between this latest update and the news that the PS5 just had its best quarter of sales yet, it feels as though Sony’s console is finally starting to hit its stride two years after its initial release.

But you know what isn’t hitting its stride? Amazon’s drone delivery business, which has reportedly served fewer than 10 households since launching in California and Texas around a month ago. As my colleague Sean Hollister explains, that probably has a lot to do with the restrictive drone safety rules the company has to follow.

Finally, here’s a pretty neat looking concept EV from Nissan, which has made the jump from renders to an in-person showing. There’s no word on when this concept might turn into a production car, but Nissan hopes to produce 23 new electrified vehicle models by the end of the decade.

And now, here’s a silly tweet to start your day:

Stay tuned, as we continue to update this list with the most important news of today: Friday, November 18th, 2022.
  • Google’s fastest-growing business is insuring companies against their workers’ health

    Granular Insurance, part of Verily, part of Alphabet, which is Google.
    Granular Insurance, part of Verily, part of Alphabet, which is Google.
    Image: Granular

    I’ve heard people joke that Google only has a couple of successful businesses, primarily advertising. But it may have found another hit: insuring other companies against their workers’ potentially pricey medical care.

    The Information is reporting that its healthcare company, Verily, more than doubled its revenue to become the biggest Alphabet subsidiary after Google proper — and that its health insurance business, Granular, is the biggest contributor to that growth. Granular’s revenue “rose nearly sixfold through the first nine months of last year to $151 million, from $27 million a year earlier,” writes The Information.

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  • Microsoft’s next use for OpenAI tech is to write sales emails.

    Besides summarizing Teams meetings, Bloomberg reports that Microsoft will plug OpenAI GPT 3.5 tech —that it’s investing billions in — into its Viva Sales tool that works with Microsoft Office to generate emails.

    It can generate personalized text, pulling from customer records and emails in Office, with pricing details and other info, presumably making schmoozing current / prospective clients a bit easier.

  • Your favorite Twitter bot might die next week

    A three-tier set of block colors: green, orange, pink.
    A color pairing from Colorschemer, which may shut down next week.
    Image: Colorschemer / Twitter

    Twitter says it’s cutting off free access to its third-party API next week, replacing it with a “paid basic tier” for an unspecified price on February 9th. The news potentially affects a lot of Twitter services, and one of them is bots — not the spammer armies that new owner Elon Musk claims he’s been purging but the myriad automated accounts posting cute animals, fictional character quotes, and accessibility aids through Twitter’s API. While Twitter has left users in the dark about the details of its coming change, many bot creators have resigned themselves to shutting down.

    “My read of those tweets from Twitter is that it’s going to stop working,” says V Buckenham of their service Cheap Bots Done Quick. Launched in 2015, Cheap Bots Done Quick is a go-to bot-making tool for people who aren’t used to working with Twitter’s API, currently powering about 54,000 Twitter bot accounts. But next week, unless Twitter backpedals on its announcement, Buckenham expects it will simply break.

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  • Multitasking on a Mac, the Windows way.

    Maybe you agree, or maybe you disagree with my take on macOS multitasking (I‘m not a fan, and for my tastes, it relies too heavily on knowledge of arcane gestures or third-party add-ons to efficiently handle the work I do).

    But if you’re a Windows-first user on a Mac, this AltTab add-on (via LifeHacker) might be worth trying out. With this, Option + Tab works the same way as your usual Windows shortcut.

    AltTab - Windows alt-tab on macOS


  • TikTok is testing a way to reset your For You page

    TikTok logo over a white background with the app icon repeating
    Illustration by Nick Barclay / The Verge

    If you’re sick of the videos TikTok is serving up on the For You page, there may soon be a way to hit reset.

    The company is testing a new feature called Refresh, according to spokesperson Jamie Favazza, that will surface videos based how you use the app after you press the button. The feature could be useful if you are getting too much of the same thing on your feeds or if (according to TikTok) the videos being served aren’t relevant or entertaining anymore. The test, which will begin in the next few days, will only be available to a small number of users at this time.

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  • Get ready for ads in the Microsoft Store

    Illustration of the Microsoft wordmark on a green background
    Image: The Verge

    Microsoft is encouraging developers to start using Microsoft Store Ads, which allow people and companies to boost their app’s placement in the Windows store. The company writes in its blog that the ads are “designed to help developers grow their business by getting their apps or games in front of the right customers at the right time, and to inspire Microsoft Store customers with great content,” but similar systems for iOS and Android haven’t always provided the best experience.

    Microsoft Store Ads have been a long time coming — the company announced it was going to start piloting them in May 2022 and posted about them rolling out on its advertising blog in January. But now, it’s posting about them on its developer blog, telling devs they can use the system to promote app launches or updates. According to its website, the ads will show up “in the Microsoft Store app on Windows within search results and the Apps and Gaming tabs.” You can see what that can look like below:

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  • Here’s how Samsung’s Galaxy S23 lineup stacks up against the iPhone 14

    Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in lavender, black, green, and cream shown from the rear.
    You can buy the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in purple, black, green, and cream colorways.
    Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

    Apple’s iPhone 14 now has a new rival: the Samsung Galaxy 23. Announced during the company’s recent Unpacked event alongside a slate of new Galaxy Books, the S23 series is available for preorder starting this week with a street date of February 17th. The new phones arrive with faster performance, bigger batteries, and updated selfie cameras, with the Ultra offering an even higher resolution camera than its predecessor.

    But before you throw down upwards of $799 on a preorder, you may want to know how Samsung’s forthcoming smartphones measure up to Apple’s latest and greatest handsets. While both lineups include phones with impressive specs, there are a couple of key differences to be aware of.

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  • Why hundreds of thousands of Texans lost power in another cold snap

    A closeup of icicles hanging on power lines.
    Frozen power lines are seen hanging near a sidewalk on February 1st, 2023, in Austin, Texas. 
    Photo by Brandon Bell / Getty Images

    Power outages hit hundreds of thousands of Texans during a winter storm this week, bringing to mind deadly blackouts the state suffered in a 2021 cold spell. More than 400,000 customers had no electricity today as the icy storm that started Monday entered its final stretch.

    This week’s blackouts, however, played out much differently than the 2021 disaster. And fortunately, the ice storm is forecast to finally ease up today. But it was another reminder of the work left to do to shore up Texas’ fragile grid.

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  • SimpliSafe’s new camera lets agents talk to intruders inside your home

    SimpliSafe’s live guard feature is launching in Beta this week.
    SimpliSafe’s live guard feature is launching in Beta this week.
    Image: SimpliSafe

    DIY home security company SimpliSafe is beta testing a new service that lets its agents both see inside your home and talk with potential intruders during an alarm event. SimpliSafe’s live guard protection service relies on a new AI-powered security camera. If the camera detects human motion while the system is armed, it can trigger the alarm and open a live feed for a monitoring agent to see and speak with whoever set it off — and hopefully scare them off.

    The program will only work with SimpliSafe’s new Smart Alarm Wireless Indoor Security Camera, paired with a SimpliSafe base station and Interactive Monitoring monthly plan. The Smart Alarm camera is an AI-enabled, battery-powered indoor security camera with a PIR motion sensor and a built-in siren.

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  • NASCAR banned the video game-inspired “hail melon” pass.

    Cup Series driver Ross Chastain explained that this ridiculous wall-riding maneuver he used to vault his way into the sport’s postseason was something he and others used to try while playing NASCAR 2005 on the Nintendo GameCube,

    Now that we know it can work in real life, Polygon reports NASCAR explicitly banned it ahead of next season, and will assess a time penalty if anyone tries to pull off something similar.

  • Amazon's latest Kindle Paperwhite is already on sale in its new colorways

    The green and denim blue Kindle Paperwhites hiding behind the standard black Kindle Paperwhite.
    The blue and green Paperwhite models are both down to $109.99.
    Image: Amazon

    Getting bored staying indoors because it’s too cold to venture outside? We feel you, which is why we found some good deals today that’ll keep you entertained while inside. First up, Amazon is discounting the new green and blue versions of its latest Kindle Paperwhite. Both are on sale with ads and 16GB of storage for $109.99 ($40 off), or you can buy them without ads for $129.99 ($40 off). The new color configurations were announced just yesterday, yet today’s discount is only $10 shy of the Paperwhite’s lowest price to date.

    This is the same Paperwhite we reviewed (and loved) upon its debut in late 2021 — just a little more colorful. It’s got the same IPX8 waterproofing and months-long battery life, allowing you to read uninterrupted for long stretches of time. Its sharp 300ppi display is also easy to read during the day, while the adjustable color temperature makes nighttime reading just as simple. Admittedly, it’s a bit harder to hold with one hand than the smaller Kindle, but it’s still a lightweight e-reader you can lug just about anywhere. Read our review.

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  • Green light.

    We have all the news from Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event sorted for you, including an edited ten-minute video running down the highlights from yesterday’s presentation.

    Today, it’s more earnings news. Sony is already done, with some more stats on PS5 sales, while we’ll also have business updates from Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Ford, GoPro and Qualcomm.

  • CNET pushed reporters to be more favorable to advertisers, staffers say

    A room of robots typing at computers. A human supervisor is watching over them, looking at a wristwatch.
    Fagiani / The Verge

    Last October, CNET’s parent company, Red Ventures, held a cross-department meeting to discuss the AI writing software it had been building for months. The tool had been in testing internally ahead of public use on CNET, and Red Ventures’ early results revealed several potential issues.

    The AI system was always faster than human writers at generating stories, the company found, but editing its work took much longer than editing a real staffer’s copy. The tool also had a tendency to write sentences that sounded plausible but were incorrect, and it was known to plagiarize language from the sources it was trained on. 

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  • Twitter replaces its free API with a paid tier in quest to make more money

    A black Twitter logo over a red illustration
    Thousands of small developers have created useful tools that utilize Twitters free API access, which are now in danger of being shut down.
    Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

    Twitter will no longer provide free access to the Twitter API from February 9th. As announced by the official Twitter Developer account late Wednesday night, Elon Musk’s social media hobby will stop supporting free access to the Twitter API and will instead provide a “paid basic tier.” Twitter hasn’t provided any information regarding pricing, but said that it will provide “more details on what you can expect next week.” 

    “Over the years, hundreds of millions of people have sent over a trillion Tweets, with billions more every week,” said the Twitter Developer account. “Twitter data are among the world’s most powerful data sets. We’re committed to enabling fast & comprehensive access so you can continue to build with us.”

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  • Apple and Google face mounting pressure to remove TikTok from app stores

    A TikTok logo surrounded by jazzy lines and colorful accents
    Illustration by Nick Barclay / The Verge

    Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) demanded that Apple and Google “immediately” remove TikTok from their app stores in a letter addressed to the companies’ chief executives, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, Thursday. 

    Bennet’s push to restrict downloads of the app is just the latest in a series of mounting congressional actions to ban the embattled Chinese-owned app. Since January, Republicans and Democrats have been calling for either their colleagues or Biden administration officials to quickly impose stricter data collection restrictions or a nationwide ban on the app, citing its possible risks to US national security. 

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  • Discord arrives on PS5 for beta testers today

    Discord integration for PS5.
    Discord integration for PS5.
    Image: Sony

    Beta testers will be able to join Discord voice calls on a PS5 console in the US, Canada, Japan, and UK starting today. The integration allows PS5 owners to join Discord calls by linking accounts and then using the Discord mobile app to transfer calls to the PS5. Sony is also adding Variable Refresh Rate support for 1440p, alongside various dashboard improvements.

    The Discord voice integration on PS5 appears seems similar to how Microsoft initially launched Discord support on the Xbox. Sony says you have to “use the Discord app on your mobile device or computer to get a Discord voice chat going on your PS5 console,” which means you won’t be able to directly access Discord servers on a PS5 without using a mobile device or your PC to transfer the call.

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  • Sony’s PS5 just had its biggest quarter of sales since release

    Sony’s PS5 console.
    Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

    Sony wasn’t lying when it said the PlayStation 5 shortage was over earlier this month. Its latest earnings release has revealed that the console just had its strongest quarter yet, with 7.1 million PS5s shipped in the three months leading up to December 31st, 2022. That’s almost double the 3.9 million it sold in the same quarter the previous year. 

    According to Sony’s earnings releases, the company has now shipped 32.1 million units of its latest generation console, which is in line with the 30 million lifetime sales figure it revealed at the beginning of January. It’s a big turnaround after production was hit hard by the global chip shortage, making it difficult for the company to keep up with demand for its new console throughout much of its two-year lifespan. “If you’re looking to purchase a PS5 console, you should now have a much easier time finding one at retailers globally,” Isabelle Tomatis, VP of brand, hardware, and peripherals at Sony Interactive Entertainment, said earlier this week.

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  • Amazon’s delivery drones served fewer than 10 houses in their first month

    Amazon’s hexagonal MK27-2 delivery drone.
    Amazon’s hexagonal MK27-2 delivery drone.
    Image: Amazon

    It’s been nearly a decade since Amazon’s Jeff Bezos promised us delivery drones, but they aren’t off to a particularly impressive start. Roughly a month after Amazon Prime Air made its first deliveries in California and Texas, it’d served fewer than 10 households — and it’s already laid off more than half the employees at those locations.

    That’s according to a pair of new reports at The Information and Business Insider, and Amazon isn’t denying it. Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti didn’t contest those numbers in an email to The Verge when we asked. But she also said that Prime Air is actually working to expand drone deliveries in both California and Texas, with the FAA’s approval.

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  • Nissan shows off a real version of its rad-looking Max-Out electric convertible concept

    Nissan Max-Out electric convertible
    Image: Nissan

    The Nissan Max-Out is virtual no longer. The automaker rolled out a physical version of its electric convertible concept to celebrate its Nissan Futures event, which is being held at its global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, for the next several weeks.

    We’ve seen renderings of the Max-Out, alongside several other futuristic concepts, when Nissan announced its ambitious five-year $17.6 billion electrification strategy in November 2021. Now, the Max-Out has taken physical form and will be on display for the duration of the company’s event, which is expected to last through March.

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