If you hadn't noticed already, the starting gun has now fired on the Black Friday sales. And while that means most tech fans are compiling wishlists and finalizing their Christmas shopping battleplans, it doesn't mean the tech news has ground to a halt.
Far from it, in fact – over the past few days we've seen Apple eat a rare serving of humble pie with its iMessage climbdown, or so it seemed. Google, Fitbit, and Samsung have also been busy releasing big software updates for their apps and phones, and we saw also the world's slimmest smart ring land to take on the Oura.
If you've been too distracted leafing through all of our hand-picked guides to the best Black Friday deals, fear not – we've rounded up all of the biggest tech stories of the past week right here. Once you've recharged, you'll be ready to dive back into those bargains in no time...
7. Google Photos tidied up our messy libraries
In just over a month, your family will be demanding holiday photo slideshows, so it's a good time of year to tidy up your Google Photos library. Fortunately, this week Google gave us a couple of new AI-powered tools to help us do just that.
Both features are rolling out now for the Android and iOS versions of the app. The first, called Photo Stacks, will recognize when similar photos were taken together and group them. If your library is cluttered with screenshots and documents, Google has also improved its categorization to help with that, too. Phew.
6. Fitbit gave frustrated fans more app fixes
Fitbit has been sheepishly rolling out updates to its app over the past few months after alienating its audience with a controversial redesign in October – and this week it extended another olive branch to fans consisting of four more tweaks.
While it isn't a major overhaul, the Fitbit app did bring back battery percentages on the Today tab and some celebratory animations to mark your step goals with motivational fireworks displays. Another welcome return to the app is Steps Streaks, which was taken away in the app's September update. Maybe tread a little more carefully with those updates next time, eh Fitbit?
5. Samsung laid out its Android 14 plans
Most Samsung phone owners don't have Android 14 yet, but this week we learned that it's finally coming soon to a long list of Galaxy models.
The rollout of One UI 6.0 (which packs Android 14) has already hit the Galaxy S23, but from this week to early December it'll be gracing phones ranging from the Galaxy Z Flip 5 to the Galaxy S21 FE 5G. Those dates are estimates for Romania, but they're a good ballpark for the pre-Christmas treat that Samsung fans can expect this month.
4. Apple honored its favorite apps of the year
Yes, the progress bar for the year 2023 is now at 87%, which means it's time for end-of-year awards – and this week we saw Apple choose the finalists for its App Store Awards. These handily round up the year's best apps (in Apple's eyes, at least) for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and more.
We don't know the final winners yet, but these shortlists are the best way to get a one-stop overview of the most useful new apps anyway. If you aren't familiar with AllTrails, Planny, SmartGym and more, check out our guide to the awards below.
3. The slimmest smart ring so far rolled into town
If we had to make one tech prediction for 2024, it's that it'll finally be the year of the smart ring. Yes, we already have the likes of the Oura Ring, but the Samsung Galaxy Ring is expected to enter the fray soon – and this week we saw the Circular Ring Slim roll into town.
It claims to be the world’s “thinnest and lightest health ring”, weighing between 4-6 grams depending on the size you go for. And the Circular also connects to its own AI assistant, which has aspirations of being your own personal health coach. We're looking forward to testing it, but you can get ahead by pre-ordering the ring for $245 / £199 (Australia pricing is TBC).
2. The Black Friday deals kicked off with a bang
No, it isn't November 24 yet (the official day of Black Friday), but the shopping event has now definitely kicked off – with the Amazon Black Friday sale (which runs from November 17-27) firing the starting gun this week.
Don't worry, we've already leafed through all of the best Black Friday deals so far and picked out all the ones that offer genuinely good value compared to their historical prices. So far, there are some fine offers on everything from 4K Smart Fire TVs to headphones and robot vacuums – for the full list, check out our hand-picked guide below and get your Christmas shopping done early.
1. Apple took its iMessage medicine (kind of)
The most surprising news of the week was Apple's announcement that it'd be supporting RCS (Rich Communication Services) messaging from next year – after months of campaigning from Google and just days after Nothing revealed a cheeky workaround for its phone.
RCS is the successor to SMS/MMS texts, but Apple has been happy to downgrade messages sent from Android phones to iPhones to the older technology to make its blue-bubble iMessages look better. So has Apple just thrown in the towel? Not exactly – it'll clearly only be embracing the tech on its terms, confirming that RCS messages will still be represented by green bubbles.
In other words, it's a begrudging move that should improve the texting experience for Android fans with iOS friends – but will also maintain that controversial iMessage moat that's helped made iPhones so popular with Gen Z in particular.
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Best Black Friday deals – quick links
John Lewis: up to 40% off appliances, TVs, laptops
Shark: up to £100 off vacuums
Simba: up to 55% off mattresses
Superdrug: 60% off beauty, fragrances and makeup
Toolstation: up to 30% off smart home, tools and DIY
Vodafone: six months half-price SIMs from £11.50