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Edmonton quality assurance testers pioneer video game union drive in Canada – CBC.ca

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Video game quality assurance employees in Edmonton could soon be part of Canada’s first unionized workplace for an industry with a sordid history of worker exploitation.

Last month, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 applied to the Alberta Labour Relations Board to become the certified bargaining agent for Keywords Studio staff contracted to BioWare. The process is still ongoing but the union expects a formal vote by staff in the next few weeks.

BioWare, owned by publishing behemoth Electronic Arts, is a major game studio responsible for hits from the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. Keywords Studios contracts support work to many major developers globally.

CBC News spoke to three employees, whose identities are being protected for fear of reprisal. They said one of the catalysts for the unionization drive was a mandatory return-to-work order that has been rescinded since the union application started.

Keywords Studios workers were told to return to the office while BioWare employees were given more options.

BioWare’s physical offices are located in Edmonton’s Epcor Tower. (Stephen Cook/CBC)

A major issue is compensation. Employees said there were pay discrepancies between testers but pay typically hovers around Alberta’s minimum wage of $15 per hour. They said that does not constitute a living wage and is low for the skills required for the job, especially when compared to BioWare employees doing similar work.

“We’re hoping that the union gives us some level of assurance, honestly,” one worker said.

“An assurance that we can keep doing our jobs the way that we’re doing them and that, hopefully, we get some bargaining power in terms of wage increases.”

CBC News did not receive responses to requests for comment from Electronic Arts or Keywords Studios.

Industry labour issues

Low pay and compulsory overtime known as “crunch” are longstanding issues within the industry, albeit the latter are less likely to apply to roles like QA testers paid hourly wages. Social problems have also been brought to the forefront with a recent lawsuit by the state of California against Activision Blizzard for allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment.

“What were seen as sort of one-offs, or unfortunate aspects of the industry, are now being viewed as systemic problems with labour,” said Sean Gouglas, a professor of game studies at the University of Alberta.

Quality assurance workers test games for bugs before shipping, typically at the end of the development cycle but sometimes embedded throughout the process.

Gouglas said some people start in QA as a way to break into the highly competitive industry. They face many of the same labour issues that have plagued the trade for years.

“If all that is true for the industry generally — again not every company, but many companies — it is absolutely true for the quality assurance testers,” he said. 

“They are generally the lowest rung of the ladder in the game development process.”

Unionization rare

Unionization is rare within the North American video game development industry. 

The first union on the continent was formed just last year at Vodeo Games, a small indie studio whose employees work remotely in both Canada and the United States.

A second union was formed this year for the quality assurance department of Wisconsin-based Raven Software, which has worked on the Call of Duty franchise.

Johanna Weststar, a professor of employment relations at Western University, said the emergence of the grassroots organization group Game Workers Unite put unionization on the table.

Weststar said the organization — which is not a union itself but has chapters throughout the world — has worked to facilitate unionization and engage in partnerships with various union bodies.

“There’s a lot of what I would call experimentation happening in the worker organization in this industry right now.”

Weststar predicts more attempts will be made to unionize within the industry but cautioned that there has yet to be a watershed test case.

“These are still sort of unionizing at the margins with the most precarious workers, which is fair, there’s a degree of sense making there,” she said. 

“But it will be very interesting to see when some core game developers — so not QA — in a major studio, if a unionization attempt  happens there, then we’re really seeing precedent.”

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New photos reveal more details about Google’s Pixel 9 Pro Fold

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Google’s secret new line of Pixel 9 phones isn’t that big of a secret anymore. Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) released new photos of the phones including the Pixel 9 Pro Fold from almost every conceivable angle.

Android Authority found the photos in the NCC archives and uploaded galleries of each of the four phones including the Pixel 9, 9 Pro, 9 Pro XL and 9 Pro Fold. They reveal some interesting details about the new Pixel phones.

The charging rates will be a little faster than the last generation of Pixel phones: Taiwanese authorities measured 24.12W for the base model, 25.20W for the Pro and 32.67W for the 9 Pro XL. The Pixel 9 Pro Fold, however, was the slowest of all of them at 20.25W. These numbers don’t often match up perfectly with the advertised ratings, so expect Google to be promoting higher numbers at its event.

Speaking of chargers, it looks like Google needed a bigger charger to power its new phones. Photos included in the NCC leak show each phone will come with a wall charger that’s around 45W depending on which model you purchase. The charger’s plug moved from the middle to the top of the brick.

The Google Pixel 9 Pro Fold can fully unfold.
NCC/Android Authority

The latest photo dump also shows the 9 Pro Fold unfolded for the first time. Google has moved the selfie camera to the inside screen for a wider field of view. The 9 Pro Fold also has a slimmer top and bottom, a reduced fold crease on the display and a full 180 degree unfolding angle to make a screen that’s just over 250mm or just under 10 inches.

These photos are the latest in a very long list of leaks of Google Pixel 9 photos. The last Pixel 9 leak came down yesterday showing two prototype models of the base and XL models. Google might look into buying a new combination lock for the high school locker where they apparently keep all their unreleased gear.

 

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Apple Wallet now supports Canada’s Presto card, with Express Transit

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Apple Wallet now supports the Presto transit card used in Ontario, Canada. The card can be used for travel in Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa.

The digital version of the card includes the Express Transit Pass feature, meaning that you can tap in and out without having to authenticate …

 

Ontario’s Presto card

The Presto contactless smart card system was first trialled back in 2007, and started the full rollout in 2009. The card can be used across 11 different transit systems in the areas covered.

Apple Wallet support was first promised many years ago, but things went quiet until a “coming soon” announcement back in May of this year.

Although the contactless terminals allow the use of credit and debit cards for regular fares, a Presto card is needed for monthly passes and discounted travel.

Apple Wallet support now available

The company made the announcement today.

Tap to ride with PRESTO on iPhone and Apple Watch.

Traveling around town just got easy with your PRESTO in Apple Wallet. With Express Mode, you don’t need to wake or unlock your iPhone or Apple Watch or open any apps to use PRESTO in Apple Wallet. Just hold your device near the reader to pay and go.

Ride, even when your iPhone needs a charge

If your iPhone needs a charge, PRESTO Card in Apple Wallet will still work. Power Reserve provides up to five hours of support, so you can still ride.

Reload on the go. 

With your PRESTO card on your iPhone and Apple Watch, you can easily load funds, right from Apple Wallet or PRESTO App. No need to visit a customer service outlet.

Extra security. Built right in 

PRESTO in Apple Wallet can take full advantage of the privacy and security features built into iPhone and Apple Watch. Your PRESTO card is stored on the device, which means Apple does not see when you use it—helping keep your data private and secure.

If you lose your iPhone or Apple Watch, you can use the Find My app to lock and help locate the device and suspend your PRESTO card or remotely erase the device and its cards.

Mobile Syrup reports that you can choose between adding your existing card to your Wallet, or creating a new one.

There are two ways to add a Presto card to Apple Wallet. You can either buy a new card or move your old one over using the Presto app.

That being said, for simplicity’s sake, unless you have a discounted Presto agreement like a student or senior plan, I think most riders will be happy just making a new card in Apple Wallet and loading funds from that app.

As with any digital card or pass, you can use either your iPhone or Apple Watch, but because each generates a unique virtual card number, you need to use the same device at both ends of your journey.

Express Transit feature

To minimize delays, Presto offers Express Transit support. This means that you don’t need to authenticate using Face ID or Touch ID on your iPhone, and you don’t need to double-tap the side button on your Apple Watch. Simply hold your device close to the pad and you’re good (a number of clues are used to detect fraudulent use).

Express Transit also has the advantage that it continues to work in Low Power mode, so you’ll still be able to complete your journey even if your phone or Watch is almost dead.

Image: Presto

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The OnePlus Pad 2 Wants to Be the iPad Air of Android Tablets

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The original OnePlus Pad was a decent all-around Android tablet, but it was not amazing in any one area. Now, OnePlus is back with a new tablet device that packs more power, has a better screen, more speakers, and a higher starting price. OnePlus offers an Android tablet alternative that costs less than the latest iPad Airs, though it seems like it’s hewing very close to the rendition from 2023. 

The OnePlus Pad 2 is a one-size-fits-all 12.1-inch 3K tablet. At $550 for 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, it’s $70 more than the first OnePlus Pad, though it starts with more memory and twice as much internal storage as the first go around’s paltry 128 GB. It’s bigger than the 11.6 LCD on last year’s Pad, though now it’s beefed its resolution to 3K (3000 x 2120) with a stated 600 nits typical and 900 nits peak brightness. It has a variable refresh rate between 30 and 144 Hz, though it’s still an LCD screen, the same as the 2023 OnePlus Pad.

Just like last year’s version, the new Pad supports Dolby Atmos, but it boasts a six-stereo speaker configuration on either side of the device. It may not be as specifically sound-tailored as the Lenovo Tab Plus, but what’s promised is a solid middle ground. 

Last year’s tablet used MediaTek Dimensity 9000 CPU, which was good enough for most applications but not exactly top of its class. The Pad 2 is now powered with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile chip. Gizmodo has already experienced some of the chip’s capabilities in Samsung’s latest foldables, and already it’s very promising. We haven’t yet had the chance to compare a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 tablet to Apple’s latest iPad Air with M2, though on the whole, M2 usually performs better than Qualcomm’s mobile chips in bare benchmark tests. How much that matters depends on what programs you expect to use on your tablet. 

Image: OnePlus

Every device maker thinks they need AI to compete, and OnePlus isn’t an outlier here. There are promised “AI Toolbox” features like AI text-to-speech and recording summaries. The AI Eraser 2.0 will also work like Google’s Magic Eraser to remove unwanted photo elements. 

There’s a new $99 OnePlus Stylo 2 and a $150 Oneplus Smart Keyboard to accompany the new tablet. Despite the size and price difference, there will be many similarities between last year’s and the 2024 model. The Pad 2 has the same 9,510 mAh battery as last year’s, plus the 67W “SUPERVOOC” fast charging. It promises 43 days of standby time, though in our experience, the first Pad’s lifespan and promised “one-month standby life” was far more modest in practice, lasting most of the day before needing a recharge. 

With a bigger screen, the upcoming Pad 2 is slightly heavier than last year’s rendition. It weighs about 1.3 pounds, so it’s exactly between the 11- and 13-inch iPad Airs or slightly more than the base 11-inch Galaxy Tab S9 (and far less than the humongous Tab S9 Ultra). It will be relatively thin at 6.49 mm, but it’s not beating the iPad Air’s 6.1 mm or the iPad Pro 13-inch’s holy grail 5.1 mm.

The first OnePlus Pad didn’t exactly break new ground in any one category, though it did show Android tablets had legs. We’ve seen attempts from Goole and its Pixel Tablet, though that, too, wasn’t the pioneer of Android tablets. A better chip and more speakers do seem promising, though, in its effort to be everything to everyone, we’ll need to see if it manages to stand out in any area.

The OnePlus Pad 2 is now available for preorder. It should be available on the OnePlus website starting July 30 and on Amazon starting August.

 

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