WhatsApp Channels expands to the MENA region

You know the popularity of WhatsApp here in the Middle East. It is the most popular messaging app in the region. Now, the app itself is tapping into the growing shift of one-way broadcasting messaging. According to the official blog, WhatsApp Channels is expanding to 150 countries.

While the initial test took place across few select countries months ago, users in the Middle East and North Africa region now get to use this feature. Can’t forget India where the app is like a daily routine.

Follow, then receive private updates

WhatsApp channels works in a similar way as Instagram Channels, letting you follow to get updates on topics and brands you like.

The current rollout has channels from celebrities, brands, and sports teams. Any personal information like your phone number is not even visible to admins or the channel subscribers. Neither will other users be able to see which channels you follow. All updates being shared via Channels are available for up to 30 days, keeping things fresh and relevant.

As WhatsApp requires using your mobile phone number, how does one even find Channels to follow? The dedicated Updates tab in the app serves as a hub for it. Want to create your own channel? You’ll have to wait, as that will be coming further down the road.

More Channels-focused features

With the expanded global rollout, more features ar ebeing added to Channels.

  • Enhanced Directory: Find channels to follow that are automatically filtered by your location. You can also view channels that are new, most active, and popular based on number of followers.
  • Reactions: Users can react to updates using emojis to give feedback and see a count of total reactions.
  • Editing: Channel Admins will have the ability to make changes to their Updates for up to 30 days.
  • Forwarding: Want to forward an Update from a Channel you follow? It will include a link back to the source channel, so people can find out more.
What’s new on WhatsApp

As more people start to pivot more towards private messaging for their social media activities, WhatsApp Channels could become the gold mine opportunity for brands.

Firrst channel I’d recommend to follow is the very one by WhatsApp to get latets updates (view here). If you still don’t see the option, make sure you’ve updated WhatsApp on iOS and/or Android.

Image Credit: WhatsApp Blog

Xbox fans in the Middle East, new Game Pass Core is out

The expansion of PC Game Pass has been a boon for many looking to access and play more games for a monthly fee in the MENA region. Players who frequently play online via their Xbox console are about to be upgraded to the newly-revamped Game Pass Core.

Out with Live Gold, in with Game Pass Core

Best way to describe: Xbox Live Gold + Game Pass + rename = Xbox Game Pass Core. Microsoft had announced the new service upgraded offering in July with a launch by mid-September.

If you’ve wanted to play multiplayer from your Xbox One or Xbox Series S/X console, you needed Xbox Live Gold and residing in a country where it’s officially available.

That time has finally come, as the revamp will bring more than 25 games to the new tier. There is no price change at all, which is still great news for those not looking to pay more. It’ll still include all of the Live Gold features: online console multiplayer, deals and discounts, and access to Free Play Days.

I’m not going to waste your time by lilsting all the games in Game Pass Core, which you can see on their official website. They also plan to update the library two to three times a year, and the library may also vary by country.

The new revamped tier is now available in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and India.

Dedicated to the MENA region: Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic Astro Edition

Samsung is giving something special for the MENA region with the launch of the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic Astro Edition. This is the first-ever limited-edition Galaxy Watch dedicated to the Middle East region.

Whenever a new product is announced, some brands also release a special edition. They are usually exclusive to certain geographic region like: US, UK, and few other European countries. Not with this smartwatch, as Samsung looks to start a trend.

Still a Galaxy Watch 6 Classic

According to Samsung, the inspiration for this special edition stems from the MENA region’s explorers and innovators. It symbolizes their contributions to astronomy and mathematics.

This is still a Galaxy Watch 6 Classic under its chassis. It builds upon it by incorporating some unique features for this exclusive model.

  • A rotating Black Astro bezel in 47mm size
  • Exclusive software features, with a compass complication on the dial
    serving as a nod to the design of an astrolabe
  • Lunar and solar phases to track the movements of the sun and moon
  • A solar tracker complication paying tribute to the sun’s central role in the astrolabe’s astronomical observations; mirrors the sun’s daily journey from sunrise to sunset

Regional availability

If you’re looking to buy one, there is an exclusive offer which can include a combination of the following items (varies by market): exclusive access to promotion store, Astro Edition collectibles, fabric watch straps, Samsung Rewards points, or Galaxy Buds 2.

You can buy the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic Astro edition from the Samsung website or at the official Samsung stores in the following countries (equivalent to the price of QAR 1,889/AED 1,999/JD 350):

  • GCC: Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE
  • Levant: Jordan, Iraq, and Turkiye
  • North Africa: Morocco and Egypt

On another note, they have described this as the first of several limited-editio collections of watches. We can definitely look forward to more.

PlayStation Plus gets a price increase across MENA region

It’s been more than a year since Sony launched the revamped PlayStation Plus service, gradually rolling it out region-by-region. While the Middle East region saw the rollout in the summer 2022 period, not all good things stay the same.

PlayStation has recently announced that the 12-month subscription is going to have a price increase globally. That also includes gamers in the Middle East and North Africa region. Note that this only affects the annual plan for all the tiers (Essential, Extra and Deluxe).

Subscription tiers for PS Plus and their features

The pricing change was announced on their official blog, right near the end of announcing the montly games. Reason? “This price adjustment will enable us to continue bringing high-quality games and value-added benefits to your PlayStation Plus subscription service,” the company said.

For some more context, here’s how the new pricing looks in their other markets for the 12-month plan

PlayStation Plus TierUSEuropeUKJapan

I wanted to wait and see how much the MENA region would pay. Luckily, I captured the pricing before the updated pricing was published on 7 September. Below is the comparison for the MENA region.

PlayStation Plus TierPrevious Price (12 months)New Price (12 months)
Price comparison on new PS Plus 12-month plan

If you have already renewed your 12-month subscription, you’ll be paying the new price on your next renewal on/after 6th November. If you do make any mebership changes like upgrades or downgrades, it will reflect the new pricing.

Image Credit: PlayStation Blog

Instagram rolls out download of public Reels to more countries worldwide

You could attribute TikTok’s success with the feature of sharing their videos off-platform, allowing users to download the videos watermarked with the account. Meta has now implemented the same feature for Instagram Reels, after its initial announcement back in June 2023 (source: TechCrunch).

Although Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri stated that US-based users would be the first to see it, a timeline wasn’t announced for the rollout to other countries worldwide. It looks like the option is now expanding to more countries worldwide including the Middle East region. How? It just so happens that I was creating a Reel and the pop-up just showed up.

Image Credits: Instagram/Adam Mosseri

Download and Share Reels

Downloading Reels is as simple as tapping on the share icon and then selecting the Download option.

All downloaded Reels will have an animated watermark showing the account name in different positions based on the video length.

However, it seems there is a difference between iOS and Android when I tried it with a random Reel from Adobe Video. Anyone who has saved a video from TikTok will have seen that the resoltuion is in SD (540×960 px).

Metadata for same downloaded video on iOS (left) and Android (right)

It’s not clear why there is such a difference, but this might come down to each platform’s technicalities. Having watch the same video from both devices, they showed no visible loss in quality.

The move is looking to capitalize on the momentum for people to watch more Reels on Instagram natively. Also a great way to complement the recent launch of Threads.

If you’re not seeing the option to download, make sure you’ve updated the Instargam app to the latest version on both iOS and Android.

Header image credit: Alexander Shatov

Snap Launches Lens Creator Rewards Program in MENA region

Even with a growing Snapchat+ user base now totaling more than 4 million worldwide (including many in the MENA region since last year’s expansion), Snapchat has always been the pioneer in AR. Snap is now offering up an incentive for AR creators with the new Lens Creator Rewards Program.

The best part is that many countries in the MENA region can sign up for this pilot program.

Build Engaging Lenses, Receive Payouts

As per Snap’s official announcement, a Lens Creator could be awarded up to $7,200 for their top-performing Lenses in the United States, India and Mexico. The caveat is that the performance of your lenses will be geographically confined to the previously-mentioned countries.

Regarding the engagement aspect to judge the Lens’ performance, it’s by Snap’s proprietary formula based on views and other engagement metrics measured during the month. That also implies that the payment formula may be adjusted by Snap over time, hence no thresholds for the payout.

Eligibilty for Snap Lens Creator Program

The programme is open to new and current Lens Studio community members from nearly 40 countries worldwide, of which a good number of them cover the MENA region. If you’ve also had lenses published before, you can also enrol them into the new programme. For the eligible countries, you need to be in one of the folowing ones

GCC region
Other Arab countries
Saudi ArabiaMorocco

Additional criteria for eligibility to the program includes the following

To participate, AR creators should build Lenses and can visit Lens Studio to check their eligibility for this programme. More detailed steps can be seen on their support section, along with a quick FAQ.

With this new pilot, Snap is definitely looking to keep its relevance regardless of their user base. From Snap’s official statement, the AR creator community on Snapchat has seen more than 3 million Lenses published that haev generated more than 5 trillion views

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