Jun 23, 2021

Axios Login

I've been playing a lot of Battleship, Sorry and Monopoly, but I did it all for you.

Today's newsletter is 1,380 words, 5½ minutes.

1 big thing: Tabletop computing's fresh start

Microsoft shows off its Surface tabletop computer in May 2007. Photo: Kevin P. Casey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Microsoft debuted its giant Surface tabletop computer back in 2007, executives predicted it might only take three to five years for a version to make its way to consumers. That never happened, but 15 years later, tabletop computing is back — this time in a new, game-focused vision from another company.

Why it matters: Long ago both Bill Gates and "Minority Report" promised a future in which every wall and surface becomes a digital screen where information can be displayed and manipulated by touch. That future is finally beginning to materialize.

Driving the news: Tastemakers — best known for Arcade1Up, its line of slimmed down versions of '80s arcade games — is launching retail sales of the Infinity Game Table next month, following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

  • Starting at somewhere around $600, the coffee-table size device includes a bunch of classic Hasbro games along with digital card games, jigsaw puzzles and coloring books.
  • Games can be played by multiple people in one place, or with other table owners over the internet.

Flashback: The original Surface may be a distant memory now, but it was a groundbreaking computer for its time, with demos that wowed.

  • Debuting around the same time as the iPhone, it was one of the first commercial products to offer a multitouch interface.

Yes, but: Priced at a prohibitive $10,000 and extremely bulky, the device never got a chance to move beyond niche business markets.

Between the lines: The iPhone made touch screens a part of our lives while the Surface vanished.

  • In the intervening years, however, the visions have grown closer: Apple introduced the iPad, touch came to Windows computers and tablets, and touch screens are everywhere now from cars to elevators to vending machines.

What's next: A lot of surface areas have yet to be digitized. Despite Gates' promise, most walls still only smudge when we touch them.

  • But the Infinity Game Table, like Surface before it, shows how just offering a touch screen in a different shape or size creates new opportunities. I suspect Gates is right on the outcome, if not on the timing.
2. Review: Table makes game night come alive

A couple plays Scrabble on the Infinity Game Table. Photo: Tastemakers

One clear sign the Infinity Gaming Table is on to something: In the couple weeks we've had a review unit in our house, it's been in constant use.

State of play: The only time my mother-in-law stops playing solitaire on it is when Harvey and I are playing a game of Sorry.

The big picture: The Infinity isn't nearly as expensive as its ancestor, the Microsoft Surface, but it's still a significant investment in both money and real estate, especially in a small home. That's not to say it isn't worth it, but it really depends how much time you want to spend playing digital board games.

Details: The table needs an outlet and takes up about the same space as a good size coffee table.

  • You can put your drink or snack on it as it's designed to survive a spill.
  • The legs are also detachable, should you want to place it on an existing table. (I tried this, but AJ did not take kindly to its presence on the kitchen table.)
  • It comes with several dozen included games, featuring Hasbro classics such as Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Sorry, and Operation.
  • The Game of Life and Hungry Hungry Hippos are set to arrive in the coming weeks as free downloads, with premium games Pandemic and Ticket to Ride to be offered for a fee.

The pros: The games have been thoughtfully designed specifically for the table and are fun and intuitive.

The cons: It's a lot of money and space to devote to board games.

Practicalities: The Infinity Gaming Table will be available for preorder from Best Buy beginning July 17. Exact pricing hasn't been set, but when they were on Kickstarter the 24-inch screen version cost $500 and the 32-inch model was $700.

3. Apple and rivals turn up heat on antitrust bills

Apple warned this morning that new antitrust legislation would place iPhone customers' privacy and security at risk by limiting the company's control over what apps users can install, Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold report.

Driving the news: Apple CEO Tim Cook called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats to argue that the antitrust bills would hurt innovation and consumers, per a New York Times report.

The big picture: Tech companies are focusing on potential privacy pitfalls as they seek to sink antitrust proposals being taken up today by the House Judiciary Committee.

Driving the news: In a paper released Wednesday, Apple argues that the App Store protects consumers from malicious or scammy apps.

  • Apple fears pending bills would force allowing third-party app stores and sideloading — letting users download apps on their phones without going through the App Store, something that is the norm on PCs and Macs but less common on phones.
  • Apple's paper uses a cartoon fox to warn that sideloading could make children's data vulnerable or allow a ransomware attack.

What they're saying: Tech companies are seizing on the privacy argument, with Google warning earlier this week that the bills "raise serious privacy and security concerns."

  • Facebook argued in a statement that antitrust laws should not punish successful companies.
  • Congress ought to "tackle the areas of greatest concern to people, like content moderation, election integrity, and privacy — not attempt to dismantle the products and services people depend on," a Facebook spokesperson said.
4. Kickstarter CEO: Let's try a 4-day work week

Kickstarter announced Tuesday that it plans to experiment with a four-day work week in an effort to offer workers more flexibility and additional time to spend on creative pursuits.

The big picture: Lots of tech companies are planning to offer flexibility around where employees work post-pandemic. Now some companies are also rethinking when people work.

Driving the news: Kickstarter plans next year to test a four-day work week with some or all of its employees, though details of that remain to be figured out, including whether all workers will have the same schedule.

What they're saying: Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan told Axios that he had toyed with the notion of a four-day week in the past, but was motivated by the pandemic to actually give it a try.

  • "What we’ve been all living through the last 18 months, you feel this compression on your professional life, your personal life," Hasan said.
  • The idea of a four-day work week wasn't spurred by the company's ongoing collective bargaining negotiations, Hasan said. He added that the company's newly formed union has been supportive of the idea.
  • Hasan said he is encouraged to see other companies experimenting as well. "The more people experimenting, the more shared learning," he said.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • The Lesbians Who Tech (Not IRL) Pride Summit continues, and I'll be interviewing Mastercard's Alissa (Dr. Jay) Abdullah later this morning about the future of cybersecurity.

Trading Places

  • Intel is splitting its data platforms group into two units. One part, the network and edge group, will be led by Nick McKeown, who had been a part-time Intel Fellow, while chief people officer Sandra Rivera will become head of data center and AI.
  • Also, former VMware executive Greg Lavender has joined Intel as chief technology officer. With the changes, 26-year veteran Navin Shenoy, who had been executive VP and head of the data platforms unit, will leave the company next month.
  • Biometric security company Clear is announcing later today the hiring of Sam Hall as its first chief product officer. Hall previously held similar roles at ClassPass and Grubhub, and also spent a decade at Amazon in various positions, including VP of mobile.

ICYMI

  • On the eve of the release of a new version of Windows, Microsoft's market cap crossed the $2 trillion line, making it the second U.S. company to hit that milestone after Apple. (GeekWire)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with questions on the security and interoperability of their companies' connected home devices.
  • The DOJ said Tuesday that American officials seized 36 news website domains linked to Iran's government for spreading disinformation as part of a propaganda campaign. (Axios)
6. After you Login

Check out this 2007 demo video for the original Surface. That music player you don't recognize was something called the Zune.