Sep 15, 2021

Axios Login

Axios hears Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) will be probing how tech data collection affects competition, consumer choice and privacy at a Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing Sept. 21. No word yet on witnesses.

Today's newsletter is 1,153 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Apple banks on subsidies to move this year's iPhones

Apple CEO Tim Cook introducing the iPhone 13 on Tuesday. Photo: Apple

With the iPhone 13 lineup providing only modest updates to Apple's flagship smartphone, the company may be even more reliant on promotions from wireless carriers to keep sales momentum going.

Why it matters: Apple counts on the iPhone for a huge chunk of its own sales, while such sales are also critical to the rest of the mobile industry, including network providers and component suppliers.

Driving the news: Apple yesterday unveiled the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max — all updates to similar-size models from last year's line.

  • Pricing remains largely the same as last year, though the entry-level iPhone 13 ($799) and iPhone 13 mini ($699) come with 128 GB of memory — twice as much as last year.
  • The updates are largely the kinds of things that Apple is able to easily do each year, such as including faster processors and better cameras.
  • A sleeper hit could be a larger battery, which addresses one of the biggest issues facing modern smartphone owners: a phone that does everything they want but still struggles to get through a full day of heavy use.

Yes, but: Apple is skilled at making the most of modest updates and may well have added just enough to help entice those considering an upgrade this year.

The big picture: Subsidies, which had been on the wane, have increased over the last couple of years and have played a big part in keeping iPhone sales strong throughout the pandemic.

  • Apple talked about carrier trade-in discounts as a part of its pitch for the iPhone 13.
  • AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have already announced a range of deals, including up to $800 off the iPhone 13 and up to $1,000 off the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
2. Former officials sound China alarm on antitrust

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Twelve former top U.S. national security officials are urging Congress to hit pause on a package of antitrust bills to consider how breaking up tech companies could harm the U.S. in its competition with China, according to a letter obtained by Axios' Zach Basu and Margaret Harding McGill.

The big picture: Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats are among those arguing that imposing severe restrictions solely on U.S. giants will pave the way for a tech landscape dominated by China — echoing a position voiced by the Big Tech companies themselves.

What they're saying: In its quest to "undermine U.S. influence" and become "the world's leading innovator," the Chinese government employs policies designed to "create and support 'national champion' technology companies," the former officials wrote in a letter to House leaders.

  • Antitrust legislation to break up U.S. tech giants — without targeting Chinese companies like Huawei, Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba — could impede innovation that is "critical to maintaining America’s technological edge," they argue.
  • The former officials praise the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act — a sweeping, $200 billion China-focused package overwhelmingly passed by the Senate in June — but call on Congress to study the national security implications of the House antitrust proposals before moving forward.

The other side: "These arguments are the same arguments that Facebook and Google have been making for a very long time in an effort to avoid regulation," the chair of the House Judiciary's Antitrust Subcommittee, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), told Axios. "And I think actually that the evidence is just the opposite."

Keep reading.

3. August video game sales hit record high

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

U.S. video game sales hit a record $4.4 billion in August, proving that the bump in gaming seen during the pandemic last year wasn't a passing trend, Axios Gaming reporter Megan Farokhmanesh writes.

The details: It was a huge month for hardware purchases, which the NPD Group reports hit $329 million, the best August sales number since 2008.

  • The Nintendo Switch continues to outshine competitors Microsoft and Sony. The console was the bestselling hardware in August and for the year to date.
  • The PlayStation 5 is leading in terms of actual dollar sales, however, and remains the company's fastest-selling platform.

By the numbers: Consumer spending for hardware, content and accessories was 7% higher than the same period last year.

And the bestselling game in August goes to ... "Madden NFL 22."

4. Report finds gamers face harassment online

Speaking of those popular video games, a new survey by the Anti-Defamation League finds that those who play online are encountering an increasing amount of harassment as part of their experience.

Why it matters: The study found that the level of harassment reported by adults increased for the third year in a row. And, measuring players ages 13–17 for the first time, the ADL said three out of five young people experienced harassment.

The survey also found that:

  • The number of women reporting being harassed because of their gender increased from past surveys, as did the percentage of Black and Asian gamers who said they were harassed based on their race.
  • 8% of adults ages 18–45 and 10% of teens ages 13–17 said they were exposed to discussions in online multiplayer games related to white supremacy.
  • 7% of adult online multiplayer gamers said they were exposed to Holocaust denial.
  • A quarter of young people said they always hide their identity online to avoid harassment, while more than 40% said they sometimes hide their identity.
5. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Activision Blizzard announced it is replacing HR chief Claudine Naughton with 32-year Disney veteran Julie Hodges. The company has also hired Delta Airlines executive Sandeep Dube to fill its vacant chief commercial officer role.
  • The Wikimedia Foundation named Maryana Iskander as its new CEO. Iskander, who has run a South African nonprofit for the last eight years, will officially start her new role in January.
  • Uber chief technology officer Sukumar Rathnam plans to leave the company in early October, a spokesperson told Axios, confirming a report from Business Insider.

ICYMI

  • SmartNews raises $230 million at a $2 billion valuation. (Axios)
  • 3 ex-U.S. intelligence officials confess to hacking for UAE. (Axios)
  • Sources tell Protocol, Comcast is partnering with Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense to make XClass-branded TVs that use the cable giant's X1 operating system. (Protocol)
  • Nintendo offered a surprise, announcing on Twitter that Bluetooth audio support is being added to the Switch. (The Verge)
  • Glassdoor has acquired employee feedback platform Fishbowl. (Tech Crunch)
6. After you Login

Image: Lego

I'm behind on my Lego news, with several things to share (including a few that won't fit here... so stay tuned):

  1. The team of brothers Mark and Steven won "Lego Masters" last night. (All three teams of finalists were brothers.)
  2. Lego announced a "Super Mario 64" set with a Question Mark brick that opens up to reveal various levels from the classic game...
  3. ... and a set of the "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy" Fab 5 loft that I am even more eager to get my hands on...
  4. ... and a Lego Fender Stratocaster that the whole family is excited about.