Weekend Roundup: Uber Threatens to Shut Down, ‘Halo’ Delayed

What a week, huh? Before you shut down for the weekend, here are some of the week’s top stories, including a big showdown for Uber and the gig economy, a new (old) tablet form-factor, and news about the latest ‘Halo’ game.

Uber, Lyft May Pull Out of California

It’s the moment that many pundits predicted would come at some point: A California court has demanded that Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as full-time employees, and the companies are responding by threatening to shut down their operations in the state.

Under California’s controversial AB5 law, which went into effect in January, many “gig economy” workers qualify as employees. Although Uber and Lyft argue that many of their drivers want the flexibility that comes with being gig workers, a coalition of state politicians, union workers, and other groups insist that those drivers are due the benefits of full-time employees, including paid vacation time, overtime pay, and reimbursement of costs. 

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, in an attempt to sway public opinion, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that proposed another solution to the problem: A common fund for gig workers that pays out health insurance, PTO, and other benefits that full-time workers often get. In his words:

“I’m proposing that gig economy companies be required to establish benefits funds which give workers cash that they can use for the benefits they want, like health insurance or paid time off. Independent workers in any state that passes this law could take money out for every hour of work they put in. All gig companies would be required to participate, so that workers can build up benefits even if they switch between apps.”

Such a measure, of course, would be difficult to set up and enforce, and it would benefit a well-funded company like Uber at the expense of other firms that don’t have the ability to divert a portion of their budget into some kind of common pot. There’s also the issue of contractors preferring actual benefits like healthcare in place of extra cash. But as Uber’s threat to shut down its California operations shows, it’s an existential moment for gig-economy companies, and the eventual solutions may indeed be pretty radical.  

Microsoft’s Dual-Screen Tablet 

A decade ago, rumors circulated that Microsoft was working on an innovative tablet. Codenamed “courier,” this tablet had two screens connected by a hinge, like a book. Users could write or draw on it, and have their scribblings translated into a format that apps could use. Although it attracted some buzz, Courier was ultimately killed before it could compete with the then-new iPad. 

But Microsoft evidently never lost sight of the idea, because a year ago it proposed the Surface Duo, a “foldable” phone with two screens that would run Android apps. At the time, a Microsoft executive insisted that the Duo belonged in a whole new category of devices.  

Now Microsoft’s revealed still more details about its creation, which is going on preorder this week ahead of a September 10 launch. The Duo will cost $1,399 for 128GB of storage, or $1,499 for 256GB. In theory, two screens and the ability to run Android apps will make the Duo an effective productivity and entertainment machine, while folding into a size small enough to slip into a pocket (like the Courier of old, you can write on the screen).

But in reality, will consumers gravitate toward a hinged device when they already own a phone and a tablet? The high price point may also impact consumers’ decisions, especially since the cost of “normal” tablets has fallen so much in recent years. Whatever happens, it’s an interesting experiment.

Coronavirus Sets Back Master Chief

Master Chief, the playable protagonist of the ultra-popular “Halo” series, has survived many dangers over the past 19 years, but it seems like COVID-19 is an especially difficult enemy to overcome. “Halo Infinite,” the next game, has been delayed several months to 2021 due to the pandemic

“The decision to shift our release is the result of multiple factors that have contributed to development challenges, including the ongoing COVID-related impacts affecting us all this year,” studio head Chris Lee wrote in a statement. “I want to acknowledge the hard work from our team at [‘Halo’ developer] 343 Industries, who have remained committed to making a great game and finding solutions to development challenges. However, it is not sustainable for the well-being of our team or the overall success of the game to ship it this holiday.”

Building AAA games is a hugely collaborative experience, often with dozens or hundreds of team members doing their best to work closely in sync under incredible deadline pressure. If the pandemic has forced those teams to work from home, then production delays were probably inevitable. Other game developers, including Bungie and Naughty Dog, have seen their big releases delayed as they’ve tried to figure out how to best handle the pandemic’s impact on their respective workforces. 

Have a great weekend! Remember to keep washing those hands!

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