Weekend Roundup: Google’s COVID-19 Tracker; Microsoft’s Gaming Buy

It’s the weekend! Take the time to log off and de-stress. Before you do that, though, let’s touch on some tech stories from the week that you might have missed, including Google’s new COVID tracker, Tesla’s bold prediction, and Microsoft’s big gaming move.

Google Maps Adds COVID Data

Google has always maintained an interest in tracking disease. Twelve years ago, it launched Google Flu Trends, a service designed to monitor influenza activity via search-results volume; the more people using Google to research flu symptoms, the reasoning went, the higher the likelihood that the flu was present in the searcher’s community and/or home.

Now Google is layering COVID-19 info atop Google Maps. Here’s the explanation on the company’s blog:

“When you open Google Maps, tap on the layers button on the top right hand corner of your screen and click on ‘COVID-19 info.’ You’ll then see a seven-day average of new COVID cases per 100,000 people for the area of the map you’re looking at, and a label that indicates whether the cases are trending up or down. Color coding also helps you easily distinguish the density of new cases in an area. Trending case data is visible at the country level for all 220 countries and territories that Google Maps supports, along with state or province, county, and city-level data where available.”

Google claims that the data powering the map comes from multiple sources, including Johns Hopkins (which has been tracking COVID-19 diligently), The New York Times, and Wikipedia, as well as the World Health Organization.

Microsoft Goes Big on Gaming 

This week, Microsoft announced that it would acquire ZeniMax Media, which owns Bethesda Softworks, for $7.5 billion. If you know anything about the gaming world, this is a huge deal, because Bethesda is the studio that’s produced mega-titles such as “Doom” and “Fallout.”

Microsoft is no stranger to big game acquisitions, having purchased Mojang (makers of the ultra-popular “Minecraft”) for $2.5 billion in 2014. But the Bethesda acquisition could end up becoming a much bigger deal for not only gamers, but also game developers. For starters, Bethesda also develops games for Sony, Microsoft’s biggest rival in the console wars, and it’s an open question whether the purchase will reduce the eventual number of PlayStation releases (for the moment, Microsoft has promised to honor PlayStation deals already in place).

Big acquisitions like this also tend to spark more acquisitions, as rival companies try to snatch up smaller competitors in order to bulk up their own portfolios. If we’re due for a period of game-studio consolidation, that could have repercussions not only for the developers and other technologists who work for those studios, but also the smaller game studios that are trying to stand out in a changing, often cutthroat marketplace.

Elon Musk Wants to Make a $25,000 Car

This week, Tesla held a “Battery Day,” which (despite the hype) turned out to be more a discussion of the company’s roadmap (pun intended) than an unveiling of new products. Right now, Tesla has a plan to knock down the price per kilowatt hour (kWh) for its cars’ battery packs, which could lower the price of electric vehicles overall—making them more competitive with gasoline-powered automobiles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is predicting that Tesla will eventually produce a $25,000 car. But as The Verge helpfully pointed out, it’s not the first time he’s promised a lower price point that he’s failed to deliver on. The Model 3, positioned as Tesla’s mass-market vehicle, was supposed to retail for $35,000, but costs between $37,000 and almost $55,000, depending on options. (Musk regularly makes over-optimistic predictions; for example, his regular promises around Tesla’s self-driving capabilities.) 

As with other types of technology, though, cheaper and more effective batteries really could bring Tesla vehicles within range (pun also intended) of more consumers. Longer-range, cheap batteries and autonomous-driving technology, in turn, could radically change the nature of driving forever.

Have a good weekend, everyone! Stay safe!