The video game Microsoft: Flight Simulator is promoted at the Microsoft Xbox press event ahead of the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles on June 9, 2019. © AFP via Getty Images

Peripherals makers continue to profit from our locked-down working-from-home lives and as usual there is a “killer app” associated with the boost to hardware sales.

Webcams went quickly out of stock as we Zoomed in on video conferencing. Now, our love of games and one particular classic means joysticks are suddenly unavailable.

I knew something was up when my son asked me a week ago whether I still had a flight stick controller stowed away somewhere from his childhood. Microsoft had just released a 2020 version of its Flight Simulator and the buzz meant he wanted to try it out on his gaming PC.

This 40-year-old game, revived 14 years after the last version, has spanned generations. I inherited from my father one version from the last century. I remember originally buying him the game, along with a joystick, so he could fulfil his dreams virtually, of flying a Spitfire.

Now his 22-year-old grandson wants to do the same with a Dreamliner. Flight Simulator is earning rave reviews thanks to the photorealistic quality and use of Microsoft’s mapping technology and Azure cloud. These have enabled it to create a “digital twin” of the earth, reports Protocol. “If we want to have a million-animal caribou herd where every caribou is running its own AI, we can do that. The boundary of the local machine is broken,” said Jörg Neumann, head of the team of developers. 

Cloud gaming will increase the need for newer, faster hardware at home as well. A Deloitte report today says one in five UK consumers bought a new digital device as a result of spending more time at home due to the lockdown, with gaming devices and consoles seeing the highest growth in daily usage. Consumer electronics chain Best Buy also reported a surge in sales today, despite coronavirus closures, although smartphones won’t be part of that — Gartner reports global sales fell 20 per cent in the second quarter.

I may soon be contributing to the shopping spree — my graphics card is not powerful enough to run the new Flight Simulator, so that means buying a new one, or maybe I should just dig out that old disk for a flight down memory lane? I’d love to hear through if you have fond reminiscences of Flight Simulator or other computer games, and we could feature some of your responses.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Snowflake, Unity, Asana and Ant plan IPOs
A trio of lossmaking Silicon Valley companies has accelerated plans to list on the stock market. Snowflake, a data warehousing group; Unity, a video game technology platform; and Asana, which offers productivity tools — all took the wraps off investor prospectuses they filed earlier in the year, setting the stage for a flurry of listings in September. They would all be eclipsed by Jack Ma’s Ant Group which has filed for an IPO that may raise a record $30bn. The Chinese payments company has said it wants to sell at least 10 per cent of its shares in a dual offering in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Lex says Ant is seeking a valuation of anywhere between $200bn and $300bn. That is larger than most global banks.

2. Wirecard cuts 730 staff in frantic finale
Wirecard’s administrator has cancelled the contracts of its chief executive and two other senior managers while cutting 730 staff at the collapsed German payment company’s headquarters in Bavaria. The moves follow the formal decision by a Munich court on Tuesday to kick off insolvency proceedings. With apologies for the alliteration, our Big Read today looks at the frantic final months of a fraudulent operation.

3. Aveva in $5bn takeover
Aveva has agreed to acquire OSIsoft, its SoftBank-backed US rival, in a $5bn takeover that is one of the largest deals struck by a UK technology company. Lex says the deal by the Cambridge-based industrial software maker is complementary and diversifying.

4. Now India cuts out Huawei
India is phasing out equipment from Huawei and other Chinese companies from its telecoms networks over an escalating border dispute, according to this FT scoop. Lex says the implications for India’s telcos are more severe.

Charts showing market shares of India telecoms, Global 5G and Huawei revenues

5. Apple-Epic court battle latest
Apple can continue to ban Fortnite from its App Store but should not hamper Epic Games from providing software to other apps, a US court has ruled. In an escalating battle over Apple’s App Store fees, US district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers warned Apple not to hurt other companies, who rely on Epic’s “Unreal Engine” software to make games, by revoking Epic’s access to the iPhone’s development ecosystem.

Tech tools — Fitbit sense

The highlight of three new smartwatch offerings from Fitbit today is the £299 ($329) sense. Described as an “advanced health smartwatch” it is designed for the Covid-19 era and “helps you tune in to your body with tools for heart health, stress management, skin temperature & more”. It may be able to help diagnose coronavirus in users even before more obvious symptoms arise, reports Fortune. “We see signs of illness from health metrics like breathing rate and heart rate variability one to two days before symptoms are even reported by the user,” Fitbit CEO James Park told a press briefing.

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