Failing Slow

This Month in Seattle Tech: Xbox Turns a Mini Fridge Meme into Reality

Plus: Facebook’s no-good, very-bad October, and Amazon's Zoox autonomous cars do battle with our weather.

By Benjamin Cassidy October 29, 2021

Memes are known for generating likes and rushes of dopamine, but Xbox is proving that they can also develop products.

This October, Microsoft’s Redmond-based gaming brand fully embraced a long-running internet joke by releasing a mini fridge made in the image of its Series X console. What started as an idea on Twitter has spawned a three-dimensional appliance that will occupy store shelves and delivery trucks in the months to come. It wasn’t a traditional product rollout. “This was definitely a career first,” says Aaron Greenberg, general manager of Xbox Games Marketing.

In 2020, many very-online people noted that Xbox’s latest console resembled a small refrigerator, the kind one might find in a college dorm room and in the vicinity, more than likely, of a video game controller. The gaming giant subsequently manufactured some full-sized fridges—six feet tall, 400 pounds—that hewed to the console’s design specifications, with its familiar matte-black facade and signature green glow on the inside. Snoop Dogg was swiftly gifted one.

At that point the fridge may have seemed like nothing more than a performative marketing exercise—a novelty item created for a select few. But Xbox doubled down on the concept this year by promising that, if it triumphed in Twitter’s “Brand Bracket,” it would produce mini fridges for the masses.

Created in partnership with Ukonic, the smaller appliance is only one-and-a-half times as big as the console, but it does fit as many as 12 cans at a time. Shelf heights adjust in case gamers want to mix in some tallboys with all those Red Bulls and Monsters. It’s not just a portal to drinking; a USB port ensures owners can keep their devices charged nearby.

Twitter users weren’t feigning all that interest. Online preorders opened on October 19 and sold out within seconds or minutes, depending on who you believe (bots may have been involved). But those hoping to get their hands on one aren’t out of luck. In the U.S., the fridges will be on sale at Target stores (for $99.99) as early as December. Greenberg notes that Xbox will expand their availability in 2022.

Until then, other gaming enthusiasts will have to be patient. While their concept may have broken the internet, it did not fix our current supply chain woes. Expect delays.

The Facebook Papers Headline a Very Bad Month for “Meta”

Microsoft and Amazon get most of the attention around here, but the outposts of big-tech counterparts Google and Facebook are still top of mind. For those employed by the latter in the Seattle area—about 7,000 workers—it was probably a good month to be away from Mark Zuckerberg’s mothership.

October started with a company whistleblower revealing her identity and a maintenance error disappearing Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp for hours. The temporary social media shutdown underscored society’s collective addiction to these platforms and the very powers that Frances Haugen’s “Facebook Papers” show they has misused. More documents were scrutinized by news outlets as the month continued. Their takeaways—including Facebook’s struggle to moderate content in countries outside the U.S.—were chilling, if not all that surprising.

The company closed out October by changing its corporate name to Meta and introducing a fantastical and terrifying “metaverse,” thereby ruining a bit of internet parlance for the rest of us. Thanks, Mark.

Amazon’s Zoox Tests Autonomous Vehicles in Our Rain

It’s tough to keep track of Amazon’s holdings, so you may have missed that the company acquired a startup in 2020 that makes driverless cars. That startup, Zoox, will now test autonomous vehicles in Seattle, citing our inclement weather and hilly landscape as useful challenges for its hardware and software. The fleet of Toyota Highlanders will have humans behind the wheel in case anything goes wrong, which doesn’t ease safety advocates’ concerns all that much.

Bits and Bytes about Blue Origin, the Female Founders Alliance, and Andy Jassy

Rocket launcher Blue Origin has a culture problem. The Female Founders Alliance, under a new name (Graham and Walker), will now have a VC arm to back women-led startups, per Geekwire. Speaking of: The tech news site held its annual summit earlier this month. Andy Jassy said some things there about Seattle’s city council.

Hello! This is monthly column recapping news at the intersection of local tech and culture—happenings you may have missed in this mercilessly fast, and often quite nebulous, cycle of innovationBut even the beat writers can’t keep up with everything. Do you know of a Seattle startup doing things that don’t make eyes glaze over at parties? A corporation behaving badly? A developer trying to hack the Mercer light cycle? We’re interestedSend your tips to [email protected] or @bybencassidy on Twitter. DMs are always open.

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