3 of the Biggest Surprises This Week

Say what you want about the tech sector, but it's never boring. Any given week will keep tech investors flooded with product announcements, earnings surprises, and crazy strategy shifts that absolutely nobody saw coming.

These are three of the most shocking pieces of tech news this week:

1. A tale of two Dell deal reactions
The fact that Dell (UNKNOWN: DELL.DL  ) let its founder and CEO take the company private this week wasn't much of a surprise. The move has been telegraphed for weeks and widely reported as fact long before it happened.

But here's what did surprise me when Dell announced the agreement. Some of the company's rivals treated the deal as a chance to steal customers, while others simply shrugged and called it water under the bridge.

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) took the low road. Dell's "extended period of uncertainty and transition" surely must be bad for its customers, HP said. Our offices in Santa Clara stand ready to accept any Dell refugees, starting right now!

On the high road, you'll find Chinese system builder Lenovo. "We remain as always confident in our strategy," the company said. "We believe that the financial actions of some of our traditional competitors will not substantially change our outlook."

You might expect HP to hold off on throwing rocks at Dell, because the company has built a glass house around itself.

  • HP warns that the Dell deal will lead to customer-facing uncertainty, but what do you call HP's lack of strategy in the post-Hurd era?

  • Dell takes on a heavy debt load in this deal, but it started from a much lighter loan ledger than HP's own.

  • And if leveraged buyouts are tantamount to killing the deal target, why does HP have no less than four well-known buyout architects on its own board of directors?

But HP did attack Dell on all of these flimsy grounds, while Lenovo made itself look classy and focused on the bigger picture.

2. Gaming giants hobble next-generation consoles
Here's a weird one. The market for traditional gaming consoles has never looked weaker, as even Nintendo's brand-new Wii U unit failed to burn up the sales charts. Gamers everywhere seem more interested in casual gaming via smartphones, tablets, and websites than the old model of hooking specialized hardware up to big-screen TV sets.

So how do Sony and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) plan to turn the beat around with their next console releases? Why, by making their products less attractive to real gamers, of course.

According to reports surfacing this week, both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 will feature new measures to reduce piracy and -- here's the show-stopper -- remove the ability to play games bought second-hand. Microsoft will do this by tying every game to a unique code that must be checked against an online database every time you want to play. Wrong console, no play. Sony's PlayStation will achieve a similar effect by including RFID identification chips in every retail game.

Either way, gamers lose the option to trade in old games for cash or to buy pre-owned titles at a discount. These measures may run afoul of the so-called First Sale Doctrine, which gives consumers ownership rights of the media they buy. Video-game retailer GameStop (NYSE: GME  ) hates the very idea, because the company makes a mint on buying and selling used console games. And GameStop spokesman Matt Hodges explains my next point better than I ever could:

"We know the desire to purchase a next-generation console would be significantly diminished if new consoles were to prohibit playing pre-owned games, limit portability, or not play new physical games," he told Bloomberg.

The best way to combat shrinking sales is most definitely not to make your product less user-friendly with a higher total cost of ownership. Can somebody make sure Sony and Microsoft get that memo?

3. Apple investors fight for bigger dividend checks
Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) owns a $135 billion cash pile and keeps adding more to it with every passing quarter. That's great for Cupertino's financial security, but large Apple investors have started to question if it wasn't time to really share the wealth already.

Yes, the company pays a dividend as of 2012 and also started a modest share-buyback program at the same time. But allocating $45 billion to these programs over a three-year period doesn't distribute any of the existing oversupply of cash, given that the company pulled in $21 billion of free cash in the last quarter alone.

Nice problem to have, but Greenlight Capital manager David Einhorn thinks the company could do more. On Thursday, he filed a lawsuit against Apple to make it reconsider its capital allocation strategy.

The lawsuit is the big surprise here. The Fool has called Apple's dividend policy "stingy" since the beginning, and I agree that the company should embrace its newfound status as a value and income stock with both hands. It's just a little jarring to see legal action to push the envelope.

The massive wave of mobile computing has done much to unseat the major players in the PC market, including venerable technology names like Hewlett-Packard. However, HP's rapidly shifting its strategy under the new leadership of CEO Meg Whitman. But does this make HP one of the least-appreciated turnaround stories on the market, or is this a minor blip on its road to irrelevance? The Motley Fool's technology analyst details exactly what investors need to know about HP in our new premium research report. Just click here now to get your copy today.


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