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. Mr. Schmidt goes to Burma
Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt turned heads by taking a trip to Myanmar this week.
What's so shocking about that? Company leaders take long trips all the time, usually to sell something or set up a partnership in a new region. Surely, Schmidt's visit to Burma falls into one of those two categories.
But no, this is not business as usual at all. Schmidt walked into a democratic backwater that's known to punish dissenters and free-speech advocates with impunity -- and asked the government to open up free speech on the Internet.
Just a couple of years ago, this would have been tantamount to stretching out your arms and asking for handcuffs. The military junta stepped aside after 50 years in power, and the new Burma does look much healthier. Still, it's one thing to say so from the outside and another to ask for reform on Burmese soil. Schmidt also asked North Korea for more open online communications on a recent visit.
More online traffic will certainly lead to more ad clicks for Google, but Google really does seem to have a greater goal than simple profits. It wants to change the world. "Technology empowers individuals," Schmidt told Burmese students. "One mobile phone in one village can record injustices."
2. TIBCO missed again
TIBCO Software (UNKNOWN: TIBX.DL ) used to laugh at analyst estimates and shove them aside, beaten to a pulp. Then the data-analysis expert would raise guidance for the next period. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But the good times aren't rolling so smoothly anymore. TIBCO has only met or even missed earnings targets in three consecutive quarters, including this Thursday's report. This time, a modest top-line miss was followed by disappointing guidance for the next quarter. Shares plunged as much as 17% on the news, though the damage narrowed to 9.4% by Friday's market close.
CEO Vivek Ranadive unveiled friction in his North American sales operations three quarters ago and installed a new team to run the domestic show. The new staff is not getting results as quickly as Vivek might have wanted, leaving the CEO "disappointed" in another quarter of weak American sales.
The long-term story is still intact, and TIBCO still grows at a respectable pace. I became a shareholder three months ago because of mouthwatering share prices after another huge earnings-related plunge. I'd buy here if I had missed that first opportunity. But the company needs to get North America to a corporate chiropractor to straighten out a badly crooked spine.
In a phone interview, Vivek told me that giant rivals IBM (NYSE: IBM ) and Oracle (NYSE: ORCL ) have essentially given up on competing with TIBCO's features and technology. Instead, these companies win deals by promoting their "good enough" infrastructure software where you populate the entire data center with products from one company.
A competent sales team should be able to defeat those tactics with ease, but TIBCO's people don't always get the job done today. Future sales growth and investor returns depend on better performance in this area.
3. Does Ma Bell really love BlackBerry?
The new Z10 handset from BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY ) made its U.S. debut this week as AT&T (NYSE: T ) introduced it in stores and online. That's no surprise, since AT&T's Z10 plans have been known for some time and all four of the major American networks have committed to selling BlackBerry 10 devices.
The shock comes from AT&T's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the new product.
The Wall Street Journal took a field trip to local AT&T stores and came away thinking that the company isn't putting its back into promoting the Z10.
Two Manhattan stores didn't have any Z10 signs in the store, and a secret shopper had to ask employees to grab a demo Z10 from the back. AT&T workers blamed the lack of promotion on difficulty setting the device up. That's after both AT&T and BlackBerry trained store staff in how to use and sell the Z10.
That's not how you bring a dying handset maker back from the brink of extinction, folks. Let's hope the other major carriers do a better job selling this thing over the next few weeks, or the BlackBerry 10 revolution may die before it even gets started.
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