Tech Retrospect: BlackBerry's new (for now) CEO and Twitter's magical, mystical IPO
Can't keep up with the tech news? Don't worry, we'll get you up to speed with a rundown of all the biggest stories this week.
Tim StevensFormer editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Tech Retrospect. This is the first of what will be a weekly feature here at CNET, a feature designed to get you up to speed on what happened this week and, more importantly, to help you put it all into perspective. With the fast pace of news, it's difficult to stay in touch with the big happenings on any given week, and sometimes it's even harder to find a context for it all. Read this on Fridays (or, at your leisure over the weekend), and I promise you'll be the sharpest tech pundit at your water cooler of choice -- whether that be physical or virtual.
BlackBerry's new (interim) CEO
This week started with a bang as BlackBerry dropped what I consider to be the biggest story of the week, that its $4.7 billion deal with Fairfax Financial was no more. The plan had been to take the company private again and begin some radical reinvention, but within days of its announcement, doubts began to swirl. Indeed, it will never happen. Instead, the company will be getting a $1 billion infusion to help it soldier on, and indeed Fairfax will be providing a fair chunk of that cash.
As part of the deal, a new CEO is coming, with Thorsten Heins heading off over the horizon, saying he will continue to be "BlackBerry's biggest fan" -- making us wonder what role Alicia Keys is to play in this new structure. Taking over as interim CEO is John Chen, a man who is flush with respect after turning ailing database vendor Sybase into a successful enterprise services company. That's an impressive feat, and the hope is that he can do the same for BlackBerry.
As to how long he'll hold the reins at the company, or indeed what his plans are, we don't know, but he did indicate that he won't rush off to join the Android brigade, saying that he needs to "preserve the reason why BlackBerry is around." I think creating the best damned portrait QWERTY Android handset on the market would be a pretty good reason, but let's wait and see what he comes up with.
Twitter goes public
The other big story, and certainly the one that received the lion's share of the news cycle on Thursday, was the Twitter IPO. A company built upon 140 characters lead to a $14.2 valuation this week, with shares initially priced at $26. Conservatively, as it turns out, as they opened at around $45 and, after a quick spike to $47, closed at $44.90 on the first day of trading. For a few moments, Twitter share prices were higher than those of Facebook, a company that saw its stock price go flaccid on its own IPO day last May. Perhaps that goes to show there's value in brevity.
Google's barges become slightly less mysterious
On the Google side of things, tech pundits and prognosticators have been frothing at the mouth for weeks about four mysterious barges built between 2010 and 2012. The four vessels (cheekily named BAL0001, BAL0010, BAL0011, and BAL0100) raised speculation about floating server rooms that use seawater for cooling, bobbing party havens where Google employees could let loose, and glamorous Google Glass showrooms to showcase the company's wearable future.
It's that last explanation that seems closest to the truth, though Google doesn't seem to be quite ready to tell us everything about them, issuing a terse statement that the company is "exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology." And that's it. Maybe Google itself really doesn't know what to do with the things -- or maybe it wants to get in a few more private parties before opening them up to the public.
Speaking of Glass, the headset received its latest monthly update this week, and it finally knows what you mean if you ask for directions to places like "home" or "work." This was a feature curiously absent in the voice recognition before. Google also announced a series of hackathons and developer support meetings to help foster development for the nascent wearable ahead of its expected consumer release next year.
PlayStation 4 disassembled
We're just a week away from the Sony PlayStation 4 launch, and hopefully you're as giddy as I am about the long-awaited release of a proper new generation of consoles. (Sorry to say that I don't count my Wii U.) This week, Wired got an exclusive look under the hood of the PS4, revealing a predictably densely packed box full of circuitry and a surprisingly small cooling fan. The cooling unit on the Xbox One is considerably larger, which in theory will make it much quieter. We're just a few days from finding out which will be the least-obnoxious presence in your home entertainment center.
Sony also announced its list of entertainment apps that will be available in the PS4 at launch, and it's an unfortunately short one. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu will all be there, HBO Go and YouTube will not. More will surely come. And, finally on the new console binge, the PS Vita received an update to enable PS4 Link, which turns the handheld into a second-screen experience for the console. I can't wait to try this out.
While Twitter's share price leaped to new heights this week, Tesla's has been floundering. The all-American EV manufacturer suffered its third Model S vehicle fire, all within the past two months. It's a disconcerting sequence of events, but a curious one, given that the car has been on sale for over a year now.
Tesla has been very transparent and forthcoming with its reports on the previous two, and we expect the same here, but it goes without saying that if the company doesn't come up with a recall and a fix soon, it risks losing some of the amazing good will it has developed among consumers -- and media.
'Episode VII' gets a date
Finally, let's wrap up with something light: two quick updates from Hollywood. First, the next "Star Wars" film, "Episode VII," is currently slated to hit theaters in December 2015. Yes, you have two years to wonder (and worry) about what a Disney-infused, J. J. Abrams-helmed Star Wars is going to look like -- and to ponder just how sassy the offspring of Han and Leia will grow up to be. And, the "Lego Movie" official trailer hit YouTube. It's embedded here for your viewing pleasure. If you had already written this off as a dumb money-grab that will insult your childhood (as I did), I encourage you to give it a click. It actually looks quite charming in a "Wreck-It Ralph" kind of way.