Arm’s Debut Sparkled. Why Tech’s Real Trial Is Still to Come.

Arm’s Debut Sparkled. Why Tech’s Real Trial Is Still to Come.

This had to be the busiest week in the tech world in, well, forever.

Apple launched new iPhones. Arm Holdings had a dandy return to the public market, in a huge win for SoftBank and Masayoshi Son. Oracle and Adobe, two of investors’ favorite artificial-intelligence plays this year, both reported earnings the market didn’t like. Sen. Chuck Schumer brought Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Sam Altman, Satya Nadella, and others to Washington for a closed-door chat about AI. Salesforce lured 40,000 people to its annual Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco, a city that’s no longer a dream destination. And the Justice Department kicked off a trial in Washington, D.C., that could change the internet forever.

That’s a lot to cover in one column. I’m going to try:

The Trial: My editor asked me which of these stories would look the most important a year from now, and, hands down, it’s the start of U.S. v. Google, the government’s antitrust case over the

Alphabet

(ticker: GOOGL) unit’s domination of search. The trial will unfold over the next two months, and a decision won’t likely come for months after that. But if the U.S. wins and stops Google from paying Apple and others for search traffic, things will get interesting.

Microsoft Bing could win more internet-search market share. Apple could decide to develop its own search engine. And it opens the door to new search start-ups, perhaps powered by generative AI.

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This story got a little overshadowed over the past week, but the events in D.C. District Court are a very big deal.

The IPO: I covered the

Arm Holdings

(ARM) initial public offering at length elsewhere, so let’s keep it short. If investors are willing to pay more than 100 times earnings for Arm, maybe they’ll be equally eager to own Databricks, or SpaceX, or Fanatics, or any of the 1,200 other unicorns now searching for an exit strategy. But beware: Arm is now the most expensive tech stock not named Nvidia.

The Meeting: I’m not sure how Schumer pulled it off, but he managed to get Zuckerberg and Musk into the same room and—as far as I can tell—no wrestling match broke out. One thing is for sure: Everyone in Silicon Valley and Washington is obsessing over AI.

Musk reportedly said there was a nonzero chance AI bots would kill us all, while Bill Gates apparently sees AI as a useful tool in solving world hunger. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Conspicuously not involved: anyone from

Amazon.com

(AMZN) or

Apple

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(AAPL).

Will there be new rules for AI? Maybe. But remember how unified everyone was about banning TikTok? What happened to that? Don’t hold your breath.

The Launch: Apple unveiled the iPhone 15, which by my count is the 18th generation of Apple’s smartphone. (There was no iPhone 2 or iPhone 9, and there were six years with half-step “S” models.)

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The big news from a feature point of view is the death of the Lightning connector; for investors, the big deal was that iPhone prices stayed mostly the same.

U.S. carriers are giving big upgrade incentives; will strapped consumers upgrade? Will China be a problem? We’ll get a first look when Apple reports earnings a month from now.

The Whiff:

Oracle

(ORCL) shares swooned 13.5% on Tuesday, the stock’s worst one-day drop in two decades, after posting financial results and guidance that left Wall Street wanting more.

Oracle shares have soared 40% this year even after the earnings nose dive, largely on the success of its cloud computing arm generally, and its AI capability in particular. That hasn’t changed.

What’s shifting is the business model at Cerner, the electronic medical records firm that Oracle bought last year for $28 billion. Oracle is shifting the Cerner business to the cloud, the kind of disruption that always hurts revenue in the short run. The Oracle Cloud business is alive and well, and the stock spent the week clawing back some of the losses. Oracle will be fine.

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The Price Hike:

Adobe

(ADBE) posted solid results for the quarter, but the stock ticked lower on the results for no good reason. CFO Dan Durn told me it was a “blowout quarter from top to bottom,” with revenue and operating margins above consensus.

The bigger news is that Adobe is raising prices by 8% to 10% to reflect the addition of generative AI features across its product line. Most Adobe corporate customers have three-year contracts; it will take some time for the full impact to be felt. The bottom line is that AI is going to help Adobe’s bottom line, starting in the current quarter. Not many companies can say that.

The Dream:

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Salesforce

(CRM) made a little news early in the week, updating its suite of AI tools and launching something called the Einstein Copilot, an AI tool that makes it easier for enterprises to use Oracle’s various software offerings. (If Einstein were still alive, he no doubt would have been in Schumer’s AI meeting.)

The company also held simultaneous concerts by the Foo Fighters and Demi Lovato. In what’s become an annual tradition, the conference closed down Howard Street, screwing up traffic in downtown San Francisco.

Sorry not sorry.

Write to Eric J. Savitz at [email protected]

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