Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) made a statement for its vitality and relevance when it announced on Sept. 23 that it had just sold, in the first three days of sales, a breathtaking 9 million units of its newest line of iPhones.
It seemed like the good old days, when Steve Jobs ran the company and every product rollout contained the glitz and glamour of a gala Hollywood opening. Apple said its quarterly sales and profit margin would come in at the high end of its prior projection. Last July, Apple forecasted revenue between $34 billion and $37 billion for its fiscal fourth quarter and gross margin between 36% and 37%. As the topper, Apple’s shares climbed $23.23, or 5%, on Monday and closed at $490.64 on the Nasdaq.
But there were clouds on the horizon, and current and prospective Apple shareholders should be aware of them.
Yes, those sales of iPhones represented a terrific accomplishment. But once again, the Apple of today could be accused of living off the scraps of Steve Jobs’ record of innovation in the iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac. Since Jobs died on Oct. 5, 2011, the world has been waiting breathlessly to see the introduction of a new, equally dynamic and innovative product from the “i” folks.
Under Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor, Apple has continued to usher in various versions of previous hit products, such as what we saw on that September weekend. What about the bubbling speculation about Apple’s Next Big Product?
Where are the iWearables? With its Google Glass release, Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) has done what Jobs was famous for: Devise a product that in turn creates a big buzz in the media and, by extension, the marketplace. Google Glass, carrying an aura of status, has accomplished exactly what Jobs was able to pull off again and again: Persuading consumers that they must own a product they don't really need. Samsung has also shown it can market popular, buzzworthy smartphones.
Asked whether Apple has slowed its pace of innovation under Cook, Wharton School Professor Peter Fader said: "I don't think anyone would deny that. But it's not to say Apple is a laggard under Cook. It's just that we aren't seeing the same level of 'wow' innovation under Cook as with Jobs. Apple is doing the technical product tweaks as well as anyone."
Why does Fader believe this is the case?
"There are several obvious answers out there," Fader said. "The markets that Apple operates in have gotten much more crowded, and they're operating now against some very strong competitors. Early on, there was a feeling that Apple could do anything it wanted partly because it had such a large network of passionate, loyal users.
"Another factor is the risk-seeking atmosphere now, lots of grandmas and grandpas are Apple customers, too, and they wouldn't be the first to buy the coolest, newest products, such as a new iPhone. Apple has to be more cautious because it doesn't want to alienate that segment of its audience."
Apple Chief Executive Officer Cook shrugged off the carping and was in a triumphant mood the Monday following its sales announcement when he tweeted: “Thanks to all our amazing customers for the fantastic weekend.”
Meanwhile, followers of Apple watch and wait for progress on the dynamic new-products front. They collectively ask: Can Apple still put the “I” in innovation?