In the eye of the beholder: Did Apple stocks underperform or is there more to come?

Tim Cook looking pensive in a suit
(Image credit: AFP via Getty Images)

When trading stopped earlier today, which effectively ended all trading for 2023, Apple stock was up 49% for the year. And at first glance, that yearly gain for Apple may seem like good news.  

But according to a recent CNBC article, looks can be deceiving. Yes, it's true that "Apple's stocks rallied in 2023." However, if you compare Apple to how other tech giants did, its gains seem lackluster: Nvidia was up 238.9%, Meta climbed 194.1%, Tesla rose 101.7%, Amazon jumped 80.9%, Alphabet gained 58.3%, and Microsoft was up 56.8%.  

Part of what hampered Apple this year was that the company "suffered its longest revenue slide in 22 years, reporting four straight quarters of declining sales." Some analysts are blaming Apple's problems on specific sectors--sales were down on smartphones and PCs across the board. However, other analysts put the blame on Apple and its strategy. For example, Apple didn't release any new iPads in 2023. Plus, this month, the company has been suffering when it had to remove two Apple Watches from its stores right before Christmas.   

Was 2023 a good year or not a good year for Apple stock? 

But those four straight quarters of declines may be why Apple is launching a number of new products so early in 2024, including new versions of iPad Air and iPad Pro tablets as well as a new M3 MacBook Air. Such a change in strategy might spur enthusiasm for Apple products. In fact, new products are exactly what some analysts, like those at CNBC, are looking for, which could help the smartphone and laptop markets recover. 

But Apple is also looking at 2024 to be a very big year for them since they plan on bringing the Vision Pro, the company's first mixed-reality headset, to market. What's intriguing to note about this introduction is that it's not that the new headset will provide a lot of new revenue, at least at first. But, "enthusiasm will be the key," says CNBC. "The Vision Pro is Apple’s first completely new device since it announced the Apple Watch, and it will be sold through Apple stores. The headset could generate foot traffic and buzz for Apple’s existing products. And there’s a chance that it catches on enough to show that Apple has the lead when it comes to the future of computing."

Of course, not all analysts were down on Apple. For instance, according to Barron's, The Wedbush Analysts's Dan Ivers noted that "...underlying mainland China growth remains strong for the December quarter based on our Asia supply chain checks and a key asset for the core iPhone franchise." He also said that Apple is still the firm's "top tech pick," thanks to "a strong iPhone 15 upgrade cycle." Additionally, Barrons says that Wedbush "rates Apple stock at Outperform with a $250 price target," up from today's $192.53.

However, in the end, it's often hard to pin gains or shortfalls in the stock market with how inventive or creative Apple, or any other tech company, will be when introducing new products. That may be in part due to the very long time frame it takes to bring new technology gear to market, from developing the concept for a new product to being able to drop that same product into a shopping cart.  

Terry Sullivan

Terry Sullivan has tested and reported on many different types of consumer electronics and technology services, including cameras, action cams, mobile devices, streaming music services, wireless speakers, headphones, smart-home devices, and mobile apps. He has also written extensively on various trends in the worlds of technology, multimedia, and the arts. For more than 10 years, his articles and blog posts have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including The New York Times, Consumer Reports, PCMag, Worth magazine, Popular Science, Tom’s Guide, and Artnews. He is also a musician, photographer, artist, and teacher.