'Apple's best days behind it'... again

Apple Store Stanford Mall
Apple Store Stanford Mall (Image credit: iMore)

"There's no question that Apple's best days are behind it." — Toni Sacconaghi, Wall Street analyst"This, too, shall pass... The future of Apple is very bright." — Apple's chief executive, Timothy D. Cook"Why oh why didn't I buy Apple stock when it was below $100." — a friend, one year ago"Apple is DOOMED. Not buying at current prices." — same friend, today

Does it matter revenue was $50.6 billion-with-a-B, or profit was $10.5 billion-also-with-a-B? Nope. Not any more than Amazon profit matters by comparison.

Full disclosure:

  1. I'm a former Apple executive. For financial planning reasons, I still own Apple stock. I like to believe it doesn't alter my view about the industry — I call 'em as I see 'em. My heart wept a little when Apple opened the day after earnings, though.
  2. I'm NOT a financial advisor or planner. If you're buying, selling, holding, or whatever, talk to your financial advisor, not me. If I knew the secret to making money beyond hard work, I'd surely be doing it, not advising anyone how to do it.
  3. I'm also not a Wall Street analyst. I take pride in that, although it hasn't made me popular in parts of lower Manhattan. A Wall Street analyst's job is to make the stock move up or down — they don't care. The firms only care if customers aren't buying or selling; that's where they make their money.

So, are Apple's best days behind it?

Tony was fed the question but he bit down on it, hard. Before addressing what he or any financial analyst had to say post-earnings, I have some questions of my own to ask...

  1. Have they looked closely at Apple's product line?
  2. Do they understand the value Apple brings to customers?
  3. Have they taken a deep dive into the core things Apple does and figured out why Apple does them?
  4. Do they understand why Apple products are constantly ranked highest in consumer satisfaction?
  5. Does anyone think that loyalty is going anywhere, anytime soon?

Apple's product lines

Let's start with Mac. iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro set the standard for design and quality in personal computing. Look no further than every review of every competing product noting remarkable similarities to Apple's lineup.

Next, iPhone and iPad. With each generation iOS devices continue to the change how we work, play, and interact in ways few other products can. Just a few years ago, if I attempted to describe the many ways iPhone is used today, and the capabilities it has, it would have seemed as probable a future as beaming up to the starship Enterprise (with apologies to Mr. Farnsworth. Kids ask your grandparents). iPad first created, and now defines, a product category that's been wildly successful by almost any normal measure. The entire tablet market is still best described as iPad, and everything else.

Then there are the platforms that run on those devices. OS X and iOS are the result of more than a decade of constant refinement and optimization for user experience. They weren't built for checklists or to run across a wide range of very different devices. They were built to increase the value of the specific devices they run on.

Services is the one everybody knocks. Apple can't get 'em right is a frequent narrative. Except services are one of Apple's fastest growing lines of business. Apple Music extends Apple's leadership in music; iCloud is a seamless experience that makes content available and up-to-date across devices; and Apple Pay is helping drive the adoption of contactless payments.

Apple's hardware, and software integration combined with iCloud is the most complete, optimized, end-to-end ecosystem on the market. It's also one of the fastest-growing personal cloud services.

Does that sound like a company whose best days are behind them? Not to me it doesn't.

Back to the future

Apple focuses on innovating a few great things that change the world first and make money second. Maybe that sounds silly or naïve, but I spent several years living on the other side of the lobby at 3 Infinite Loop, and I know the passion at Apple is real and not going away any time soon. Certainly not on Timothy D. Cook's watch.

That's not to say there aren't legitimate concerns to pay attention to.

As long as Apple's revenue and profit is primarily driven by a single product line, and that line matures and that market saturates, then sales will plateau and revenues and profit will decline.

The product I'm referring to, of course, is iPod. And what could possibly have come post-iPod to keep Apple growing and take the company to the next level?

Michael Gartenberg

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.