Apple ended 2012, Tim Cook's first full year as CEO, with a whimper. Analyst, blogger, reporter and social commentator puppy-love adoration gave way to persistent angst-questions about what's next and why the stock, which soared in September, soured through most of fourth quarter. Shares closed at $549.03, 22 percent down from the 52-week high. I can only describe 2012 as Apple's year of iteration and wonder where will be innovation this year. After all, the bitten-fruit logo company has a reputation to live up to.
By the financials, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company is the golden child. Starting in 2010, money poured in faster than the US Mint could print greenbacks. Apple takes in more cash than any other tech company ($156.51 billion during fiscal 2012), commands the largest market cap ($516.47 billion) and sits on a cash horde of at least $120 billion. But these capital gains come from past strategic investments, lucky timing (transition to the so-called post-PC era) and brilliant brand revival marketing and product execution. For the long haul, I predict that 2012 will be remembered as the year Apple stumbled -- as companies often do at the height of success -- and in this case following the tragic loss of its visionary cofounder.
Tim Cook smiled as he pulled up the blankets and shook his toes against the cool sheets. Christmas Eve had come and the last Apple Store closed. Preliminary sales were gangbusters. Wall Street analysts betrayed him with lowered share price targets and projections iPad and iPhone sales slowed. But he knew! Cook laughed and kicked his legs under the covers. The best fourth quarter for sure! Occasional giggles broke the silence until at last -- long last -- sleep became him.
But briefly, for rattling chains startled Apple's CEO from slumber. Chunk. Chunk. Chunk. The clanking grew louder and an ominous dragging sound with it. A frightening wail followed. Pain. Great pain! Then through the wall pushed out an apparition. Ghastly yellow eyes squinted behind a face sullen, sunken and seemingly familiar. Tattered black turtle neck and blue jeans -- the uniform worn by his predecessor and mentor. Realization pierced Cook, and he felt a burning hot fire in his solar plexus. Steve Jobs!
For more than a decade I've quipped: "In business perception is everything". For some brands, this axiom is truer than for others. Apple leads the list, much to its determent. For more than a month now, I've read speculative stories from all quarters trying to figure out why the company's stock tailspins. Some people blame the fiscal cliff, others taxes. Meanwhile, the anti-Apple crowd delights in rumors iPhone sales are slowing and the mini cannibalizes iPad 4 sales. There's an aura of doom that I can only describe as the anti-reality distortion field.
Earlier today, Apple shares briefly dipped below $500, a low not seen since around Valentine's Day. Bloggers are beside themselves posting about this catastrophe -- or so they see it. I laugh, because they are a large part of the company's falling stock price problem. All these stories contribute to negative perceptions that feed the frenzy. That's one part of the answer to how someone nicked an artery and Apple bled about $200 per share, or 27 percent decline, from September's $705.07 record high. These bloggers were, and still are, detached from reality -- like analysts covering the company. Just two months ago, the Apple Fan Club gloated about projections of $1,000 a share. Now they run around like street people holding signs "The World Ends Dec. 21!" as shares slip and analyst cut back projections.
Does anyone really like to be bullied? Is arrogance something most people aspire to achieve, or behavior socially embraced? You know the answers. But these qualities too much describe Apple since its sudden success starting in 2010. The company continually sticks a middle finger in the face of competitors, judges, partners, the patent system and pretty much anyone or anything else. The corporate attitude is a disaster underway that, unless checked, will ruin reputation long in the making.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based company makes many of the same mistakes Microsoft did during the late 1990s. Apple's most valuable commodity is its brand, which is being squandered at alarming pace. For a company for which so much stock share value derives from perception, the risk is huge.
In a statement announcing an executive reorganization, Apple on Monday announced that its senior vice president of iOS software, Scott Forstall, and its head of retail, John Browett will both be leaving the company.
The executive shuffle is being done to "encourage even more collaboration between the Company’s…hardware, software and services teams," according to Apple.
According to a story on the Russian Interfax news site, some Russian Christians have taken to defacing, or replacing, the logo on their Apple products because it’s "anti-Christian" and insults their faith.
While to you or I the logo just looks like a Golden Delicious that’s had a chomp taken out of one side, to some radical Orthodox Christians, including some priests, it apparently represents the original sin as described in the Bible, where Adam and Eve disobey God by noshing on some forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Apple is on my mind again, with the company hosting a big media event tomorrow presumably to unveil iPhone 5. I'm not seriously thinking about buying the smartphone, certainly not sight unseen. I'm super satisfied with Galaxy Nexus -- if not, I'd move to a LTE Android, perhaps HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III. Rather, iPhone 5 is good time to assess my personal Apple boycott, where I sold off all my fruit-logo gear in protest of patent bullying.
Until July, I was a long-time Apple user, starting with the December 1998 purchase of the original Bondi Blue iMac. Then about six months ago, Apple's persistent competition-by-litigation tactics finally made me mad. I also had grown sick of Apple media bias that borders on the insane. How crazy? Yesterday, Washington Post explained "How Apple’s iPhone 5 could singlehandedly rescue the US economy". Bad is worse -- today, extending this economic lift to US presidential elections, Nextgov (a product of the National Journal Group) asserts: "How the iPhone 5 could help re-elect Obama". These are people I really don't want to associate with. (Say doesn't the president use BlackBerry?)
Uncertainty hung over Apple's fiscal third quarter coming into today's earnings announcement. Gulfs widened among analysts for overall revenue estimates and about how many iPads or iPhones were sold. No one expected poor performance, there was just more uncertainty about what and where than more recent quarters. Fiscal Q3 will be remembered as sea change coming, as Apple missed Street consensus for the first time in years and iPad sales surged against iPhone.
For fiscal third quarter, Apple reported $35 billion revenue and net profits of $8.8 billion, or $9.32 a share. A year earlier, the company reported revenue of $28.57 billion and $7.31 billion net quarterly profit, or $7.79 per share. Apple announced fiscal Q3 results after the market closed today.
The last thing Google needs following its exciting developer conference (ending today) is for something sharp to pop its big fun beach ball called Chrome. The search and information giant scrambles to fix a bug that sends the newest MacBook Air into kernel panic. That's "crash" to you Mac layfolk.
Starting just shortly after the release of Sandy Bridge-powered Macbook Airs earlier this month, troublesome reports appeared on Apple’s support communities where, owners complained their slender machines crashed to the point of kernel panic -- and frequently.
For as much emphasis as Apple puts on its mobile ecosystem, the company's Mac business continues to grow. At WWDC 2012 in San Francisco on Monday, Apple unveiled its latest upgrades to the Macbook line of personal computers, bringing out new versions of the MacBook Pro and Air lines, and introducing a new subset of MacBook Pros that carry the higher resolution Retina display.
Aiming to fight Apple's MacBook Air on one of its primary advantages -- its size -- Lenovo on Thursday introduced its Ultrabook, claiming it is thinner than Apple's signature ultra-thin laptop.
Indeed, at .6-inches thick, the Lenovo Ultrabook U300S comes in slightly thinner than the Air's .68 inches. The laptop is part of a broader effort introduced by Intel in May to revive interest in laptops overall. The chipmaker is rightly worried about tablets, a device category Intel does not have a strong foothold in. Thus pushing these ultra-thin laptops has become a major part of its current business strategy.
Intel has a big problem, and senior executives know it. Ultrabooks running its processors and Windows cannot compete with MacBook Air on price. There's a strange offing coming, when Macs, which for so long cost more than Windows PCs, will be the value choice -- that's assuming Apple chooses to pass savings on to customers rather than be extra greedy about margins.
Wintel OEMs can't compete on price because Apple realizes cost advantages inherent to its end-to-end development, manufacturing and distribution model. These smaller powerhouse laptops aren't cheap to produce, but it's two secret ingredients in Apple's recipe that will prove decisive.
Rumors about an impending MacBook Air refresh engulfed the web this month. If you believe them, Apple is poised to make the thin-and-light laptop its flagship portable. Oh yeah? So why not grab some market share, too, by lowering the price where mere mortals could afford to buy one? With Intel bringing on UltraBook as clear MacBook Air competitor, it's reasonable to wonder about Apple's response.
I asked two analysts, Roger Kay and Stephen Baker, for their response to the headline's question, but I was more interested in Baker's opinion. In the past, he strongly advocated Apple releasing a $799 Mac.