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Expo Update #3: Wall Street Isn’t Impressed

One of the biggest dangers of the pre-Expo feeding frenzy that surrounds Apple Inc. more and more these days is that it’s nearly impossible for the company to fulfill the financial community’s hopes and dreams.

No matter what the company does, some people way just say it’s just not enough. Now last year was an exception, because, with the unveiling of the iPhone, Apple introduced a whole new platform, or at least new for the company. The looks and interface were striking enough to impress both analysts and regular folk alike, and that contributed to the unexpectedly high sales figures out of the starting gate and throughout the rest of the year.

Sure, there are a few less truthful tech writers who claimed that Apple cut the price by some $200 because sales hadn’t met internal expectations, but that’s clearly untrue since the magic one million sales figure was reached just a few days later. And those alleged journalists still haven’t apologized for their gross misstatements, which is quite typical.

Already there are claims that Apple may not have met expectations for Mac sales during the December quarter, although preliminary reports indicate they are up 30% over last year. That, may I remind you, is way ahead of the industry average.

I suppose they want Apple to always walk on water, and if they end up taking a boat instead, something is wrong in Cupertino and the stock market price must tank appropriately.

Now it’s perfectly true that the shaky state of the U.S. economy, partly the result of problems with sub-prime mortgages and insanely high oil prices, is enough to cause the bear market. So perhaps the drop in Apple’s stock price from its historic high of $200 was to be expected regardless of the outcome of the Steve Jobs keynote. There was, perhaps, little Apple could do to pop up its stock price.

Of course next week, when they reveal their actual quarterly financials, you may see the stock reverberate appropriately, depending on the nature of the information. Apple had an optimistic guidance, and Wall Street has added to the figures, so it may be a blowout quarter regardless. How much of a blowout is anyone’s guess, and only Apple knows for sure right now. If it’s perceived as not quite enough, well, the stock price will remain stagnant or renew a downward trend.

Or maybe it’ll just happen for no reason at all.

In fairness to Apple, too much romanticism and expectation is invested in the company. If every single new product isn’t an absolute home run, well, they are losing their mojo. At least that’s the theory.

However, it’s a theory seems absurd on its face. Whether the products are perceived as classy or dull isn’t as important as how they actually sell. Certainly the Cube was thought of as something trend-setting because of its unusual shape and carefully delineated molded plastics. But it was overpriced and sales were mediocre.

It’s not that Steve Jobs won’t admit when a product isn’t succeeding. Take the Apple TV, which had a tepid reception in 2007. He got his crew to reinvigorate the gadget with new software and the ability to mate with a TV and let you buy and rent movies and music without the need of a PC. To drive the point home, they are making the new features available as a free update for existing users and also cut the price by $70.

Then again, most anything Apple produces can be controversial. The iPhone was faulted because there was no initial support for third-party software, a status quo that’ll be remedied next month. Now the MacBook Air is being faulted because it has a sealed battery, limited peripheral ports and no internal optical drive, let alone Ethernet.

The question that should be asked about Apple’s thin and light note-book, however, is whether it’s suited to the market for which it is designed, and that’s probably the committed road warrior, plus folks who just want to make a fashion statement. A product of this sort requires certain design tradeoffs. By providing external support for an optical drive and wired networking, Apple is allowing you to have it both ways but still have something that’s slim and light.

The real concern, though, is whether such a thin design is breakable in the field. After all, note-book computers are guaranteed a rough life. How will the delicate-looking MacBook Air sustain daily use and abuse. I have no idea, but it doesn’t hurt to buy an extended warranty with any note-book.

Personally, I think that Wall Street ought to be pleased that Apple is moving along nicely, thank you. What do you readers think?