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The Apple is Besieged Myth Persists

If you look at the history of Apple’s stock price, even over the past decade, you’ll see it has gone way up, reached a peak, and declined substantially. Last year, it exceeded $700 for a while, until all the bad news, mostly false, overwhelmed the message of Apple’s record sales. Even when the company essentially matched or exceeded earnings guidance, overinflated expectations from some financial analysts continued to hurt the stock price.

A perceived drought of new products for the first part of 2013 didn’t help matters. Apple introduced a lot of new gear in the fall of 2012. That should have been a good thing, but the situation got muddled when the 2012 iMac was severely backordered. A major update, it didn’t ship until after the new year, thus reducing Mac sales by several hundred thousand in the December quarter, which wasn’t a good thing. Even Tim Cook admitted he should have waited until they had a product they could ship within a reasonable timeframe.

Through the first part of 2013, aside from a very minor product refresh or two, such as a 128GB option for the regular iPad, not much came from Apple. Add to that misleading reports, said to originate from the supply chain, indicated that demand for the iPhone 5 may have collapsed. This turned out not to be true, as sales continued to grow mostly at a good clip. But it was surely sufficient to keep the stock prices depressed, and fuel the ongoing negative spin that Apple had run out of juice. After all, the CEO was a supply chain person, not a product person.

Didn’t Steve Jobs revolutionize a product category every other day? How could Tim Cook even come close?

It didn’t help that the 2012 iPhone 5 came with a buggy Maps app, the infamous MapGate affair. This was Apple’s first foray into replacing Google. The competitive reasons made sense, but the results clearly were not ready for prime time. A simple beta label and a warning prompt on first launch would have helped. After all, Google has done that very same thing, even when you open their navigation app on an Android smartphone, although this nasty truth seems to have been overlooked by much of the media.

In any case, I think Apple did do the right thing, first by having Cook issue an apology, and by giving customers alternatives. As Maps improved, the complaints lessened, although there’s still the incorrect perception that Jobs would never have allowed such a thing to happen. The pundits forget the sarcastic response Jobs gave when people complained about the antenna on the 2010 iPhone 4. That episode came to be labeled AntennaGate. Or his intolerant answer when customers cried foul when the price of the original iPhone was cut by $200 weeks after its release. Jobs remarked that this was the price of technology, before he apologized for his nastiness and offered customers a $100 store credit.

If anything, Cook should be praised for setting a respectful example for a company’s apology to disgruntled customers. But since he’s not Jobs, that’s not going to happen.

The biggest challenge currently confronting Apple is the growth of Android, particularly outside the U.S. In some parts of the world, cheap Android smartphones and tablets have come to dominate the market. A number of uninformed pundits are demanding that Apple produce cheap iPhones and iPads in order to compete, but is that a sensible idea?

It’s an unfortunate fact that those cheap Android gadgets are poorly performing, unreliable, and apparently aren’t terribly usable. That is a reason why the iPad continues to dominate when it comes to Web traffic. Cook has stated several times that he wonders what all those other tablets are being used for, since getting online is a core function. Well, maybe people who have Kindles spend most of their time reading e-books or buying stuff from Amazon. But what about tablets from other companies?

Yet the iPad received 84% of tablet-based Web traffic in the last quarter, despite the fact that the iPad’s share of the market was far lower. How does that mesh with the claim that Apple is losing luster? What are people doing with all those cheap tablets anyway?

So what about the no-name gear sold in Asia and elsewhere? Is that what Apple should be competing with? If you believe the pundits, the answer is yes. Apple should be going downmarket and selling every single gadget they can regardless of profit margins. And don’t forget that most of these bottom-feeder companies make very little from the sale of cheap gear. That’s the uncomfortable fact the media tends to ignore.

Besides, Tim Cook has said on a number of occasions that Apple will not make a cheap iPhone, cheap iPad, or cheap Mac. That’s not corporate spin. It represent’s the company’s philosophy. So long as Apple remains successful, it’s clear that approach is working. It doesn’t matter if Apple only has a minority share of the market, if that share is the segment where the highest profits are made.

So much for facts. The spin machine remains in control of much of the message, unfortunately.