It wasn’t so long ago that Apple was considered to be a relic of the past, a company with a brief turn in the sun, but doomed to return to perceived irrelevance. While all the skepticism mounted amid Apple’s move to concentrate on modest product refreshes rather than introduce innovative products and services, clearly things were going on behind the scenes only hinted at on the rumor sites.
After suffering from big declines in the stock price last year after reportedly failing to meet financial analyst expectations in some respects — while hitting records for sales and mostly profits — Apple’s perceived turnaround began in earnest.
Well, it wasn’t exactly a turnaround, except for the stock price. It was simply a period of more gradual growth and more realistic expectations. But until Apple delivered products and services that the media or industry analysts, in their infinite wisdom (or lack thereof), perceived as significant, it didn’t count. It didn’t matter that iPhones continued to garner records sales. It didn’t matter that Mac sales growth exceeded that of the PC industry for several years.
It was never enough.
So it appears that Apple began to hit its stride once again this year at the June WWDC. It was mostly about the new iOS and OS X, but the bill of particulars seemed far more expansive than previous releases. Where it seemed that Apple tried to hard to force another 200 changes or enhancements, that number seemed conservative when you tallied up what was new this time. Of course, some media pundits claimed the event wasn’t so important. After all, it was just about software and there were no fancy new gadgets to lust over.
Where, for example, was that rumored smartwatch formerly known as iWatch? No new Macs? And what about the iPhone and the iPad, forgetting that recent years have brought updates for both in the September-October timeframe.
So why won’t Apple listen to the critics? Wouldn’t that set things right with the world? Oh, yes, Apple continues score great sales and profits, and they aren’t listening to the critics. The indignity of it all!
Earlier this year, Apple declared a seven-for-one stock split, while buying back more shares than ever. Some suggested this was just another delay tactic, designed to appease Wall Street but not addressing the core problem, which is Tim Cook’s promise of new products and services this year.
The September media event brought the expected larger iPhones, supposedly the most compelling threat in recent years to the alleged unstoppable growth of Android and Samsung in particular. It didn’t matter that Samsung had a hard time keeping sales high, particularly on more expensive smartphones, and profits were way down. They had already been crowned as a winner.
As of the launch weekend, Apple fell way behind meeting demand for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. While you can find the models you want if you check around, officially The Apple Store shows delivery times of three-to-five days and sometimes more, particularly if you want a 128GB version. It may well be that demand won’t be fully satisfied until 2015.
Regardless, industry analysts suggest that Apple will move record numbers of the new iPhones this year. Maybe they could sell more, but if the sales projections are met, Apple won’t have to apologize for a thing.
The Mac is on a roll. Although the main improvement is the 27-inch iMac with that wonderful 5K display, there’s a lot of interest in the entire lineup. Professional users who might have previously considered a Mac Pro are clearly tempted to buy an iMac instead, though certainly Apple’s costly workstation can do better with the few apps that leverage multiple cores.
All right, the same cannot be said for the iPad. While the iPad Air 2 appears to be a worthy improvement, with a slimmer form factor and speedier components, the iPad mini isn’t changed that much, encouraging some, I suppose, to just buy last year’s model if they can live without Touch ID and the other minor enhancements.
Flattening tablet sales have also made some wonder if sales going forward are going to climb all that much. Are phablets, such as the iPhone 6 Plus, cannibalizing volume sales from tablets? Doesn’t an all-in-one gadget suffice at a small sacrifice in display size? That’s not a question I’m prepared to answer, but I am warming to that iPad Air 2 that I have for extended hands-on review. I’ll have more to say when I can put a keyboard or two into service to see how it handles more in-depth productivity.
All this adds up to the promise of a great holiday quarter. Apple’s stock price has reached new highs, along with the largest market cap ever. I’m not counting the December 1 drop just yet, since it may be due to some trading glitch that’s under investigation.
Next year comes the Apple Watch, but few expect it to outsell an iPhone — far from it — even though some versions may be more expensive. Apple Pay is taking off and evidently boosting interest in other digital wallet systems.
Of course the critics continue to lurk in the background waiting for Apple to fall. But not this year.
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