Is Apple Back From the Dead?

August 12th, 2016

I don’t know if this makes any sense, but for months, some members of the tech media and financial pundits have been pretty much calling Apple nearly dead and buried. Any time now, and the recent drop in iPhone sales — and similar results for the Mac platform — clearly indicate the company is in trouble. Lots of trouble.

Or at least that’s the claim, although it is one that I do not regard is correct.

However, it’s clear Wall Street was concerned. After reporting the first-ever dip in iPhone sales for the March quarter — and indicating the same would be true for the June quarter — a shaky stock price became shakier. While Apple isn’t the only company to report lower sales from time to time, it is a company that is supposed to be bulletproof. What that means is that it’s supposed to be immune to market forces or global economic conditions. Or at least that’s the illusion created by some.

Since Apple no longer walked on water, it must be somebody’s fault, and that somebody must be Tim Cook. How could it be otherwise, since he’s the CEO.

Indeed Tim Cook has been under fire almost from the very first day of his tenure as Apple CEO. Well, it didn’t happen when he became a temporary or interim CEO when Steve Jobs was alive but ill. But when it all fell in his hands, perceptions changed. Part of that was because he was not a product guy, but a supply chain and numbers guy, and thus was supposedly incapable of leading Apple.

After all, how could it be otherwise in light of roller coaster ride on the stock market? But it’s not as if that didn’t happen before even when Jobs was around, so that’s not it. Certainly the fact that Apple had a good run of almost uninterrupted sales increases, particularly when the iPhone was involved, certainly set a high standard.

It’s not that Cook’s reign was necessarily perfect. Consider the Maps debacle, where the first release of Maps for iOS, the debut of Apple’s home-brewed services, brought with it a torrent of criticism. Directions were wrong, 3D images were wrong. How could Apple do such a bad job?

Now maybe Apple didn’t quite grasp the scope of the task they undertook, or expected too much of data partners. Regardless, Cook apologized for the flawed release, promised to do better. He even listed alternatives, such as Google Maps. The person in charge, long-time Apple executive Scott Forstall, got his walking papers. Now supposedly this had more to do with personality conflicts rather than a single product or service failure. But it was a huge step meant to repair the public relations nightmare.

It actually didn’t quite work, because some members of the press continue to this day to complain about a problem that has been largely resolved. It was a huge lesson in humility, however. If Apple merely labeled Maps as a “beta,” same as Siri for quite a while, perhaps the reaction would have been more measured. It would have given Apple an excuse for a badly-implemented service, although that was poor consolidation to anyone who found themselves in the wrong place because of getting incorrect directions.

According to published reports, Apple’s public beta programs are the direct outgrowth of the problems encountered with Maps. By giving over a million customers a chance to try out new operating systems before release, potential disasters will be headed off at the pass.

Not that problems don’t occur with Google Maps. But that’s Google, so it doesn’t receive near as many brickbats from the media.

In any case, since Apple’s last quarterly financials weren’t as bad as some expected, the stock price has risen and continues to rise. This doesn’t mean that the financial headwinds are over. Clearly they aren’t, but it does help that iPhone sales are still rising in some parts of the world. A recent report revealed improved sales in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Not enough to overcome the problems in China, but enough to demonstrate that Apple is not suffering from some sort of fatal disease.

It didn’t hurt that Tim Cook did took a marketing journey to China and India  to check out the local market conditions and do some face-to-face PR. The meeting in India included that country’s Prime Minister, and Cook managed to cement a deal to open Apple Stores there. It was also reported that Apple might manufacture some stuff in India too.

More recently, Apple invested $1 billion in Didi, a ride-sharing service that is regarded as China’s answer to Uber. Does that have anything to do with Project Titan, and the efforts to build an Apple Car or an autonomous driving system for other car makers? Perhaps the investment will make it easier to deal with that country’s government and red tape, but it may also give Apple a test platform to set up a network of self-driving vehicles. Indeed, is that Apple’s end game? To build self-driving taxis?

All right, maybe I’m thinking again of the “Johnny Cab” from the 1990 sci-fi movie, “Total Recall.” But it is too early to reply know where the still unannounced Project Titan is going. In the meantime, that investors have more confidence in Apple is encouraging.

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2 Responses to “Is Apple Back From the Dead?”

  1. dfs says:

    I’d like to think you’re right about the public beta programs, but I’m not completely convinced. This assumes that anybody in Cupertino actually reads and reacts to user feedback. The reason I’m a bit cynical is that I’ve participated in a couple of other beta programs, and normally participants are advised what features are new and therefore should be pounded on. The lack of similar instructions from Apple seems a bit ominous.

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