Demand for Apple's new MacBook Pro seems to be strong despite criticisms that the "Pro" moniker overstates the capabilities of the new device. It's a good computer (I'm writing this column on it) though the touch bar is not a game changer.
iPhone 7 sales continue to be strong thanks to a generous gift by Samsung - an iPhone 7 seems like a great alternative to a device that explodes in your pocket. And with rumors of iPhone 8 already percolating from tech journalists (AMOLED display and wireless charging), the next year looks good for Apple.
I continue to be buyer of the stock for our clients as I believe this cash rich company still trades at a cheap valuation. Cash flow is huge and the company will benefit from any tax reduction from a Trump administration on repatriated foreign cash.
I have written several columns about the wisdom of owning Apple; I still believe this to be the case. Even so, I fear Apple is losing some of its shine. Based on what I have observed in the past 2 years, the company is beginning to appear iterative in nature rather than more focused on innovation. Yes, many have uttered this suspicion; now I'm adding my voice to the chorus. I'm not convinced this is the case, but I'm beginning to wonder out loud.
Technology companies certainly should focus on iterative development of products to take advantage of built-in upgrade opportunities from existing users. But the future for technology companies must be to innovate and create products that we don't know we need until the device shows us otherwise.
That's what happened when the iPhone was released and it created a revolution in the cellular business. That's what happened when the iPod was released and changed the way music was consumed. The iPad revolutionized the consumption of media and web content. Bravo on these past successes. Now the question is 'What's next?'
Over the last several years we have seen the Apple Watch, Apple TV, and iPad Pro all vying for attention as the next big thing. Turns out, as of now, those devices don't seem to be game changers. Over the next several years, Apple needs to produce game-changing products that reflect a spirit of innovation. There is a market hunger for creativity from Apple.
Easier said than done to be sure but that should be the goal. Tim Cook has promised that there are amazing technologies under development and I want to believe. I want to believe that Apple will not slip into being a highly efficient company with mature product categories; in the end that will lead to average results.
Apple users are loyal but they have their limits. As other companies innovate, users may move on. Headlines from the technology press extolling the virtues of other computing products as a substitute for a limited RAM MacBook Pro illustrates that Apple cannot count on loyal users forever if they don't deliver innovation.
It was unthinkable in the past that Microsoft could be mentioned as a competitor to Apple in terms of innovation. However, that certainly appears to be the case as evidenced by its Surface Studio product line. Sure, they won't sell these by the boatload but it's at least relatively bold.
While Apple milks the iPhone cash cow, which I expect to occur for the next couple of years, let's hope that in the dark recesses of Apple laboratories there are innovative products that will see the light of day. Maybe they will include products related to augmented and virtual reality, automotive products, and who knows what else. Maybe there will once again be that "One more thing" surprise and Apple investors will be reassured.
Something bold and game changing would be a welcome injection of optimism for Apple investors. I just wanted to say it out loud as an Apple optimist; Apple can't rest on its laurels and the marketplace will not wait forever for innovation. There are lots of other bright individuals working at hungry companies looking to take market share. I still have faith in Apple to deliver huge profits and still am a buyer for our clients. But around the edges, I'm just a little concerned. Not in panic mode, but just a little restless for something to underscore that Apple is about more than efficiency and iterative products.