Apple's marginal dilemma

Jeff Brown, Special to
Apple CEO Tim Cook at a product presentation
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Recapping the day's news and newsmakers through the lens of CNBC.

Color me disappointed


Once upon a time, in post-World War I America, experimentation with color—for car models and home appliances—represented the apex of the consumer product market. But if you're Apple, trying to maintain the innovation edge in a market that is constantly forcing the rate of innovation to increase exponentially, adding a few cool, teenage-friendly colors to the latest iPhone just doesn't cut it.

But innovation is only half of the problem. Apple is at a crossroads, and in a strict business sense, any business executive can understand the dilemma: as it tries to appeal to more of the world, the company finds itself in a battle between maintaining profit margins that make investors salivate and growing global market share.

To big-name investor Carl Icahn, though, all this debate is marginal to the real story: Buy Apple shares, because they are just getting cheaper while market and tech gurus debate its demise.


"At some point in this game, Apple has to make a strategic decision. Eventually, they have to choose market share or margin. And $550 [for the iPhone 5C] is not how you maximize your market share."
—Max Wolff, chief economist and strategist at ZT Wealth

"Just how far behind is Apple trying to fall? I do not get Tuesday's release and product launches. Something is just wrong."
—Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners Management

"It's just extremely cheap."
—Carl Icahn

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While supplies last


As interest rates continue their seemingly inexorable climb higher, the door is beginning to close on the cheap-debt party that corporate America has been throwing. But the bash is going out in style, with Verizon's $49 billion record-setting bond deal.

The end of the party could mean a sprint to the exits for companies that have come to depend on the fixed-income markets to finance operations, buy back stock and goose earnings.


"That tells you we're in a tremendous credit boom. The Verizon deal just kind of solidifies that view."
—Brian Reynolds, chief market strategist at Rosenblatt Securities

Source: Tiffany | Facebook

The rich keep getting ... you guessed it


Nothing breeds success like success, and the financially successful keep doing better and better. The richest one percent of Americans, households earning more than $394,000 a year, now account for the largest share of all household income since the Roaring 20s, 19 percent. And the top 10 percent account for 48.2 percent of all income.

A 20 percent spike in the 1 percenters' income last year, versus a 1 percent gain for everyone else, was largely due to investors' cashing in before higher tax rates took effect in 2013.


"We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable."
—UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez


It's you, but not a better you—yet


How can you have a personal touch with employees without actual meeting and greeting each one? Try "telepresence"—using a robot stand-in. So far, these mobile contraptions aren't as realistic as the ones in "Surrogates," the Bruce Willis movie. In fact, today's machines are more like rolling fireplugs with laptop screens for heads.

But the gizmos are ready for prime time, and the market is growing. The idea is for the boss to sit at his desk (or on his yacht) and have his mechanical alter ego roll up to the employees' cubicles for a little face time. Firms like iRobot, which makes those auto vacuums that bump their way around the home, are jostling for market share. Of course, telepresence won't be much use in a real cutting-edge business, as the telecommuting employees won't be there, either.


"I'm trying to give you [the boss] the experience you would have if you were there in person. It could be bigger than everything else that we've done. Easily."
—iRobot CEO Colin Angle

Cynthia Yeung wants to create Happiness Labs for communities through the Millennial Trains Project.
Source: The Millenial Train Project

How much is enough?


The richer may be getting richer, but it doesn't mean they are any happier than the rest of the world. You work hard, you climb to the top, you might think you would get all the happiness money can buy. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that money will buy happiness, as the saying goes. A new book, "How Much is Enough?," reinforces this old maxim, concluding that happiness is a result of health, education, leisure, friendship and harmony with nature.

Though money can make some of those factors more accessible, stupendous riches probably won't buy significantly better health, education or leisure than run-of-the-mill prosperity will. So, hey, baby, slow down and smell the roses.


"A good life is a life that contains these basic goods and once you've got enough money for those, you have enough—so to carry on working for more is silly."
—Edward Skidelsky, co-author of "How Much is Enough?"

—By Jeff Brown, Special to