Apple needs to prove it can still make the "creative leaps" it did in the mobile phone business, former CEO John Sculley told CNBC on Wednesday.
Investors, however, shouldn't hold their breath for that kind of bold statement to come during Wednesday's afternoon conference call following the company's quarterly earnings report, Sculley said during an interview on "Squawk on the Street."
"What's interesting is we're coming up this fall on three years of Tim Cook serving as CEO since Steve Jobs died, and this may be the time ... for his first creative leap with a product that is truly different from something he inherited from Steve," Sculley said. "That'll be a really interesting time as to whether Apple has still got its mojo."
Cook has set a high bar for new products in 2014, Sculley said, but most of them will come in the latter half of this year. That won't stop shareholders from sifting through Wednesday's conference call for hints.
Barclays IT analyst Ben Reitzes, who received hate-mail for comparing Apple's stock performance to Microsoft earlier this year, said investors "desperately" await any signs of innovation from Apple leadership.
"We hope to hear about something soon," Reitzes told "Squawk on the Street." "The stock really needs it."
Steve Milunovich, UBS managing director covering information technology hardware, noted missteps from Cook.
"I'd say mismanagement too strong a term," he said. "On one hand, Tim's done some things that even Steve Jobs might not have done in terms or capital return and being a corporate citizen, but I think it's pretty clear they missed the big-phone market. They overestimated the success of the plastic 5c phone, and all their new products come in fall with none in spring."
Still, he expected to see Apple release a new wearable device, possibly called the iWatch, albeit without all the bells and whistles at first.
Another plus for Apple is the fact that Nike has dropped out of the field.
"I do think it is a substantial opportunity," Milunovich added.
Sculley said a fully developed iWatch could bring Apple back into the ranks of innovation leaders, as long as it's more than just a "cool piece of hardware." Similar wearable tech products from Samsung and Sony failed to "wow" consumers, he added.
A potential wearable device won't move the earnings needle that much, and experts fear profit margins dropping "in a heartbeat" in Apple's mobile handset business, Reitzes said. After reaching a high of $575 in December, Apple's share prices seem stuck in a range, he added.
"Everything that Apple does has to be a little more meticulous and a little more careful," Reitzes said.
Apple could offer something different with its rumored "Healthbook" app, which tracks everything from blood sugar to daily physical activity, Sculley said. Much more potential lies in mobile payments, Sculley said. Reitzes added that using the base of iPhone users to form a global mobile payments network can provide Apple with a lasting business model and revenue stream.
Apple has most of the parts needed to transform brick-and-mortar shopping with its one-touch payments and in-store beacons under development, Sculley said.
"I have been wondering when Apple would put the pieces together," Sculley said.
Sculley led Apple in the mid-1980s and helped remove Jobs from the company. In an interview with the Times of India last week, the former CEO said he regretted the decision to force Jobs from the company he founded.
—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen. CNBC's Bruno J. Navarro contributed reporting to this article.