Fast Company, Don't Be So "Fast" About An Apple Decline!


I went back and forth on writing this blog, trying at once to walk that line between demolishing a cover story, and giving it more attention than it deserves. But alas, those are the struggles of today's reporting.

My angst comes from an appearance I did earlier today with Adam Penenberg, a contributing writer with the magazine Fast Companyand his cover story that hits news stands tomorrow. In the article, Penenberg details a number of headwinds facing Apple in 2008, and after Christmas, he determines that it will be a tough time for Apple and the company's stock.

The article details what he calls "major weaknesses" and a myriad of competitive threats.

But what strikes me is how this glass-half-empty approach to the Apple story is so counter-intuitive to so many of the trends taking shape in consumer electronics and digital entertainment. I don't want to be the poster boy for the Apple cheerleading squad, but I beg to differ with almost every point he's trying to make. And I'm not alone.

Following my "Street Signs" appearance with Penenberg, I got a number of emails and a few voicemails from headscratchers, wondering where this article came from.

What's more, go back a few years, to January 2004 and read an article that Fast Company did entitled: "If He's So Smart... Steve Jobs, Apple and the Limits of Innovation." That article showed Apple hitting the innovation wall, that its days as a true market and tech leader were numbered. Think about it: if investors took that article as gospel, they'd have missed out on better than $140 billion in market cap gains since, and the 110 million iPods sold over that time.

To wit, Apple's iPod business may be showing signs of a slight slowdown. But that was before the company re-invigorated the line of music players with new, potentially very compelling members of the family: the new Touch might be my favorite product of the year; the video-playing Nano; the iPhone. I might be proven wrong, but this could be a very strong holiday shopping season indeed for iPod with some analysts expecting the company to sell as many as 25 million of the devices, compared to the 20 million it sold during the holiday shopping quarter last year.

Fast Company worries that Nokia will step up in Europe and not let Apple take any meaningful market share without a fight. Well, Nokia can try, and investors certainly expect the company to do so. But to say that competition for competition's sake will automatically mean Apple comes up short is, well, shortsighted at best. Apple is entering new markets where it will be the little guy. So what. Apple's always been the little guy yet boasts a not-so-little-guy $160 billion market cap.

Penenberg makes the claim that the battle for your living room will heat up in 2008, something with which I agree. But he concludes that because we live in a world of open standards, customers won't want what Apple's selling. But iTunes and iPods are also a closed world and sales there seem to be going ok. Some consumers may clamor for those open standards, but more are interested in the ease-of-use and their ultimate, overall experience.

Apple's also almost tripled its market share in the personal computer industry since that first Fast Company article was written. I'm not saying it will triple again in the next four years, but I certainly wouldn't take the bet against either.

The fact is, there could be enormous value in calling Apple's "top." And with a stock racing the way Apple's shares have been racing, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw on-again off-again profit-taking on valuation alone. But longer term, with the technology trends continuing as they are, I think there's more value yet to be unlocked by Apple.

Questions? Comments?