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Saturday, 14 September 2013

Will Apple (AAPL) become the Blackberry of 2014? The signals coming from the company’s R&D department are quite worrisome, for the objective eye.

It was again Apple-time last week, with product presentations on Tuesday, 10 September 2013. Rumour had it that one or more new iPhones in the 5-series would be presented by the Cupertino (Ca) based brand Apple (AAPL).

This would not be a second too early: the competition of the iPhone, consisting of the Android-driven brands Samsung, LG and the new Chinese (!) luxury phone brand Huawei had not stood still.

During the last years, the aforementioned brands have turned from trailers with a substantial technological arrears into the sweethearts of western youngsters, with their enduring preference for the most advanced smartphone models. The products of especially Samsung turned from phones that were ‘just not good enough’  into larger, thinner and more technologically advanced smartphones, with bigger and brighter led screens. On top of that… these phones were sold at lower prices than the very expensive Apple iPhones, for comparable models with an comparable amount of memory.

At this moment, Apple is yet the top-dog in the telephone industry: the brand has still the highest margins in the business and it is steadily turning from a hardware-driven ‘manufacturing’ company, into an apps-driven software trading company.

The company earns container-loads of money, through its bestseller iPad and its exclusive, closed operating systems for iPhone, iPod and iPad, which forces customers to buy all software via Apple.  The company’s iTunes store, with its exclusive sales licenses for Apple apps is a real sales killer.

Reputedly, the company, with a stock value of about $350 billion, owns about $200 billion in cash alone. This money is  waiting to be spent on innovation and new products: truly amounts that some merchant banks would kill for in these trying times.

At the same time, formerly important brands, like Sony Ericsson and Motorola, have still not caught up their arrears upon Apple and Samsung. And the new ‘Batman and Robin’ combination Microsoft/Nokia can only earn back some of its lost credit through the presentation of telephone hardware, software and apps(!), that are really new, good, innovative and competitively priced; when they fail to do so, they should shut up and just fade away. For Blackberry, the lights seem already to be dimmed forever, unless nothing less than a miracle happens.

Nevertheless, Apple can certainly not rest on its laurels, as its competition a. never sleeps and b. changes all the time.

Since the death of its founder, the company and its product presentations have made a somewhat lackluster impression, as if the company is still mourning about Steve Jobs’ untimely passing away. CEO Tim Cook seems more like someone ‘looking after the shop’, than like an innovative and uncompromising giant, who pushes the company firmly up into the 21st century. Although nobody expected Cook to be exactly like Jobs, it seems that he is very much unlike Jobs in his presentation and day-to-day leadership.

Still, maybe September 10 would be the date that Apple would leave all these worries behind and strike back at its competitors with a grand slam drive. Therefore, last Tuesday was a date that all Apple adepts and gadget-lovers had written in their agenda’s with bold letters and three exclamation marks.

It became a disappointing day, from my point of view…

There was indeed the long anticipated product presentation of two new smartphones by Apple: the iPhone 5s and 5c. The iPhone 5s, with a sales price of $199 (with a contract), must become the flagship of the company, while the 5c is meant as an nicely priced, basic model ($99; also with a contract): an iPhone for everybody who wanted to own an Apple, but couldn’t afford it yet.

The flagship iPhone 5s  is available in space gray, gold and silver and it has a 64 bit processor, new state-of-the-art sensors and phone unlocking / iTunes ordering through fingerprint recognition.

The ‘cheap but classy’ iPhone 5c has a plastic, damage-resistant cover, which can be purchased in a number of primary colours. It virtually brings back the good ole’ days of Nokia’s classic 5110 phone.  

Nokia 5110 from 1997
Picture courtesy of Nokia
Click to enlarge
But that was about it!
  • No bigger screens with Ultra-HD graphics;
  • No sexy, soft and slender look-and-feel, turning the phones of the competition into ‘refrigerator-like' antiques;
  • No Sennheiser hifi, studio microphones and high-end Infinity surround speakers with built-in THX-system;
  • No 30 mPix camera’s with continuous, ultra high-speed video of IMAX-quality;
  • No anti-gravity stimulator, Enterprise warp-drive or any other gadget out of this earth, which would put Apple back where it belongs: lightyears in advance. 

It all wasn’t there, while Apple’s would-be customers were hoping and begging for gadgets like these and Apple’s competition was shaking and tooth-grinding in advance.

Consequently, it was (again) a disappointing presentation. So disappointing in fact, that it even brought Microsoft in action, in order to put some salt in Apple’s wounds. An action that would have caused loud, scornful laugther in Cupertino only two years ago, but probably now will lead CEO Tim Cook to pull a wry face.

And then I thought by myself: will Apple become the Blackberry of 2014?

A brand that had a headstart and had been leading the pack for a number of years, but just lost its touch?! Trailed by a competition that had been more eager, innovative, efficient and hungry, than the brand itself?!

Although I’m not a user of Apple products (except for an antiquated iPod from 2004), I respected the boundless innovation, marketing power and infinite smartness of the brand, brought to it by the genius business-man and visionary Steve Jobs. The iPhone, which I always considered to be too expensive ( I am a Dutch scrooge), was nevertheless a sales monster that turned the whole telecom industry upside down. Just like Blackberry did it in its days.

But it seems that Steve Jobs passing away at one hand, and the enormous influx of cash flows from iPhones, iPads and the iTunes-store during the last decade, has made the brand lazy, reflective and self-satisfied.

Of course, the influx of cash flows from the iTunes store will remain for a number of years: people, who currently own an iPhone or iPad, will continue to purchase new software for their devices. This will keep the revenues in the green territory for at least two to three years.

Yet imagine: what will the 17 year-old, pimple-laden western adolescent do, when he wants to purchase a new smartphone from his hard-earned holiday-earnings?! And what will the Japanese and Chinese gadget-lovers do, when they enter a telecom shop?!

Still, purchase an iPhone?! Or perhaps, look a little bit further?!

That is the question that all owners of Apple stock must ask themselves, this fall.

1 comment:

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