The more things change, the more they stay the same. At Macworld Expo, the event that the rest of the world calls the annual gathering for the Cult of the Mac, Steve Jobs unveils what Apple has been hiding, and the world celebrates by drawing lines in the sand.
We’ve come a long way since January 7th, 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Wall Street commemorated the momentous occasion by closing AAPL at $4.375, down from $4.4675 the day before. Obviously, the financial analysts weren’t impressed by this move. Not very many of them were raising price targets like they have been doing in recent years.
Warp to January 15th, 2008. Steve Jobs announces, among other things, the MacBook Air, Time Capsule, iTunes movie rentals, and added iPhone and iPod touch functionality. AAPL closes at $169.04, down from $177.72 at the open. Certain media “pundits” complain about “lackluster” announcements and the absence of iPod growth numbers. PC users slam the MacBook Air, pointing to underpowered specifications.
So what else is new?
OK, so the current price of AAPL probably has more to do with the overall market malaise concerning subprime mortgage issues and recession probabilities than any specific news item from Steve Jobs’s keynote. But increasingly, a new digital divide is becoming apparent: those who have a clue about Apple, and those who wannahave. Long-time Apple watchers will understand when I say that Apple is not conducive to superficial analysis. It’s true that you have to be somewhat of an “Apple follower” to keep track of the company, not so much in the sense of blind-faith that the clueless keep accusing us of, but in the manner of buying and using Apple products over the years, and observing how various personalities and policies influence Apple’s direction at key turning points.
Because Apple is such a hot news item these days, lots of people are writing about the company. It almost seems not to matter that the analysis is wrong, only that hot Apple-related keywords are included so that the publications get reader traffic, and financial analysts get paid for “saying stuff.” To be fair, there are also many good writers and analysts out there, but for this month’s article I wanted to do a little exercise and see if we can’t get away with being a clueless analyst. You can also try this at home with family and friends. Let’s begin:
To start, I’m thinking we should completely dispense with what we honestly think. Since the objective is just to spew out controversy and get read, it’s better to be all negative. It’s easy to be negative. Like Sam Rayburn said, “Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build it.”
So, here’s how I really feel:
- The MacBook Air could be the hottest computing item of 2008. So hot that, in fact, I bought one (really!). I expect long wait times ahead in the next batch. The key thing about an ultraportable is not so much its size but its weight (in my opinion). If I am happy carrying around a small stack of paper (and I often do), then the MacBook Air should be no problem. It’s not for Final Cut Studio. Just lightweight business and daily tasks.
- iTunes movie rentals are the killer application for the Apple TV. This is so obvious I feel embarrassed to even mention it. I expect Apple TV sales to start taking off now, limited primarily by HDTV penetration but the prices of the latter consumer item are coming down and becoming increasingly affordable. Decoupling Apple TV from a Mac is genius. Think how many iPod owners use the device with a PC.
- Time Capsule is a great idea, but I need to be sure its wireless storage mechanism is flawless before I give it five stars. It seems expensive, but actually pricing is very good, considering everything you get with it.
- The iPod touch and the iPhone are set to keep morphing into the silver bullet gunning RIM and Palm. RIM is really going to feel the heat and Palm is already as good as dead.
And since we’re going negative, we need to take these four points and turn them around, even if we don’t actually believe any of the following crap that I just made up:
- The MacBook Air is a dead-on-arrival dud. Its screen is too large and the specs are too wimpy. While Apple has been doing well in the higher-end notebook segments, it is missing a great opportunity in the subnotebook segment. Executives will prefer the ultraportable form factor of a smaller computer with the familiarity of Microsoft Outlook on Windows.
- There is still no compelling story for the Apple TV. It remains an interesting Apple experiment and won’t sell beyond a constrained group of early adopters who buy anything with an Apple label on it. People who can’t wait to watch a movie will go to the cinema. Those who want to watch it at home will buy it on the day of the DVD release, not wait 30 days. Finally, those who are sufficiently savvy to hook up and configure an Apple TV and muck around with digital video formats will just as likely get their fix from BitTorrent and watch the show on their PC.
- Time Capsule is a solution looking for a problem. It is overpriced for what it offers. Other vendors are giving the market much more affordable 802.11n gear, and very few home users need gigabit Ethernet. If they are using “n” then why would they bother with wired LAN? Wireless storage is also reported flaky and unreliable by users.
- Apple’s upcoming SDK and the enhancements mentioned at Macworld for the iPhone and iPod touch are gimmicky. The real market is the enterprise, and executives are extremely happy with their BlackBerry devices. Microsoft will never make it easy for Apple to connect to Exchange, which is the cornerstone of enterprise e-mail.
So, what do you think? Good enough? I hope I sounded fairly professional and critical. It’s so easy to slam things.
Now, to wrap up the negative piece, we need to say something bad about Apple in general. So we need to pick some low-hanging fruit. A cheap shot, if you will. How about sales numbers? It’s always easy to go negative on sales numbers. Much harder to go out on a limb and be bullish. So, just scramble together some more crap and we get the following:
- While the iPod has been a major (even primary) catalyst for Apple earnings growth, it is becoming evident to this analyst/writer/blogger/paid shill that the market is at risk of being saturated and growth acceleration is not likely to sustain. With unimpressive product announcements from Macworld Expo, our/my/my dog’s near-term outlook for Apple is unclear.
Translation: A lot of people have bought iPods (duh!). Saying something is “at risk” is saying nothing (markets are always “at risk” of something), and besides, who really knows what the saturation point is? We are not talking copper sulfate in chemistry class. And as for outlook, we have no idea how these new products will do in the market (duh!).
So, whaddya think? Good enough to sound like we got a clue, when we actually don’t?