2. Can Apple survive, and how?

Since it made a top last September, Apple’s share price has crashed more than 40%.

Now, what lies ahead for the ex Wall Street darling? (published 25th March 2013)

Can Apple survive, and how?
By JF Susbielle
Published in the Singapore Straits Times on March 25th 2013

Since it made a top last September, Apple’s share price has crashed more than 40%. The chart shows the company's stock is now in bear territory, with prices having broken a 4-year trendline in December 2012. The powerful wave that started in early 2009 at $100 and carried Apple’s share to $700 has expired.
Now, what lies ahead for the ex Wall Street darling?
Keeping the stock price as a reference, picture four scenarios and evaluate each likelihood. In the first, we imagine Apple’s share price returning above its 2009-2012 trend line. That would require a new magic game-changer a la Steve Jobs. The second sees Apple resume a healthy – though slower – growth rate. In the third, Apple will keep dropping until it finds its long-term footing as a premium niche brand. Last, an apocalyptic scenario sees Jobs’ “reality distortion field” retracting all the way to where it began in 2009.

Apple chart

Scenario 1: a new visionary bang
To convince investors to push Apple’s stock back above its glorious trend line (currently at 550$), it would take one very special kind of event: a new major game-changer. Steve Jobs’ genius visionary skills rested on two secrets. First, focus exclusively on the user interface – the user experience – for that’s where innovation really matters. Remember how Jobs rightly identified the mouse-operated graphic interface (1984 Macintosh), then the capacitive touch-screen (2007 iPhone and 2010 iPad). The second secret is – don’t rush an immature product onto the market. Keep it in under lock and key for couple of years until it is completely mature and perfect out of the box. That also lends time to patent as much as you can.
Today, everyone knows Jobs’ little secrets for turning a near-bankrupt company (Apple 1997) into the most valuable one of all times
As we speak, the entire IT planet is frantically searching for cutting-edge innovations in the field of user experience. And a lot is left to be discovered: eye and gesture tracking, augmented reality, wearable devices… Those guys at Samsung, Nokia, Sony, Motorola, LG and other HTC have been badly humiliated. Once. This time, they are back with a vengeance. They know what to look for, and where. What are the chances of Apple taking the market by storm again?
Probability: 2%

Innovations Scenario 2: a bigger picture
Steve Jobs didn’t leave a magic wand behind. But his legacy doesn’t end there. Ask the industry what they felt after realizing what Apple had quietly built: “Hey, but we're not competing with a phone out there; we're fighting an entire eco-system!” Indeed, the iWatch, iPod, Iphone, iPad, iMac and the elusive iTV are more than just media devices. They operate in synergy and are entry points to a big picture, a service architecture that aims at answering every daily expectation.
The Holy Grail of global players like Amazon and Google whose dream is to act as middleman in all digital transactions.
Is Apple serious about keeping its advantage in this competitive business? In fact, it has become too obvious that the company’s ‘big picture’ was there mostly to support iPhone sales and its fat profit margins. So can Apple surprise with a killer synergy between TV, watch, tablet and phone? Can they turn an even bigger picture?
Probability: 13%

Apple ecosystem

Scenario 3: back to the premium niche
Between market share and profit margin, Apple must choose. Now.
Because today, 5” screen with full HD resolution and 13Mp camera are standard specs. What is there to wait for the next iPhone iteration? Apple must envisage a strategic retreat and think of itself as a premium service company. Swiftly.
If a plan for a low-cost iPhone ever existed, it must be called off. Apple would lose its best asset: an exclusive brand name, a sophisticated image associated with style and peerless user experience. Can iDevices succeed where Macintosh failed to grab a substantial market share? Yes, because 2013 socionomics are different from the 80’s. And a $135Bn cash reserve is enough to turn Apple from a growth stock into a premium company distributing generous dividends to its shareholders.
The question is, will Apple’s management concede?
Probability: 60%

Margin or share

Scenario 4: the ever-shrinking “reality distortion field”
Alas, the strategic pullback to the premium niche has come too late. For failing to decide between market share and profit margins, for refusing to fold Jobs’ grand master plan, Apple has lost it all.
In Asia already, a nasty trend is in place. Disloyal kids, with their parents following, are ditching their beloved iPhone en masse. Too small, too old: in a word, dated. And when fashion swings, youngsters don’t want to be left behind. The tide retreats as violently as it comes. And the next wave brings a new set of winners. Apple’s image might even turn negative. Being caught with an iPhone would look so uncool, so yesterday! Could Apple retract to where it started in 2009, at 100$ a share?
Probability: 25%

Various phones

©JF Susbielle May 2013

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