Is Apple Plunging Off a Cliff?

When Hurricane Sandy shredded the eastern seaboard last fall, it left New York City a disaster zone: massive power outages kept most of Manhattan in the dark for days, while residents in Brooklyn and Queens struggled with widespread flooding and a lack of gasoline.

Yet the storm failed to stop hundreds of the Apple faithful from gathering at the company’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue, all of them anxious to purchase the just-released iPad Mini. Mixed in with the fans were profiteers looking to purchase two or three tablets and ship them to countries where the devices weren’t yet available, as well as a scattering of tourists from other countries wanting to secure Apple’s latest for cheaper American dollars.

Most companies would kill for that sort of brand loyalty—but it still hasn’t helped Apple weather a pummeling from Wall Street over the past few months. The company has watched its stock plunge from dizzying heights, driven by fears that its most innovative years are in the rearview mirror. Its rivals, most notably Google, are gaining significant buzz for their latest rounds of products. And despite its iPad sales increasing, Apple has lost significant ground in the tablet market.

There’s still a good deal of runway for the iPad, insofar as market dynamics are concerned: the “regular” iPad and iPad Mini cover a variety of price-points and feature sets, depending on the connectivity and memory options chosen by the buyer; and while Amazon (with its Kindle Fire) and Google (with the Nexus) have begun exploring how low they can price a high-quality tablet, it’s inarguable that Apple has an early-mover advantage that insulates it—at least for the moment—from some of its rivals’ more aggressive forays into the tablet arena.

When it comes to the iPhone, however, that first-mover advantage has largely melted away. For one thing, there are signs that the higher end of the smartphone market, long dominated by Apple, may be reaching its saturation point. Rivals such as Samsung offer smartphones at cheaper price-points, allowing them to target a deeper pool of potential customers. For another, Android and other rivals (including Windows Phone) have caught up to Apple in terms of user experience; no longer does buying a non-Apple device saddle the user with a clunky, inefficient interface and paltry apps.

Apple’s dominance of the high-end smartphone market could be having the paradoxical effect of turning Wall Street negative about its growth prospects; it’s also helping drive rumors that Apple will release a “cheap” iPhone later this year, despite the company’s existing policy of offering older models at either cut-rate prices or free with contract.

But if Apple wants to reclaim that momentum (and strengthen its quarterly earnings), it will need to launch a whole new line of business. For quite some time, rumors buzzed around an Apple TV as that One More Thing, which has failed to appear despite the increasingly desperate prognostications by certain analysts. These days, the buzz has refocused on “iWatches,” or “smart” timepieces that will… well, nobody’s quite sure, but a lot of people think Apple’s working on it.

Whatever Apple finally produces, one thing is clear: the iPhone and iPad may have turned the company into a powerhouse, but it needs something new and different if it wants to recapture some of the old glory.

 

Image: Diego Schtutman/Shutterstock.com

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