Finally Apple has crumbled back under $600 as its descent resumes. Maybe you can blame it on the infighting that broke into public view in recent days with Tim Cook firing Scott Forstall, his competitor for Apple's top banana when Steve Jobs resigned days before his death. Or maybe recent fohpahs reveal deeper problems and competitors coming on strong.
Press reports suggest that Forstall was as mercurial and difficult as Steve Jobs was known to be. Recently, Forstall was on the hot seat for Siri, the speaking assistant that sometimes works and sometimes garbles everything, and the dismal failure of Apple Maps as released on the new iPhone 5.
Also canned was Cook's own recent hire of John Browett, as head of retail stores, only months after he was brought into the company from the UK's Dixon Stores. Browett tried to apply some cost cutting measures to the stores against which store employees rebelled and he reportedly didn't mesh into the Apple culture. Apparently, Browett just wasn't cutting Cook's mustard so one hopes the door doesn't hit him on the way out.
Press reports indicate that Apple has become the same sort of warring tribes workplace that once king of the hill Motorola had become years ago. And, we know a decade later that Motorola is now losing money hand over fist as a division of Google. A once innovative culture became a corporate morass. For sure, GOOG bought it for its expansive, first mover in cellular telephony, patent position. Google has the added problem with Motorola of producing smartphones in competition with its Android licensees who are building devjces that consumers are finding far more attractive than Motorola's designs. Think the Samsung Galaxy S 3, for example.
Sir Jonathon Ivey has long been in charge of Industrial Design, or the brilliant hardware side of Apple design. Mrs. Steve Jobs has described him as well as Scott Forstall as part of the Apple Core so vital to the company's extraordinary success. There has been concern of late that the software end of things which Forstall was running is not so tightly focused in its execution of one very central software design concept across all platforms and software packages.
When it comes to consumer products it is not hard to be dislodged from the top dog position. Motorola had its flip phones and then its RaZr devices that were in very high demand ten years ago. They held a high market share position that was superceded by Nokia and more recently by Apple. Google is actually the dominant smartphone platform at this time but it is spread across several manufacturers. It does show that most people do not buy an Apple smartphone. I believe, and we will soon see if they can deliver, that the combined Nokia/ Microsoft effort will be successful beyond current sub basement expectations.
Yes, I love my iPad and take it with me everywhere. I don't really want a Mini with its smaller screen. But, at least once or twice a week I am infuriated that I am trying to access a website that is being served up using Flash and I cannot see the slides on a conference call or access retail information from a merchant. I'd much prefer to have a table that will allow me to access the other Windows programs that I have used for years, even if they look different and I have a learning curve to absorb. I'd like to be able to easily coordinate my Outlook calendar with other devices.
So I am queuing up for the Lumia 920 which isn't yet for sale in the U.S. but will be available for sale any day now at ATT (or they will miss the Holiday Selling Season). Reviews for its camera are fabulous and that is very important to me. The Geeks seem to love it and it is a fresh operating system, a description that objective observers seem to think no longer applies to Apple. U.S. Telcos are also looking for a third very viable alternative to the outrageous prices Apple has been charging. So if Nokia/Microsoft products take off, Apple will suffer from declining selling prices and margins.
Surely Tim Cook knows that it is hard to stay at the top in his industry. Steve Jobs was unique in the degree to which he was a visionary. His gift was imagining things we never knew we wanted. It sounds as if Tim Cook is an assertive corporate type, put in place to control those with vision who trained at Steve's right hand. He's made his calls this week to control his warring tribes. It will be interesting in a decade to see where Apple fits into the landscape. If devices take three years to nurture, manufacture and bring to market, then Apple has another decent couple of years to proceed with Steve's ideas. After that, they are on their own. Maybe that is why Apple's success has not been rewarded at its peak with an outrageous multiple.
One last thing is that today is the last day for many investment pools and mutual funds to complete their year. Owning Apple was a big winner this year, particularly until the last month. Many fund managers were willing to do anything to support the stock to retain their 2011 performance. That ends with October year end closings. No need to have Apple as a core holding any longer. What was great about Apple for anyone running institutional money was that the price was so high (like Google, too) that if you bought a few shares you spent a lot of money without having to purchase millions and millions of shares. hose folks have put something of a floor under the stock until now. that will slip away now as many of them rush for the door.
Joan E. Lappin CFA Gramercy Capital Management
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Mrs. Lappin, Gramercy Capital and its clients own shares in Nokia at this time.