2014: Does Apple still look doomed?
- 30 December, 2013 10:52
It's been a tough year for Apple. Company critics have been relentless in talking against it at every move. Calls for the removal of CEO Tim Cook have arisen, along with chatter claiming that the company has lost its innovative edge.
That was 2013. What about 2014?
I expect it to be a very different story. And that's not wishful thinking; I see a lot of signs that suggest Apple is going to have a good year in 2014.
For one thing, it's not just sitting by and letting all the negativity overwhelm it. That the negativity has got under Apple's skin was most clearly confirmed by company marketing chief Phil Schiller, introducing the Mac Pro (which has since sold out, by the way) at WWDC, in June.
"Can't innovate anymore my ass," he said.
In retrospect, rumblings that some members of Apple's board were concerned about " the pace of innovation" (meaning that they thought it was too slow) seem to suggest that those board members were second-guessing the decision earlier in the year to slow new product launches down until Apple could take its new creations to the tech show catwalk this fall.
The impact of that decision to slow new product introductions had an effect on Apple's finances. Relative iPhone market share declined, and Mac sales also dipped. The latter had grown at a rate exceeding the industry for more than 20 straight quarters.
Company stock fluctuated. It hit a low of $390.53 during the year and a high of $566, not far above its level on Dec. 31, 2012 ($549). Billions in company value were wiped out, then replaced. Some investors lost confidence, though, and sold out. At time of writing the price stands at $560.09.
In any event, Apple came alive in the fall. Things began with September's introduction of iOS 7, the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C. The company had been expected to introduce new phones months before, but work on iOS 7 -- and the 64-bit underpinnings of that OS -- delayed things. There were grumblings because Apple didn't meet the expectation that it would introduce a cheaper iPhone, but the company still sold nine million of the new phones on launch weekend, a record.
Fall continued with new Macs and iPads. These didn't appear until October, and we've no hard figures to rate their success -- but despite the tough economy, the prognosis looks good: NPD estimates Mac sales climbed 29% year on year for the months of October and November.
That's on the way to achieving the 33% growth seen in the 2009 December quarter, and the recent sellout of the Mac Pro suggests that the company may even have achieved what no one else seems capable of: an increase in desktop computer sales.
Apple's new iPads also seem to be making the grade. The iPad Air became the best-selling product among U.S. retailers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both key points in the annual retail calendar. And in an interesting reflection of the real value of the competition, Android users accounted for 40% of iPad sales on Black Friday. Apple's tablets took five of the top 15 sales slots at major retailers Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy.
Android users are gravitating to iOS devices because they like using them. When it comes to the iPad, Chitika in July found the iPad held 84.3% of North American Web usage among tablet owners.
This says everything about the user experience.
Perhaps analysts lost in their market-share analyses should consider the implications. These are pretty simple when you stop to consider them.
Apple is back in business, playing hardball in every product category that it has been quietly developing across the last 12 months. Mac, iPhone and iPad sales seem on course to deliver strong results at the very least.
The company's focus on combining advanced technologies in order to create remarkable user experiences works, and is working as a glue that not only helps its new systems attract customers, but also provides a platform-centric experience across mobile devices and PCs.
Apple has refined this focus this year, introducing iOS 7 and making the commitment that in future all Mac operating systems will be made available for free.
That's great on paper, but in real terms it means Mac users can expect several OS upgrades before their particular system becomes unsupported. Given the robust nature of these machines, most customers will squeeze an extra year or two out of their purchases before they upgrade.
As the company closes 2013, it appears to have got its act together. Sales are strong, the firm's financially secure while a series of patents and recent purchases shows it's taking steps to realize some of the dreams it has developed in R&D.
That's not to say the Mac, iPad and iPhone are all the company has to base its future on. Apple has a series of initiatives to put into place early in 2014, maintaining its refreshed momentum. For example:
* iTunes Radio will become international
* Touch ID seems primed to be deployed in more Apple devices
* iTunes services seem likely to be boosted with an UltraHD offering
Beyond what lazy analysis calls "iterative tinkering" with existing products, Apple has potential to extend its reach, principally through entering the newly emerging connected devices market.
Speculations concerning an Apple television and an iWatch have dominated chatter for months. Will 2014 be the year either of these products migrates from the land of speculative fantasy to enter the real world?
All we truly know comes from the lips of Cook, who in October confirmed that the company, "sees significant opportunities" in new product categories "across 2014."
Another drama has been taking place for the last few years -- Apple's battle against Samsung. In this fracas, Apple's been peddling what critics call the fiction that the Korean firm copied its ideas (and abused its patents) with its own mobile devices. Firing at Samsung across three continents, Apple has prevailed in nearly all the litigation so far, winning close to $1 billion in damages in the U.S. and most recently beating Samsung in the courts on the latter's home ground, South Korea.
Putting all this information in one big picture, does Apple seem doomed to you? To me, it seems as if the company has spent most of the year putting the pieces in place to regain all the momentum it indisputably lost upon the tragic death of CEO Steve Jobs| (http://www.apple.com/stevejobs/).
2014 will not be like 2013.
Jonny Evans is an independent journalist/blogger who first got online in 1993. He's author of Computerworld's AppleHolic blog and also writes for others in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe. Winner of an Azbee Award in 2010, Jonny enjoys new and disruptive technology and likes music almost as much as he likes his large and shiny dog.
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