This was not supposed to happen to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL). The world's biggest company by market value and the most successful consumer electronics company had had invincibility conferred upon it and should never have missed analysts' quarterly financial forecasts. Its share price should continue to defy gravity and must never come under the kind of pressure it's faced in the last few days. Apple disappointed us by appearing to be all too "human."
Who would have thought that? Apple's sales have more than doubled in just the last two years and are projected to top $156 billion in its fiscal year ending in September. That would represent an astonishing 263 percent increase from $43 billion in fiscal 2009. But as some observers have pointed out, Apple's roaring success is, ironically, behind its latest slide. What company can continue to grow 30 percent or more annually, year-after-year, without tripping? Apple's growth came at the expense of its competitors, and anyone expecting them to just stand aside as a rival ate their lunches doesn't understand the capitalist system.
So, here are the bigger lessons from Apple's earnings miss. First, it confirms the company can't walk on water. That should have been clear to everyone, but many in the electronics industry, the investment community, and the general consumer community were beginning to see Apple as infallible. Even now, there are those saying Apple's latest problem -- if one could call it a problem -- offers a buying opportunity. I am not an investment analyst, but after years of monitoring events in the high-tech and economic world, I know Apple will trip up again. It shouldn't surprise anyone.
In fact, Apple is facing too many hungry competitors not to occasionally or regularly fail to meet inflated expectations. Plus, boiled down to its core, Apple's business model is based on the success of a handful of products. The iPhone, for example, accounts now for more than half of the company's sales. Sure, it's a winning product, but will it forever continue to wow the market? And when it fails, what else will Apple use to maintain its stranglehold on the wireless handset and tablet PC sectors as rivals catch up, which they inevitably will?
If I were a supplier to Apple, I would be concerned about its product rollout schedule, and I would be looking eagerly for ways to diversify my revenue base. Analysts insist that Apple will bounce back in the fall when it is expected to introduce the latest update to the iPhone. It's possible that the second calendar quarter revenue miss happened because buyers were holding off on buying the iPhone because they want the updated device. But this is a bad business proposition. Even if many of its potential customers are happy to wait six months or more to get the latest product, other consumers will simply opt for the alternative. And, in this case, there are plenty of alternatives.
One final lesson here for the entire wireless communications industry: No single company has successfully stayed atop the leader board in wireless handsets for as long as, say, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has dominated the semiconductor industry. I believe a new market leader is bound to emerge within years and eclipse Apple in wireless handsets, and the smartest components executives should be trying hard to identify and warm up to the next market leader. This may be Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), which has already become the top wireless handset vendor in the world, but still lags Apple in the amount of profits made from the sector.
I will even go long and say Apple's leadership of the tablet PC market, too, will end in the next three to five years. Today, researcher Strategy Analytics announced Apple overwhelmingly dominated the tablet PC industry in the second quarter, with its share of the market rising to 68 percent of the 24.9 million devices shipped. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android-based tablets were flat at 29 percent, and overall shipment increased 67 percent for all devices, according to Strategy Analytics:
Apple continued to shrug off the much-hyped threat from Android and the iPad's global tablet share is at its highest level since Q3 2010...
Global Android tablet shipments grew by more than half to 7.3 million units. Despite high expectations for companies like Amazon, Samsung, Acer and Asus, the Android community has yet to make a serious dent in Apple’s dominance of the tablet market. Unspectacular hardware designs, limited uptake of cellular models and a modest number of tablet-optimized services have been among some of the main reasons for Android’s mixed performance so far.
Just as it reigned atop the smartphone market for years before Samsung caught up, Apple will be dominant in tablet PCs for a while longer, but rivals are bound to catch up. Google's Nexus tablet and Amazon's Kindle will help whittle down its leadership. Just as Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) zipped past Motorola Mobility Inc. (NYSE: MMI) but then lost its crown, Apple's domination of the smartphone market has already ended (Samsung now ships more smartphones than Apple), and it will eventually lose the profit trophy, too.
It's only human, after all.