The future of Apple: will it be doom or boom?

The future of Apple: will it be doom or boom?
Apple - don't believe everything you read

Honestly, you'd think Apple was back in the bad days of the early 90s. Analysts left, right and centre are predicting that the company will fall into ruin if it doesn't release its own version of whatever the latest obsession is.

'Knowledgeable' observers revel in telling us that Apple can't make the same innovative products under Tim Cook that it did under Steve Jobs, or that having lower sales figures than cheaper alternatives means imminent collapse. It's just a matter of time, apparently, yet the refrain that 'Apple is doomed' is nearly as old as Apple itself.

Why are there articles full of this kind of thing? Some do it because they don't like Apple's philosophies, some for the attention and some because they believe it, no matter how many times it doesn't come true. Join us, then, in an act of wanton self-flagellation as we pick our way into the steaming pile of bullet-points, half-formed ideas and fundamental misunderstandings to look at just now very much not doomed Apple is…

Baffling with percentages

It's easy to follow percentage figures – they're so nice and clean. For example, figures from market intelligence firm IDC say that the iPad's share of the tablet market was down from 38.2% in Q3 2012 to 33.8% in Q3 2013. What a clear statement. It's definitely bad for Apple, right?


iPad's market share is down but the figures need to be looked at

Indeed, Business Insider's Steve Kovach wrote in his article "Apple is about to blow it in tablets too" (having already 'blown it' in smartphones, of course) that "Samsung is poised to crush Apple in tablets using the same strategy it did to win in smartphones." The strategy in question is "to essentially flood the market with as many different types of tablet as it can", and Kovach believes that the IDC figures show that it's working.

But here's the thing about those IDC iPad percentages: they mean almost nothing. All the companies involved have started making more tablets and sending those to stores, and that's what those figures are based on (not already sold tablets – so they don't represent the total tablet ownership).

Also, they don't even tell you how many of those tablets were actually sold to customers, rather than just languishing on shop shelves. But when of all the other companies combined manufacture more tablets than Apple does, it makes Apple's figures go down, regardless of how well Apple is doing, or how badly the others might be selling. Indeed, it's thought most non-Apple tablets are sold in the very, very cheap category (think £200 or less) as, basically, portable video players, rather than lightweight computers like the iPad.

Let's consider, for a moment, another figure for market share: online usage. Web analytics firm StatCounter announced that 74.5% of worldwide online tablet use that it tracked was from iPads. So the figures for actual use are rather different to those of what may or not have been sold in one quarter, funnily enough.

Blown it

It's the same story with the understanding that Apple has "blown it" with phones – Samsung has indeed sold more phones recently, but sales of iPhones are still growing, just like iPads. Let's look at some usage stats again, this time from marketing company Smart Insights. It says that 59.6% of smartphone web traffic comes from iPhones, with 39% from Android. A different story, and neither it nor the iPad figures above take apps into account, where mobile and tablet users spend a huge amount of their usage time, and Apple is widely out in front on.


iPhone sales are growing but Samsung still outsells its rival

Really, neither the usage stats nor the sales figures tell the whole story – between phones being passed on as hand-me-downs, cheap phones and tablets being sold but barely used and general confusion in the numbers, the conclusions you can draw are limited. Which is absolutely fine – it just means that you can't really suggest that Apple is struggling from them.

"After a decade of innovation, the company's well has run dry," declared Howard Gold of the Wall Street Journal after Apple's last earnings call. It's a common complaint, and one that's often countered by pointing out that Apple's biggest innovations have come several years apart – it's not fair to demand a game-changer every year.

This is, of course, true, though it is ignoring just how fertile the mid-2000s were for Apple: there was a major new product category or fundamental shift coming every year, from the Mac mini in 2005 though the Intel switch, the iPhone, the Apple TV and finally the MacBook Air in 2008.

Then came the iPad and Retina displays two years later in 2010. Since then, you could argue the iPad mini and Mac Pro are big additions, but largely, Apple has released products that iterate on what's already there. The question is whether more new product categories are what's needed to sustain the company, or whether it can keep growing by improving what's there.

No innovation

Sometimes you feel that there's an air of frustration or impatience behind claims that Apple doesn't innovate any more. Products such as the iPhone and MacBook Air were so exciting when they were introduced – they were barely believable! People want to see that again, and when that comes dressed up as analysis is where things go awry. Does analyst Trip Chowdhry from Global Equities Research seriously believe that Apple "They only have 60 days left to come up with [an iWatch] or they will disappear", as he told CNBC? "It will become a zombie, if they don't come up with an iWatch."


Still no iWatch but Apple seems to still be standing

Those 60 days ran out 19 May and Apple is still doing pretty well at the moment. Regardless, it really feels like what Chowdhry and others want is for Apple to turn existing ideas (like the watch or TV) into products with iPhone levels of impact. Rene Ritchie of iMore laments that this won't happen: "There isn't a business as big as the iPhone, not for Apple, not for anyone, and there won't be again."