At the time of this writing, tablet powerhouse Apple's stock hit a 16-month low. I don't have special knowledge or ability in the stock market, but these lows seem like a strong vote of "no confidence" from the investor class in Apple's future prospects. Among the major concerns is a growing sense that Apple is no longer the driver of innovation it once was, and that Android is now where the action is.
On the smartphone front, there's certainly growing truth to Apple's dwindling market lead. We've been inundated with speculation about "an iPhone killer" phone from a competitor ever since the current iPhone's release. In the current market, however, flagship Android phones stand on their own or are compared to other Androids, with nary a consideration of iPhone slaying abilities. Even on the fashion front, where the iPhone was once the domain of hipsters and wannabes, it's now the uncool device of mom and dad, as Samsung recently pointed out in a well-done advertisement. Is it time to write Apple off on the tablet front as well, as the market seems to have already done?
On sales and innovation
Looking at current sales numbers, Apple is still the company to beat in mobile, and particularly with tablets. Apple has a distinct tablet advantage in terms of sales numbers and tablet-optimized applications. However, all is not roses and astronomical sales numbers in the future. According to many analysts, Apple has been forced into a defensive position due to the large variety of tablet form factors and price ranges available running Android. The prime indicator of this fact arrived in the form of the iPad Mini, which is regarded by many as a response to competitive pressure rather than an innovative move. Even recent introductions of the iPad have done little to differentiate themselves from previous generations, beyond technical specs like processor speeds and screen resolutions.
When the going gets tough
It seems as if throwing rocks at a person or company at the top of their game has become a public fascination, and Apple is no exception. The company that was a scrappy underdog is now being shunned by investors and hipsters alike, and some portion of Apple's stock decline is due to public opinion more than any inherent flaw with the company. Apple has come back from the brink before, and it sits on a massive pile of cash that could be a potent weapon against Android and other competitors.
For the enterprise, there's still a massive untapped opportunity in fully integrated devices. Despite owning an Apple-branded laptop, tablet, and smartphone, the three devices don't communicate and only share data and services at a very rudimentary level. Competition is wide open on this front, with Microsoft, Google, and Apple offering slightly different visions of integration, but none of these companies offer full integration between devices.
If Apple develops compelling, hardware-driven integration, it could gain a leg up with consumers and enterprise customers alike. Alternatively, this integration may occur through cloud-connected software, making the tablet little more than a commodity device that connects to the appropriate cloud provider. Apple's iCloud services still lag behind Google and Microsoft, especially considering that these two offer their services on iDevices, while Apple limits its software to its own platform.
Apple still leads the numbers game on tablet sales, but its lead is declining as Android presents a variety of price points and form factors, and Microsoft attempts to reenter the category it defined a decade ago. For enterprise customers, a move toward cloud services available on a variety of platforms could allow standardized services across a variety of different tablet marques. While this may be great news for consumers and enterprises, it certainly won't help Apple's stock price.
What do you think the future holds for Apple? Will they bounce back, or is it the beginning of the end for Apple on the tablet and smartphone front?
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology, as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are Patrick's alone, and may not represent those of his employer.