Apple’s earnings call this week carried a subdued tone. CEO Tim Cook talked a lot about the past as if it were ancient history. Apple rumors that once stirred unpredictability were summarily dismissed. More realistic forecasts would be set.
It’s still a great company, and Cook shouldn’t be faulted for the stock swoon. In fact, Cook is the perfect leader to wind down Apple’s decade of wild expectations and magical creations: iPod, iPhone and iPad. Cook is a supply chain and operations pro who rightly understands that Apple is a different company without Steve Jobs.
Thus, Cook is ushering in a new era at Apple, one of a well-run company making smart business decisions and producing massive profits. Under Cook, Apple will serve up realistic forecast ranges rather than a lowball number that Apple would hit out of the ballpark time and again. He has set his sights on huge markets such as China, not so much hyped-up products.
Such a massive transition will take time, and Cook tried his best to sound like the old Apple. “We’re working on some incredible stuff,” he said. “The pipeline is chock full. I don’t want to comment about a specific product, but we feel great about what we’ve got in store.”
His words rang hollow, and Wall Street battered Apple’s stock despite record revenue of $54 billion. The message was clear: The Street no longer sees Apple as a super-growth company delivering blockbuster products with regularity.
But before the Apple faithful shed too many tears and the Apple fanatics angrily take to the blogosphere, there is a silver lining. It’s going to be okay. Really. Apple will continue to make great improvements to its best products, and everyone will be happy with Apple for a good long time.
Cook and crew are pretty savvy and will probably do a fine job following innovations in the market. They’re just not going to be the ones who lead it. Instead of someone who, in the words of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “skates to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,” Apple will be like Microsoft and stay back, observe from a distance, and then skate with all its marketing prowess to where the action is.
We all remember when Michael Jordan retired or “Cheers” ended or “Happy Days” jumped the shark. It’s tough to admit that great companies, too, have a natural lifespan when it comes to peak performance. As the good ol’ days come to an end, there’s always a feeling of loss and a fear that we’ll never witness greatness again.
But then Kobe Bryant came to court. “Seinfeld” put us in stitches. And a new tech company will rise to inspire us.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.