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Can Apple maintain its shine?

NEW YORK — For many investors, Apple's best days are behind it. Competitors are catching up, they believe, and the latest iPhone is stumbling.

The company's doubters have backed their conviction with billions of dollars. Last week, the stock fell below $500 for the first time in 11 months. Since Apple's stock peaked at $705.07 on Sept. 21 —the day of the iPhone 5's release— it has fallen nearly 30 percent, cutting Apple's market capitalization by nearly $200 billion.

On Wednesday, Apple —still the world's most valuable public company— gets a chance to rebut the skeptics as it reports financial results for the holiday quarter. But the report could also end up confirming beliefs that the company is losing its edge as an arbiter of innovation and a pacesetter in sales growth.

Apple's perception problem centers on the iPhone. Many investors believe the company has painted itself into a corner with the high-priced gadget. The iPhone is more expensive than other smartphones that do many of the same things. The company created the modern smartphone, but because of its strategy to sell the iPhone at a large premium, it will be unable to capitalize fully as smartphones continue conquering the world. The iPhone seems destined to remain the phone of the elite who can afford it.

In many ways, the iPhone's global battle with phones running Google's Android operating system is a replay of the Mac-PC battles of the 80s and 90s, when Apple saw its innovative-yet-expensive Mac outflanked by cheaper PCs running Microsoft's DOS and Windows software.


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