Faced with a sour economy and offering products generally priced at the high end of their respective markets, Apple did what only Steve Jobs can be counted on to do: It released insanely great financial results on Wednesday. But will the profits continue?
CNN said Apple "thrashed Wall Street forecasts" for first quarter revenue and profit. And did so while Jobs is on extended medical leave, though the factors in last quarter's success were already on autopilot and had been for quite some time. It's that the company did so well in such a bad economy that makes people gasp.
Sure, Mac sales were down, but iPhone sales more than doubled and that propelled the company to greatness while most other companies were in the dumps.
Asking if this good news can continue is a very fair question. I wouldn't bet against it, but let me point to some potential issues:
1. Steve's health is the #1 overriding concern about Apple's future. He is supposed to return from medical leave in June. If he does and looks like the old Steve, Apple continues bounding forward. If he doesn't, any number of bad-to-worse scenarios play out. I won't discuss those here.
2. The iPhone benefits tremendously from a lack of real competition. Google's Android OS is a serious potential competitor, but only if Google plunges into the applications store and even music store businesses. The iPhone is a killer device because of the killer apps it runs and the killer music software and service it connects to.
3. The economy has an impact on Apple like everyone else, at least to an extent. Mac sales may not rebound soon. If the economy worsens, iPhone sales growth has to slow. Doesn't it?
4. Apple will have a lot riding on its summer product releases. We're due for an iPhone refresh that spotlights the new iPhone 3.0 software. Upgraders will help drive sales of the new hardware that we're expecting. If upgraders wait, mostly in response to the economy, Apple won't get quite the expected uptick that a new model should bring.
Taken together, my concerns two, three, and four don't add up to much. There are still huge global markets for the iPhone to conquer. China is one of them and the iPhone is headed that way. I think it will be years, if ever, before Android really competes with iPhone to an extent visible on Apple's bottom line.
Apple's sales of music and iPhone applications look solid for the foreseeable future.
So, that leaves Steve's health as the only serious concern about Apple's future.
But, even that isn't likely to have an impact on product releases for a year or two and maybe longer. I don't believe Steve can be replaced, but the company has $29 billion in the bank right now and that, plus the existing product pipeline, give it tremendous room to maneuver if it the need arises.
I cannot comment on Apple shares as an investment, but as a tech-watcher and lover of Apple products, I see no reason for serious concern except for what happens to it's cofounder. That's something only a few really know and they can't be counted on to either tell us or be straight with us.
Nevertheless, there is a ticking clock that should provide an answer before the end of this quarter. So, while Apple can seemingly do no wrong, there are certainly aspects of the future beyond anyone's control.
David Coursey wrote this post using Windows running on a Mac, just to show that he's unbiased. Write him using www.coursey.com/contact or follow his occasional Tweets.