THE UNTHINKABLE QUESTION

Tim Cook. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/ Getty Images for RFK Human Rights.

Apple hit its targets in its fiscal fourth quarter, but the stock fell as investors seemed unimpressed with the company. 

Apple’s unit shipments in all its major products  — iPhones, iPads and Macs  — shrank in the fiscal fourth quarter.

But the moment that best defined the company’s current predicament came during the conference call on Tuesday, when Apple CEO Tim Cook fielded a remarkable question from an analyst and reacted in what can best be described as a defensive manner.

The analyst started by pointing out that Apple hasn’t released a major new product in a while, and then asked: “Does Apple have a grand strategy for the next 3-5 years? I know you’re not going to tell us, but do you have one?”

Cook responded by saying: “We have the strongest pipeline that we’ve ever had and we’re really confident about the things in it but as usual we’re not going to talk about what’s in it”

The answer was standard Apple boilerplate language for these kinds of questions. But it was hard to miss a sense of annoyance in Cook’s voice, particularly since he didn’t follow up with any lighter comments.

Then something really interesting happened.

An unthinkable question

The analyst followed up by pressing on whether Apple has a grip on its strategy or if it simply reacts to changes to the market. 

“We have a strong sense of where things go and we’re very agile to shift it,” Cook said tersely.

It was a striking sign of how much Apple’s reputation has changed from even just a few years ago, as the company experiences three quarters of declining revenue and struggles to unveil a new, game-changing gadget.

Apple was the undisputed leader of the tech industry during the Steve Jobs era. It would have been unthinkable for a Wall Street analyst to have the temerity to ask whether the company has a grand strategy or simply reacts to others.

Apple is the maker of the iPhone. It doesn’t react to others. It sets the agenda.

But these days, the Wall Street analysts who asked questions on Apple’s call on Tuesday aren’t taking anything for granted. As a group, they pressed the company’s leadership for more information on the direction of the company — like the long-rumoured Apple Car — or details about its financial operations. 

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