Oppenheimer: 'Apple is about to embark on a decade-long malaise'

Tim CookGetty Images/Justin SullivanApple CEO Tim Cook.

Analysts at Oppenheimer just issued a brutal note about “strategic issues” at Apple.

A particularly harsh section reads: “We believe Apple lacks the courage to lead the next generation of innovation (AI, cloud-based services, messaging); instead will become more reliant than ever on the iPhone … We believe Apple is about to embark on a decade-long malaise. The risks to the company have never been greater.”

The note, by Andrew Uerkwitz and his team, is symptomatic of the new universe of negativity Apple now lives in, one that only began around a year ago.

After the company reported its first decline in revenue since 2001 on its earnings call last month, an analyst asked Tim Cook the unthinkable question: Was the company now just a follower of other’s innovations? (Cook was none too pleased with the question, or the implication.)

None of this was lost on people watching Microsoft’s recent product launch event. One theme people tweeted over and over again during the session: Microsoft is now more innovative than Apple.

On the earnings call, CEO Tim Cook also gave a terse, unhappy answer to this question from UBS analyst Steven Milunovich: “Does Apple today have a grand strategy for what you want to do?”

Apple rarely describes what it will do in the future. As Fortune journalist Adam Lashinsky said during an expert panel discussion at a recent UBS tech conference when asked about Apple’s ability to create the next big thing: “I think this is something that one cannot have confidence about. It either happens or it doesn’t. Apple [historically] went through these long periods before where there was no tangible evidence of radical breakthrough innovation.” And yet the company then went on to deliver the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

Oppenheimer’s take is nothing new. They believe that iPhone sales will peak in 2018; the company lacks the ability to raise prices across its iPhones, iPads and Mac products; and they see a clash between “Apple’s primary role as ‘the hardware platform’ … with its secondary role as ‘the software and service provider.'”

That being said, it also says: “We believe its strong profitability, a cash hoard for protection, and one last ‘growth’ hurrah from the tenth-anniversary phone will keep investors interested in the company. Our Perform rating is unchanged for now.”

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