Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple product launch in San Francisco. Apple sold a record number of iOS devices in its fiscal quarter, but Wall Street was disappointed by profit margins.
Apple reported quarterly earnings for its first fiscal 2013 quarter on Wednesday after the markets closed. On the surface, the results were astonishing: Apple sold a record number of iPhones and iPads — 48 million and 23 million, respectively. It wasn't able to build enough iPad Minis to meet demand. It raked in $54.5 billion in revenue and netted a profit of $13.1 billion.
But. But. But...CEO Tim Cook set investors up for disappointment during his opening comments on an earnings call for analysts. "You're going to hear a lot of impressive numbers," he said. "But the most important thing to us is that customers love our products, not just buy them."
The numbers are monumentally impressive, but Cook emphasizes that in a weird way, Apple is now relying on customers' devotion to its products — and also to the Apple ecosystem that includes software like iTunes and new technologies like the Internet-based iCloud. Were the numbers somehow not impressive enough? Why the focus on soft values rather than on the bottom line?
It's actually starting to build: the Apple backlash. A decade ago, the company was almost bankrupt. Today, it has a market cap of $481 billion, almost $100 billion cash in the bank, and a share price that some analyst think could go to $1000 by 2015, if not sooner.
Those numbers come from Apple's astonishing growth — around 40 percent since January of last year — and its equally astonishing operating profit margins: 30-plus percent. But what enables that growth and those margins is two things: cheap Chinese labor; and customers who are willing to pay a premium.
The video above is from a February 22 broadcast of ABC's "Nightline." The news program got an inside look at Foxconn, the "iFactory" in China where workers are paid less than $2 an hour for a 12-hour shift. More than a dozen of these workers have committed suicide, although it's unclear whether the working conditions drove them to it or whether Foxconn's facilities employ so many Chinese that suicides are going to be inevitable, as a percentage of the employed population.
The new Apple store at the Americana in Glendale.
Any questions? The consensus on Wall Street was that Apple would earn $10.14 a share and record $39 billion in sales for its first fiscal quarter, according to Bloomberg. Instead, it did $13.87 a share on $463 billion in sales. Eyes are still being put back in their sockets:
"Those numbers are just unimaginable," said Michael Obuchowski, chief investment officer at First Empire Asset Management, which has $4 billion under management, including Apple shares. "It’s still an extremely well-managed company and they are showing that the product pipeline is sufficient even now to generate growth rates that are unrivaled."
Apple is now pretty darn close to being a $400 billion company, by market capitalization. It currently has two major things going for it: it's vacuuming up more and more market share for smartphones, as these devices become much more popular and begin to define the future of mobile computing; and it's ideally positioned to thrive in the post-PC age, as consumers shift away from old-school laptops and desktops and move to ultrabooks and tablets.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Steve Jobs delivers the keynote address at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 6, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
It's looking more and more like Apple is going to enter the TV business. The Wall Street Journal recently characterized this as one of Steve Jobs' "ambitions." But was it really? From the same WSJ report:
In meetings as far back as 2010, Mr. Jobs met with a series of cable and satellite executives to discuss next-generation television services for Apple devices, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the questions Mr. Jobs asked in the series of meetings was how much of the universe of video content the providers actually had the rights to, according to a person familiar with the meetings.
Apple's own executives have wondered what the company had up its sleeve. Last year, at its "top 100" meeting for senior managers in Carmel, Calif., an attendee asked Mr. Jobs whether Apple was developing a television.
He responded that it would be a bad business to get into, noting that the margins on television are far lower than the margins Apple makes from its other devices and that consumers don't buy new televisions very frequently, according to this person.