In Apple Debate, You're Either With Us or Against Us

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Last week, Apple (AAPL) co-founder Steve Wozniak criticized the company for doing what it has always done:

Part of me wishes that Apple had not been so kind of arrogant and feeling we're the only one with the right clue . . . I wish they had made a small and a large version of the iPhone; that would have been great for me . . . Apple is now trying to run with that defense, saying "We are right," and really there's a mix of people. Not all people want the same thing and a lot of people really like the big screens.

In Apple's Cycle of Abuse, TheStreet's Doug Kass segues from Wozniak's points to argue that if Apple can no longer produce revolutionary, but just evolutionary products, it "will have gone from a disruptive innovator and category creator . . . to a company competing on the basis of run-of-the-mill hardware features."

I agree from a broad innovation standpoint, but not from an iPhone 5-specific perspective.

And let's face it, for all of the crap he has taken from irrational AAPL cheerleaders and rational AAPL bulls alike, Kass nailed the stock in an Oct. 3 column for TheStreet's Real Money Pro.

While that article triggered considerable backlash, Kass was right. When he penned the piece AAPL traded for roughly $665. If you subscribe to Real Money Pro and Kass's bearish sentiment influenced you, you could have followed AAPL all the way down to its recent intraday low of $623.55.

Anyhow, to preview a central thesis of this article -- it's perfectly reasonable to agree with one portion of a person's bear case, but take exception with another.

For example, Kass laments alleged mistreatment of the Chinese factory workers who assemble Apple products by the company's suppliers. Then he throws out a red herring of sorts, asking readers to consider how they would react if "a Walmart ( WMT) supplier was accused of" similar offenses.

Kass goes on to assume:
Many Wal-Mart customers would protest Wal-Mart for use of these suppliers, refuse to buy the products or even shop at Wal-Mart. And all sorts of scathing editorials would follow, the combination of which would force Wal-Mart to change its practices. Some Apple customers who would likely take these actions against Wal-Mart hypocritically line up days in advance to buy the latest Apple products.

That's quite an assumption.

Plus, we're all hypocrites. Apple. Walmart. Apple's customers. Walmart's customers. And any combination of the four.

Each of us, individual or entity, draws a line -- one we move at our own discretion -- that separates what we're willing to do from what we're unwilling to do. In most areas of life, especially purchase decisions, we're all walking contradictions and inconsistencies.

And, while Walmart might be a better international citizen than it used to be, it executes a business model that relies on cheap Chinese imports.

Plus, you could argue that by visiting China and speaking out on labor conditions, Tim Cook empowered Chinese workers, who have recently voiced displeasure with their situations.

But, that's a separate debate. I can't find a meaningful association between China and Apple's apparent arrogance, as defined by Kass and Wozniak.

Again, I share Kass's sentiment re: innovation at Apple. However, despite what many AAPL permabulls believe, those of us who question Apple's future do not keep one monolithic point of view.

For instance, outside of Maps, I have no complaints about iPhone 5. Criticisms over screen size are almost as outrageous as suggesting Apple should follow the lead of other companies or the consumer marketplace.

At its best, Apple dictates cool. With or without Steve Jobs, it needs to strive to keep doing that.

That's a core problem with the bullish/bearish dichotomies we assign people who debate stocks like AAPL. The entire you're either with us or against us mindset waters down otherwise nuanced situations.

Investors risk falling victim to the allure of using every negative AAPL mention to support their own bearish story line. You enter dangerous territory when you start painting the many pieces of information you receive with the same brush.

At day's end, an argument that's entirely bullish or entirely bearish is probably not the most reasonable one.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Rocco Pendola is a private investor with nearly 20 years experience in various forms of media, ranging from radio to print. His work has appeared in academic journals as well as dozens of online and offline publications. He uses his broad experience to help inform his coverage of the stock market, primarily in the technology, Internet and new media spaces. He has taken a long-term approach to investing, focusing on dividend-paying stocks, since he opened his first account as a teenager. Pendola, 37, is based in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lives with his wife and child.

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