How Apple CEO Tim Cook Infuriates Investors

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The recent Apple (AAPL) earnings report reminds us there is a specific agenda in mind by investors and analysts who cater to investors. That is, gain smartphone unit share growth and dominance at any cost.

The reasoning behind the agenda is as follows: If Apple can seize the upper hand against smartphone competitors by virtue of increasing unit share, then the competitors suffer and Apple dominates the market. That means that, unfettered by realistic competition, Apple can grow exponentially. That, in turn, means  Apple becomes a growth stock, insofar as smartphone sales go, and that's a significant portion of Apple's revenue.

A growth stock means that X dollars invested now will bring X + Y dollars at some short-term point down the road. In other words, Apple puts money in investor pockets. Any Apple strategy that doesn't do that is disagreeable.

That hasn't been happening, and investors are upset.

However, it was happening in 2011 when Apple's iPhone and, most notably, the iPad were doing well. Google's (GOOG) Android was much less mature. Amazon (AMZN) hadn't yet released the Kindle Fire series. Hewlett-Packard was struggling with its Touchpad, and the BlackBerry (BBRY) Playbook and the Motorola Xoom were disasters. It seemed like no one but Apple would ever figure out how to build a decent tablet. Money poured into AAPL, and the stock eventually zoomed to $700.

It also happened when Microsoft (MSFT) had 95% OS market share and called the shots, and there's a certain nostalgia for the days of market share domination. But then Windows wasn't considered the premium operating system the Mac OS X was. The analogy fails, and that's instructive.

Apple's Different Agenda

Nowadays, the Apple competition is more sophisticated and accomplished. That means Apple has to be careful about its brand. For example, if Apple were to lower the cost and value of its iPhones to increase unit share, several bad things would happen. First, in the U.S. where carrier subsidies have traditionally set a fixed customer price up front, the back-end payments to Apple would decline resulting in lower revenue.

Next, globally, where carrier subsidies are less common, the iPhone would be thrown into a price war with competitors. Demand would surge and Apple would risk not being able to meet demand for a product whose legacy had been quality but is seen to be deteriorating. That's long-term damage. Not being able to meet demand (in the short term) for a degraded product brand (in the long term) is a recipe for disaster. All too quickly, unit share would decline instead of rising.

Instead, Apple is looking at something more important than unit share, and that's unit sales. Continued growth in unit sales is a healthy sign. Here's a chart of Apple's iPhone unit sales (in millions per quarter) since the iPhone launch in 2007.

This growth curve, with a best fit, looks like the rising part of the classic Gaussian curve. Sitting on the early, growth part of the Gaussian curve means that more growth, exponential growth, is in the offing, and that's what investors should be fundamentally interested in because it reflects the long-term health and prosperity of Apple.

Continued growth in unit sales means Apple isn't going out of business anytime soon, contrary to inattentive analysis by some.

On the other hand, competing for unit share with a degraded brand and lower prices (again, unable to meet demand -- for awhile) would mean that customers would rally behind the former underdogs who would seize opportunity for leadership, and the unit sales Gaussian would start to peak and then decline too early. That means Apple's hand would be forced with regard to the timing of its new product categories, for example, the mythical iWatch or a next generation TV system.

The rising part of the Gaussian for unit sales of an existing product is the right time to be developing a future product.

The reason is that new Apple product categories disrupt current products, and it takes time to develop a quality product, in line with Apple's vision, with new technology that fits into Apple's current infrastructure and has a deep understanding of real human needs.

Lots of companies can make good enough smartphones these days. But there is only one iPhone. To gain overall unit share against all those companies means reducing the product quality so severely that Apple would no longer be such a desirable brand. The iPhone unit sales would peak early, then decline, reducing available R&D funds and forcing Apple to introduce a new product category prematurely, before it's fully baked. That, in turn, would lead to a further damage to Apple's brand and a downward spiral of the company.

Timing is everything.

But some investors would rather ride the Apple stock for all its worth, cash in, watch Apple fail, then move on to the next growth opportunity. CEO Tim Cook, being a good steward, isn't interested in that scenario.

At the time of publication the author had a position in AAPL.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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