WWDC 2013: All About Managing Expectations
Jun 12, 2013 1:48 PM PT
There was no shortage of news coming out of Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference this week, including a glimpse at the next generation of iOS.
On the hardware front, meanwhile, the company revealed it will launch a new desktop computer and a refreshed MacBook Air line. Then, of course, there was iTunes Radio, its new streaming music application.
WWDC isn't usually the place where Apple reveals its groundbreaking products, but investors still seemed to want more out of Apple this week. The company's stock price dipped about six percent between Monday's opening and Tuesday's after-hours trading.
Even after a slight recovery on Tuesday, the stock is still trading about 38 percent below the US$700 all-time high that it hit last September following the release of the iPad mini and ahead of what investors expected would be strong iPhone 5 sales.
As the stock has descended over the past few months, investors have questioned Apple's ability to innovate to a large enough extent that Phil Schiller, Cupertino's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, even acknowledged the concerns dismissively in his WWDC address.
Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
'No More Surprises'
Apple isn't typically a company that gives in to investor scrutiny, John Feland, founder and CEO of Argus Insights, told MacNewsWorld.
However, it does seem to be acknowledging that it can't claim it has a magical new product -- like it did before it released its much-maligned Apple Maps app -- and then simply hope it lives up to the inevitable buzz.
The WWDC announcements -- mostly about products that won't launch for a few months -- seem to suggest that the tech giant is hoping it can quell some of the rumors, hype and sky-high expectations that usually accompany its events, Feland added.
"Given how long it is before these goodies come out, I think Apple is trying to pull a card from Microsoft's playbook for Windows 8," he said. "No more surprises, check to see how the market responds and have months to prepare for the transition."
Those periods of transition, possibly without the high-profile product releases for which investors are clamoring, might not be as exciting as Apple's past decade, Feland pointed out. On the other hand, they could create a base of consumers and shareholders who are more realistic about what's coming next from Cupertino -- making its stock a more secure long-term investment than it has been over the past few months.
"Apple is playing a more cautious game now with the market, providing outright road maps rather than just peeks ahead," he added. "This shift is an acknowledgement that the expectations had exceeded anything the company could deliver. Apple is trying to manage down the market expectations.
"Does this mean the magic is over? No, but it does mean the next trick won't have to be as earth-shattering to impress us," Feland said.
'Its Next Great Frontier'
One of the more talked-about announcements from WWDC was a revamped version of Apple's productivity app, iWork. It's the first feature update for Pages, Keynote and Numbers since 2009, and this one will include a new version called iWork for iCloud.
The new Web-based service allows users to view, create and edit files from a separate browser window, storing all information on the cloud instead of a hard drive.
The features, which will be available this fall, also include better integration with Microsoft Office and the ability to work on more diverse browsers, including Windows and Chrome.
It's no surprise Apple would want to improve its productivity offerings, said Sara Radicati, president and CEO of the Radicati Group.
More enterprise users are bringing their own devices to the office or hoping to use their mobile devices for business tasks when they're on the go, and that market is largely dominated by Apple's main competitors, she noted.
"I understand why their appetite is there," Radicati told MacNewsWorld. "We're seeing Apple devices get more traction in the business world, which could really open up a new market. It seems it could be its next great frontier."
An Ongoing Commitment
Just because Apple understands the importance of the market, however, that doesn't mean it's ready to compete with Microsoft's hold on the space or Google's emergence as a productivity app competitor, said Radicati.
"Productivity software of this kind is one of the hardest things to get right," she pointed out. "There is such an incredible number of small features, and then the compatibility issues and getting it right with Microsoft Office applications, that it is usually not worth the pain for vendors and their consumers."
That's not to say Apple's iWork updates aren't a step in the right direction, Radicati added.
Still, if the company truly wants to take a bigger bite out of the enterprise market, it needs to be completely committed to making incremental improvements in its offerings.
"Vendors come into the market thinking they've got a great solution, and then they can walk away and do other stuff," she observed.
In fact, "You have to be fully, fully engaged for years and years, and I'm not sure Apple has considered that," Radicati concluded. "To make it worth it, they need to make sure they are ready for a significant commitment."