What Tech Company is Healthier Than Apple?

on January 25, 2013

When it comes to understanding the stock market, I acknowledge I am no expert. I am not a financial analyst and my research is not directed at those making stock bets. Yet if I was to put myself in the shoes of a financial analyst or someone looking to make long term bets on tech companies, I would have to wonder what company is a better long term bet than Apple? In my opinion there isn’t one.

I do industry analysis and not financial analysis, however, my work often results in very company specific analysis. I do quite a bit of scenario planning as it helps guide our trend and strategy reports. I can say with quite a bit of confidence that as I survey all the current players in the technology industry, Apple is the one I worry the least about. In fact my only concern for Apple is that they are having trouble keeping up with demand. Their earnings call revealed that Apple was supply constrained in almost every product category. Apple could not make enough products fast enough.

What other company has this problem? Apple has this problem in the tens of millions of devices per quarter range and in the foreseeable future hundreds of millions of devices per quarter. The level of scale for the precision engineering of Apple hardware is unprecedented in consumer electronics. I can’t think of a single more elegantly designed piece of hardware that was mass manufactured to the degree of the iPhone.

I remain confident, as I look at the strengths, weaknesses, executive management, competitive landscape, and the core strategies of all the companies in the technology landscape, that Apple is among the few I am certain will still be relevant and in the game 10 years from now and for much longer.

Others Going Vertical

A question I look at as I analyze specific companies is who is building a strategy to be a long term company. Many tech companies develop strategies and create corporate vision in the 3-5 year range. Many also don’t even go that far as they are only planning 1-2 years out. There are a rare few companies who strategize a bit longer and Apple is one of them.

Yet if you look at some of the core strategies of those who I think are thinking longer term, you will note that they are headed down a vertically oriented path—just as Apple is. Microsoft will inevitably get into more hardware business, Lenovo has their own smartphone OS in China, Samsung will invest in its own middleware solution and Google owns a smartphone and tablet hardware company.

Companies today are faced with the reality that a hardware only business model is not sustainable. That business model always results in a ruthless race to the bottom. Companies who can add unique value at the software and services level can protect their hardware efforts. In mature markets the vertical model is the most sustainable and defendable model there is. So it is easy to see why others are on the verge of going fully vertical the same way Apple has been for decades. Which brings up an interesting point and it gets to the question of my columns title.

Almost every major company who is thinking long term is headed in a vertical direction. This is a model that Apple has used since the beginning. To put it another way, Apple has decades of experience executing the very model that many companies are hanging their future on. This does not mean that others will be successful implementing a vertical model, only that they believe it is the way forward.

There is a massive land grab and Apple does not need to own as much land (market share) as others in order to have an incredibly large and profitable business. If Apple simply acquired and maintained 10% of the global smartphone market (when it is saturated) they would ship five times as many iPhones as they currently do. I believe Apple will get and maintain a larger piece of the global pie for smartphones and tablets but I use that number to make a point.

I recognize that investors have a distorted and mostly short term view of the world. So I can’t fault them for being short sighted. But I would encourage them to dig deep down and ask themselves what tech company is more heathy than Apple and better positioned for success in the long run? If Apple isn’t still on the forefront of innovation then who is?

At the launch of the first iPhone, Steve Jobs said this:

“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything”

Stop expecting Apple to make every once in a while happen every year.