Filling the shoes of a messiah is not an easy task – something Apple CEO Tim Cook will know better than anyone. The tech giant has spent most of the five years since the death of its revered founder Steve Jobs in good health. Despite a few hiccoughs towards the end of 2012, it reached a market cap of $700bn (£477.5bn) last year; more than double that of the world’s second-most-valuable company ExxonMobil. Last January it reported the biggest quarterly profit in history - $18bn.
But the honeymoon period wasn’t going to last forever and in recent months the shine has begun to come off. It has lost 27% of its value over the past year and briefly lost its throne as the world’s most valuable business to fellow giant Alphabet. Last week it confirmed that its sales were down for the first quarter in more than a decade. Carl Icahn, it's vocal long-time backer, dumped his entire stake in Apple last week - though his motivations were not especially clear.
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Last night Cook ran the gauntlet of live TV, facing tough questions from CNBC’s Tim Cramer, in a bid to reassure investors that everything is going to be a-ok. He’s not the most charismatic of performers but the former IBMer did manage to put on a convincingly brave face. ‘We just had an incredible quarter by absolute standards, $50bn+ in revenues, $10bn in profits,’ he said. ‘To put that in perspective, the $10bn is more than any other company makes.’
While plenty of Western companies have come a cropper by expecting too much from China, Cook says Apple is continuing to do well there. ‘Our revenues from China were larger than any other foreign company.’ And he’s apparently confident of replicating that performance in India too.
Of course Cook’s real challenge if he wants to resurrect and maintain Apple’s fearsome momentum is successfully creating the next big thing, whatever that turns out to be. Managing investor expectations is all well and good, but without customers queing around the block for the next hyped up product, shareholders will be difficult to placate for the long-term.
The only major new product line launched under his rein has been the Apple Watch, sales of which have been seemingly underwhelming (official figures are hard to come by). But he’s adamant that it will prove popular in the future. ‘If you look at all the things Apple has done over time, at the time they were done they were rarely ever seen like they were in retrospect,’ he said. ‘I think the watch will be like that too. In a few years we will look back and people will say, "how could I have ever thought about not wearing this watch?"’
Cook was characteristically tight-lipped about the company’s future plans, saying only that he’s ‘incredibly excited about the things we’re working on,’ but many expect an Apple Car to be on the way in the not-too-distant future. The company faces stiff competition in that regard from the likes of Google, as well as the old car makers who are not blind to the opportunities that digital technology presents. But if he can stick around long enough to do to the automobile what the iPod did to the CD player then Cook won’t have done a bad job of filling big shoes.