Is Apple a Day 2 Company?

9/22/17

By Jeremy Bowman, Motley Fool

"I've been reminding people that it's Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

"Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1."

-- Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN)

The quote above, from Bezos' 2016 letter to shareholders, was widely shared following its publication. That Day 1 philosophy has guided Amazon since its inception; it has pushed the company to charge into far-flung markets like cloud computing and video streaming, and embrace nearly every emerging technology along the way. Amazon's strategy has made it one of the most valuable companies on earth, and Bezos one of the richest people, as well as arguably the most respected businessman of his era.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

AMAZON CEO JEFF BEZOS. IMAGE SOURCE: AMAZON.

In his Day 2 description, Bezos isn't referring to any other company, only to what happens when an enterprise like his stops innovating. But I can't help but think that much of what he says about Day 2 resembles Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) today.

Apple's strategic direction has changed immensely under Tim Cook. A company that was once guided by innovation, design, and branding now seems to be more interested in financial engineering and in harvesting its current line of products.

Bezos's quote above continues: "To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come."

Below are a number of ways that Apple is becoming a Day 2 company.

An overreliance on growth through services

Apple regularly touts the growth in its services segment in its earnings reports. For years, services, which includes subscription businesses like AppleCare and Apple Music as well as Apple Pay, have been the company's fastest growing category, and they're now its biggest after the iPhone. In the most recent quarter, revenue in the services business increased 22% to $7.27 billion, making up nearly half of the company's total revenue growth for that period.

While the services business is no slouch, Apple's emphasis on the segment seems a lot like harvesting. Growth in Apple's core products is plateauing, so the company is extending its business into ancillary services like Apple Pay that will provide additional revenue streams. As Apple's installed base grows, services are likely to grow with it...but that strategy sounds an awful lot like Day 2.

A lack of high-velocity decision-making

Bezos also says, "Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly." No tech giant has moved more slowly than Apple in recent years.

For years, Apple has talked about launching a subscription television service, but it's been unable to put one together. The company also pulled the plug on making its own smart TV, which could have been another avenue into that market. The iPhone maker recently announced that it plans to spend $1 billion on original entertainment next year, but it's probably too late to the party: Netflix has carved out a dominant position in streaming, with Amazon, HBO, and Hulu not far behind it. With Apple's expertise in music, TV was there for its taking, but it's been much too slow to take advantage of it.

Meanwhile, Amazon has become the surprising leader in the voice-activated home market, with Alexa and Echo. Apple's own HomePod won't hit stores until December, years after the Echo and Google Home first came out.

Rumors abound about Apple's Project Titan in automobiles. But it's getting hard to imagine the company catching up to Tesla, which has borrowed from Apple's playbook to become the premium brand in EVs, and has more demand than it can meet for the Model 3; or to Alphabet, which has racked up more than 3 million self-driving miles on public roads.

Creeping incrementalism

It's hard for Apple investors to complain with the stock at an all-time high. Shares have boomed this year as analysts anticipate a "supercycle" in iPhones following the recent iPhone X announcement. A supercycle could indeed play out over the next year, pushing Apple stock even higher -- but incrementalism, which Cook favors, will not be enough to drive meaningful growth over the long term.

Remember, Bezos says that a Day 2 decline can happen in extreme slow motion, sometimes over decades. We've seen this with other tech companies like IBM and Microsoft.

Apple could have something big up its sleeve, with Project Titan or some other secretive project, but given the way the Tim Cook era has played out so far, I wouldn't bet on it. The only breakthrough invention under his stewardship has been the Apple Watch, which hasn't really moved the needle. Other products released during his tenure, like AirPods, HomePod, and Apple Music, have been merely iterative.

Give its plateauing growth and dependence on the iPhone, Apple may want to take some of Bezos' advice. If it's not Day 2 there yet, it sure looks like it will be soon.

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