It would be unfair to say that Apple has got its mojo back this summer, since I'm sure the company and many of its fans would say it never lost it. But as the tech giant prepares to release third quarter earnings Tuesday, it's certainly riding some serious momentum.
One indicator is the stock price. A year ago, the company had seen its stock fall almost by half, creating a cloud of gloom around Apple and causing some whispers about the leadership of Chief Executive Tim Cook.
Now, the stock has regained nearly all those losses. Cook has soothed the nerves of activist investors such as Carl Icahn who were threatening a revolt. Those rebel voices were quieted by an increase in share buybacks and dividends.
And the company even announced it intended to spend $3 billion for Beats, finally opening its massive cash coffers to make what would be the most expensive acquisition in its history when it closes in the coming weeks.
A year ago, Apple observers fretted as the company reported a big decline in iPad sales. Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics seemed to be gobbling up global market share and generating all the marketing buzz.
Now, it's Samsung that seems to be in a rut. Samsung recently reported poor earnings that has observers questioning the South Korean's approach to smartphones. Basically, many of the same concerns being raised about Apple a year ago are now being directed at Samsung.
Heading into earnings, it seems that Apple's long-term strategy of building an entire ecosystem of products – the iPhone, the iPad, Apple TV and Macbooks – to be the better bet. Samsung relies on phones and tablets that use Google's Android operating system, which makes its harder for its gadgets to stand apart from other device manufacturers that use Android.
Apple, on the other hand, is using its software and services to induce consumers who own its products to buy even more of them and to purchase more apps and content. What seemed restrictive a year ago now seems to be a better long term bet.
Part of the growing momentum comes from another wave of hype over new products. Conventional wisdom says Apple will release an iPhone 6 with a bigger screen in the fall. And the long-rumored iWatch is also expected.
"In our view, tomorrow's conference call is of much less significance than past quarterly reports, as we believe investors are more focused on the 'Fab Fall' launch (e.g., iPhone 6, "iWatch", etc.)," wrote Brian White, a Cantor Fitzgerald analyst, in a note on Monday to clients.
Of course, last year all the talk was how Apple would release a "cheaper" iPhone along with an iWatch and an actual TV. None of those things happened.
And even if Apple ships the iWatch, there's still skepticism that there's a real mainstream appetite for such a wearable gadget.
"We mention that expectations for a watch product may prove to be frothy for an item that has not been announced and has no pricing attached," wrote Colin Gillis, a BGC Partners analyst, in a note to clients.
Still, looking ahead, Apple's biggest challenge seems to once again be itself. And meeting those expectations that fans have is less about delivering a set of numbers, and more about creating something that will amaze consumers. That, more than setting records for iPhone sales, is what users of Apple products want so badly from the company.
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