Apple Inc. may well post a record-breaking quarter this week, but for many investors, that may not be enough.
The company behind the world's most well-known mobile products will unveil its fiscal 2013 first-quarter numbers on Wednesday.
That quarter includes the prime holiday shopping season, and has traditionally been strong for Apple. In addition, the company also unveiled a smaller version of its iPad tablet last year, and sales of the new device are likely to bolster overall revenue. According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, analysts are expecting, on average, earnings per share of $13.41 (U.S.) and revenue of $54.7-billion for the quarter.
But even if Apple beats expectations – something it has failed to do in the past couple of quarters after years of above-consensus results – some observers see more worrying long-term trends.
Once the dominant force in the smartphone and tablet markets, Apple has been surpassed in smartphone sales volume by a host of devices running on Google's Android operating system. And while that hasn't been much of an issue for the company because it still generates the majority of smartphone industry profits and because no single Android-based competitor has managed to pose a serious threat to its dominance, that is beginning to change.
Late last year, Samsung's flagship Galaxy smartphone momentarily overtook Apple's iPhone in U.S. sales, shortly before Apple released the iPhone 5. While Samsung's lead was short-lived, it indicated that Apple's position atop the mobile market is no longer unchallengeable.
"While the December holiday quarter is expected to smash records, we are concerned that the demand lifespan for new Apple products is compressing," said Colin Gillis, technology analyst at BGC Financial, in a note to clients. "While the company may try to combat this by accelerating the refresh cycle of its core products, we mention this may also result in new product fatigue."
On Wednesday, analysts will be looking carefully at Apple's iPad and iPhone sales numbers, which together account for a majority of the company's revenue.
Any signs of a slowdown in those areas will likely push Apple's stock, already $200 below its $52-week high of $705, further down.
For Apple investors, the worst-case scenario in the long-term may be a repeat of Apple's experience in the Macintosh-Windows wars some 20 years ago, when the relatively inexpensive and widely available Windows platform eventually dwarfed the more high-end and exclusive Mac products. But given Apple's massive market share and more than $100-billion in cash, such an outcome, even if it comes to pass, is likely a long way off.