I’m not a business reporter, and don’t have a head for numbers. So I don’t pay all that much attention to the quarterly results of companies I write about, except when they provide clues about the stuff that consumers are buying, or avoiding.
Still, when Apple released its results for the first quarter of its fiscal 2014 today, it did leave me wondering one thing: How did the numbers compare to those for the company’s first quarter of fiscal 2001? I picked that particular point of contrast because 2001 included the last first quarter in which Apple was purely a maker of personal computers; a year after that, it was also in the iPod business, and thereby on its way to being the more diversified, remarkably successful enterprise it is today.
(Yep — revenue in the first quarter of 2014 was 57.6 times revenue in the first quarter of 2001. And in 2001, it lost money in the quarter, vs. making $13.1 billion this year.)
(In the first quarter of 2014, Apple sold more than seven times as many Macs as it did in the first quarter of 2001, and another 73 million devices in categories that didn’t really exist in 2001. And that’s not counting iPods, which Apple didn’t mention in the 2014 release.)
(Steve Jobs, famous for not wanting to talk about unreleased products, had to pull several out of his sleeve in 2001 to assure Wall Street that better times might be ahead. In 2014, people would kill to know what Apple is working on, but Tim Cook can afford to be mysterious.)
(Apple didn’t mention how much cash it has on hand in this quarter’s release, but it’s $159 billion, or almost forty times the 2001 tally. If $4 billion was “very strong,” we can probably all agree that it remains in decent shape on this front.)
(In 2001, a large chunk of the company’s boilerplate about itself was devoted to past glories, and one of the implied messages of the rest of the text was that Apple wasn’t even trying to sell products to corporate customers. In 2014, it can barely cram in all the fronts it’s competing on.)
It’s worth noting that in early 2001, Steve Jobs had been back at Apple for years, products such as the iMac had helped restore its reputation and — though it had a bad quarter — it had bounced all the way back from its near-death experience in the mid-1990s. And yet even the most irrationally exuberant Apple booster wouldn’t have predicted what happened in the thirteen years that followed. That’s yet more evidence that the future of technology is unknowable, and trying to predict it in anything other than broad brushstrokes is pointless except as a form of entertainment.
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