Now 40, Apple has been declared 'dead' countless times

Now 40, Apple has been declared 'dead' countless times

The world's richest company celebrates its 40th birthday Friday. With a market capitalisation of US$608 billion (S$821 billion), dedicated customers and a level of prestige that invites constant press scrutiny, it's easy to forget how often critics have declared Apple's premature demise.

Indeed, the company has been assigned to the dustbin of history at least 70 times since 1995, according to technology blog Mac Observer. (Not always without cause - the company was months away from bankruptcy when Steve Jobs retook the helm in 1997.)

Still, despite any number of unsuccessful products - think Lisa, the Newton MessagePad and the Pippin gaming console - reports of the company's death have been repeatedly exaggerated. Here are a few times detractors have, incorrectly, written the company off.

Investment publication Barron's was among the first to throw stones at Apple, which went public in a huge surge in 1980, speculating in 1983 that IBM would "bury" Apple, then maker of the early Lisa personal computer.

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Apple managed to drum up buzz over its early products with high-energy marketing The Wall Street Journal compared it to the film "Flashdance." But despite the push, Apple's profit began to fall in early 1984. Then again in a 1991 blurb in "Up and Down Wall Street," Barron's wrote: "Apple, long term, has a truly serious problem: It's losing its franchise. Microsoft's windows interface from DOS is the hottest software package going. ... Pure and simple, Macintosh used to be unique; now it isn't."

The stock remained hot at that time as Mac sales surged ahead of competitors in the early 1990s, but it wasn't long before the company met its next challengers.

By 1996, researchers estimated that Macintosh computer sales had dropped 30 to 50 per cent over the past year and Wall Street predicted a downward spiral for the company.

"I see no evidence of a turnaround," analyst Matt Sargent told the Journal, which wrote, "If anything, he said, the company's decline appears to be 'accelerating.'"

After losing $1.6 billion over two years, Business Week asked in July 1997 "Is Apple Mincemeat?" saying the company should sell off its ailing software operations and move to Windows with the departure former CEO John Sculley.

"Everywhere in the computer industry, executives agree that what Apple needs is a radical new survival plan," Business Week wrote.

After the return of co-founder Jobs in 1997, the success of the iPod, then iPhone, the technology landscape shifted significantly in Apple's favour, even through the dot-com bubble. The iMac's design won praise in trade publications like PC Magazine.

But Apple once again fell victim to the stock market carnage of the Great Recession, prompting Mike Abramsky, then an analyst at RBC, to cut his rating to "sell," the New York Post reported at the time. As Jobs suffered health concerns, Abramsky questioned Apple's strength to go on. "Jobs is widely viewed as Apple's chief innovator, dealmaker, leader, deeply involved in minute decisions, inextricably tied to Apple's brand," Abramsky wrote, according to the Post.

Further, amid a recession, some investors doubted Apple could keep its high-priced, exclusive image.

"Apple sells premium products, and every data point we get on the economy is a negative one, and there's no sign that anything is improving," then-Needham analyst Charles Wolf told Businessweek in 2008. "None of Apple's products are immune to that."


In 2011, Saxo Bank predicted that Apple shares would fall 50 per cent from their 2011 highs by 2012.

"Going into 2012, Apple will find itself faced with multiple competitors such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft/Nokia, and Samsung across its most innovative products, the iPhone and iPad," Saxo Bank strategists wrote in what news site The Street called an "outrageous prediction."

"Apple will be unable to maintain its market share of 55 per cent (three times as much as Android) and 66 per cent on the iOS and iPad." The company's shares ended 2012 slightly higher than where they began.

Apple has gained as much as 554 per cent in market value since its first day of trading, with 1 billion active devices and 100,000 direct employees.

Despite its dominance today, Apple still has doomsayers. "The fear is that Apple is entering growth purgatory," senior analyst Toni Sacconaghi of Sanford C. Bernstein told CNBC last October. "I think its best days are behind it."

As recently as January, former Apple employee Andy Cunningham told CNBC: "Like all tech companies, they eventually reach their peak. And I think Apple may have reached its peak here."

- CNBC's Mary Catherine Wellons and Chris Hayes contributed to this report.

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