Has Apple lost its momentum?

January 25, 2019 12:45
The Sino-US trade war has stoked nationalist sentiments in China, prompting calls in the country to shun American brands such as Apple. Photo: Reuters

Looking back at a video of Steve Jobs unveiling the first iPhone on January 9, 2007, one is reminded that the Apple smartphone was at that time a path-breaking product in terms of design, interface, and functions, even though it could only use the legacy 2G network.

Jobs displayed charisma and sense of humor during the launch, and made jokes about other mobile device makers such as Nokia, Palm, and BlackBerry. 

Google’s then CEO Eric Schmidt also attended the launch conference and joked that he once considered a merger between Apple and Google. (But Google had already acquired Android Inc, the company that created the Android operating system, in July 2005, and unveiled Android operating system in 2007.) 

Jobs said during that iPhone product launch conference that Apple was five years ahead of its rivals in technology. The last smartphone series the iconic CEO oversaw, before he passed away in Oct. 2011, was the Phone 4s. Since then, iPhone has kept changing to cater to market demand. iPhone 5 was longer, while iPhone 6 Plus was bigger in size. Jobs once stressed that the 4-inch device was the best size for holding with one hand.

Fast forward to the present day, 2019 looks to be a bumpy year for Apple. CEO Tim Cook has announced the company's first profit-warning in 16 years, blaming a slowdown in China. Moreover, Apple has also been in a long and epic legal battle with chipmaker Qualcomm over patent disputes, and the iPhone maker suffered adverse court rulings in some nations.

The US-China trade war has also put a drag on Apple. Contract supplier Foxconn is forced to move some iPhone production lines out of China. Also, nationalist sentiment sparked by Sino-US trade standoff has led to some Chinese customers boycotting iPhone.

There have been reports that Apple's spat with Qualcomm may force the former to abandon a plan to bring 5G iPhones within this year. If that is the case, it could further weaken the sales of Apple smartphones, as rivals will get a headstart and take a big lead in the 5G space.

Steve Jobs left Apple with a huge number of loyal Apple fans. But now its prospects appear shaky and there is growing talk that the firm's best days may be behind it. Some skeptics have even raised this question: Will Apple be the next Nokia? 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 25

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation honorary chairman