The Truthiness of Apple’s Decline

Jeff Carlson, on the numerous flubs in John Arlidge’s aforelinked interview/profile of Jony Ive, “Why Do Big Magazines Hire Hacks for Big Tech Stories?”:

I’m not writing this with a “why didn’t I get to do this article” axe to grind. I’ve worked with Apple for years and have some wonderful media contacts there, but Apple publicity is a very specific machine. Apple chooses who it wants to feed information to, and has been known to blacklist writers and outlets for years.

No, I’m annoyed at several specific fumbles, mostly in wording, that expose this interview as ill-informed puff.

Well done, and I thought much the same as I read it. I’m glad Carlson saved me the effort of documenting them all.

Carlson missed a big one, though. Arlidge wrote (bold emphasis added):

Since Jobs died, Apple has hit a rough patch, at least by its ludicrously high standards. It has not had a break-out hit. There has been no Apple TV set to revolutionize home entertainment. No spiffy watch. (Yet.) The firm’s share price has slumped and it has lost its title of the world’s most valuable firm. Some speculate that, without Jobs, Apple has lost its golden touch. An acclaimed new book by the former Wall Street Journal technology writer Yukari Iwatani Kane dubs the company “the haunted empire.”

Leave aside Arlidge’s description of Haunted Empire as “acclaimed” (Carlson does touch on that.) Instead, let’s consider his claims regarding Apple’s stock price.

Jobs died on 5 October 2011. Apple’s stock closed at $378.25 that day. On Friday 14 March 2014 (last day of trading before the interview was published), Apple’s stock closed at $524.69. (Even if The Sunday Times Magazine has a two-week lead time, Apple’s price has been hovering around $525 for several weeks.) Apple’s stock was, therefore, as of publication of this interview, up 39 percent since Steve Jobs died.1 I repeat: up 39 percent.

Now, it is true that Apple’s stock price today remains significantly below its peak value. But that peak occurred in September 2012, eleven months after Jobs’s death, and over a year since Tim Cook took over as CEO. It’s fair to say Apple’s share price has slumped, but you can’t say it has slumped “since Jobs died” — and that is the clear implication in Arlidge’s piece.

But even more damning is the second half of Arlidge’s claim, regarding Apple’s market capitalization. Apple, right now, today, is the world’s most valuable firm, and has been for the last eight months or so. Apple was not the most valuable firm in the world when Jobs died, but is now. It’s true that Apple and Exxon have traded places a few times, but Apple is now significantly ahead. In fact, last month Google nipped past Exxon and they’ve been neck-and-neck for second place since.

This is not even to say that market cap is all that valuable a metric of a company’s health — subject as it is to the whims of the often irrational Mr. Market. The point is, share prices and market cap values are easily fact-checked. It took me about five minutes to look up all the numbers in this piece. Yet both The Sunday Times and Time Magazine published the above statement, which is both false and deeply misleading.

But, it fits the narrative that Apple is in decline (or as Arlidge puts it, “has hit a rough patch”) since Steve Jobs died. Who needs the truth when you’ve got truthiness on your side?

  1. Steve Jobs resigned on 24 August 2011. Apple’s stock closed at $376.18 that day. So it makes little difference which event you choose as the end of the Jobs era. ↩︎