Adam L. Penenberg wrote an interesting cover story for this month's issue of Fast Company–All Eyes on Apple (non-subscribers can read the article for free online.)
Instead of the usual "Apple Can Do No Wrong" type of article that appears as we get into the holiday shopping season, Penenberg examines the possibility that this may be last year of hyper growth for the company.
He doesn't skip over the accolades, by any means (sales up 24%, earnings up 75%, margins over 30%, stock price up 146%) but about 90 percent of the article is about the harsh realities of being the lead dog in the rabidly competitive consumer electronics industry:
...the barbarians are massing at the gates. From hardware to software to services, major competitors with serious R&D and marketing budgets are laying siege to the House of Jobs. As Apple moves into new markets, it has made powerful new enemies, some working in concert.
Morgan Keegan analyst Tavis McCourt further douses the enthusiasm by saying "the iPod business is maturing. Apple stores are packed, but they have been for two years now. This may be the last holiday season of substantial year-to-year growth for the iPod."
Penenberg closes by stating that Apple may have to open up the platform to achieve "the next wave of growth" - referring mostly to the walled garden that is iPod and iTunes.
a self-contained system so beautifully functional that a critical mass of consumers are willing to enter that world and never leave
Anyone who follows Steve Jobs knows that opening iTunes is long shot. He'd rather sell a richly integrated system that "just works" to a smaller audience than dilute that cherished user experience by letting his arch rivals under the iTunes kimono.
Is 2007 the last big year for Apple growth? (as the article suggests) or will Apple release another raft of innovation at Macworld Expo 2008 that will keep the momentum going?