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Has Tim Cook's Openness Hurt Apple (AAPL)?

By: Chris Ciaccia
Posted: 2/19/2013 9:44:00 AM
Referenced Stocks: AAPL;AMZN;GOOG;GS

Apple (AAPL) under CEO Tim Cook is still the same company it was under Steve Jobs. It still makes the same products everyone knows and loves, and there is still an aura surrounding it that is next to none in Corporate America. Yet, there is one stark difference: Tim Cook has vowed to make Apple more open. This may be hurting more than it's helping.

Apple is a cult when it comes to its legions of fans. It's products are loved around the world, but some of its policies came under attack from labor relations boards, specifically as it relates to China. The New York Times was all over this in 2012, and as a result, Apple, and Cook, vowed to change the workings there, and which suppliers it dealt with. This was the beginning of a more open policy by Apple, ushering in a new era, as the company's culture changes. In early 2012, Apple also released its supplier list, for the first time ever. Historically, Apple and its suppliers have been shrouded in secrecy, perhaps to keep up the allure of Apple products.

Apple is one of the few companies that breaks down sales of its product lines, and that's hurt Apple as well. Wall Street, and the media now speculated 24/7 about iPhone sales, or whether the iPad was able to sell more units than estimated. It's been a blessing, but now it's a curse with so much scrutiny focused on the company. Transparency, for the moment, seems to be hurting more than it's helping.

Cook addressed this issue at a Goldman Sachs conference in San Francisco last week, saying Apple was the only one of its competitors to report how many units sold. "If you look at -- I have no idea what market share is because we're the only Company that really reports how many units we sell," Cook noted, that he cares more about people using the product than market share.

He cited an IBM study on Black Friday, saying the iPad saw the most shopping of any mobile device. "I mean iPad was twice as much as the total of every Android device. Every one of them. Every phone, every tablet. Twice as much. And so, why is this? It's because it's an incredible experience. By the way, iPhone in that same survey was almost twice as much as all Android devices."

Apple's granular look at its product sales hurts because Wall Street is focused on market share. Google's Android is the leading operating system in mobile phones, with Android accounting for a whopping 70.1% of smartphone market share, according to IDC. Wall Street sees this as a sign that growth at Apple is slowing, despite the fact Apple sold 29.2% more iPhones in the fourth quarter of 2012 (47.8 million) than it did in 2011 (37 million).

Other competitors, namely Samsung, do not release how many units of each product are sold. Samsung has acknowledged the fact that more than 40 million Galaxy SIII phones were sold, but didn't given an exact number. Amazon barely releases any information about its Kindle Fire tablets, but the market looks past that. Google has never released actual sales numbers of its Nexus line of products (tablets and smartphones), but the market does not care.

Under Cook, Apple has radically conducts the way it does business and allows people to see into the company. He's been clearly more accessible and visible than Jobs. Its products are still very secretive by nature, but other parts of the business are not. Apple has gone so far as to show revenue from various regions of the world, whereas it did not prior to Cook.

With Jobs at the helm, there were very few details released about the way Apple conducted its business. The only thing you ever saw was the final product, and the story he told on stage. Jobs did not even speak at the Goldman Sachs conference when he was CEO, it was something Cook did as COO. Cook is putting his own stamp on the company, but the market seems to be punishing transparency and openness, instead of rewarding it.

Maybe this is because Apple is maturing as a company, and Cook realizes that by providing more data, the market will value it properly. I tend to think, Apple's best days are ahead of it, with products like a television, a watch and more to come. People still clamor for a product with its logo on it. That isn't going to change unless Apple makes poor products. "The only thing we'll never do is make a crappy product. We're going to make a great product," Cook said at the conference.

Just maybe it shouldn't give so much detail about them.