The Worm Turns for Apple

Photo illustration by Ed Johnson.

Photo illustration by Ed Johnson.

I’m sure you heard the big news about Apple last week.

What? The bottom fell out of the company’s stock, you say? Nearly $52 a share—almost 9 percent—to $533?

That wasn’t what I was referring to. I meant to point you instead to a report from ABC News that revealed that the number of parents naming their daughters Apple jumped 15 percent in 2012, while the number who named their boys Mac went up 12 percent. So it’s official: we don’t own our Apple products or our Apple stock, my friends; they own us. They don’t just allow us to call each other anymore—they now tell us what to call each other. (Even Siri as girl’s name rose 5 percent. Eat your heart out, Suri Cruise.)

But okay, let’s talk about the stock, if that’s on your mind. And why shouldn’t it be? The company, which accounts for a remarkable 4 percent weighting in the S&P 500 index, is, as they say in the trade, a bellwether. If you don’t own it outright, you own it in an index fund or your pension fund or somewhere else. As goes Apple, so goes the national investing mood. Apple is our future! Look out below!

So Apple was bringing us down last week, an unusual occurrence for the stupendously successful company whose legendary guiding force Steve Jobs was an enthusiastic acid head. Apple customers may still be peaking, but its investors have surely begun to wonder whether they’re suddenly staring into the gaping maw of a bad trip.

Where’s the love, Wall Street? Because it was also last week that Apple CEO Tim Cook promised to bring jobs (not Jobs) back to the United States. Who does that anymore? And if Apple is our economy, and Apple makes a move to bolster our economy, shouldn’t that bode well for Apple stock? Reading the fine print, it turned out he was only talking about 200 jobs or so.

Wait, how does that even qualify as news? Oh right, it’s Apple!

Or maybe the trouble was that Mr. Cook only pledged to put a laughably paltry $100 million of the company’s own money behind the move. This from a firm with about $30 billion in cash on its balance sheet. Stop the presses! Wait, what presses? The Apple economy has destroyed the news business. There are no more presses. Go read about it on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or your iPad.

Explaining stock price movements with a simple narrative is a fool’s errand, no matter what CNBC or Bloomberg will tell you, but seeing as we’re tripping balls here, we might as well give it a shot. Why is Apple’s stock in free fall? Because the iPad mini isn’t a new product, just a smaller version of an old one. Because not enough people have bought the iPhone 5. Because the beautiful notion of Apple crushing the cable television oligopoly with an elegant interface is still a pipe dream. And because its patent war with Samsung is going the way all patent wars go, which is nowhere, and those Galaxy phones and tablets keep on selling.

It’s not that Apple isn’t still blowing the doors off, performance-wise. It’s that there’s only so much one can expect from a single company. Apple is now competing against itself, and that’s a pretty high bar to top.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m as much of an Apple fan as anyone. I’ve been an Apple customer since about 1981, when my parents bought me an Apple II+. I own six Apple products at the moment, and I love every single one of them. I’ve bought numerous iPads as gifts. All this in spite of the obvious disdain the company shows for its customers, whether it’s through planned obsolescence or shitty customer service (is there any customer support function more enraging than the Genius Bar?).

And what of the cult of Steve Jobs? I’m not immune to fan-boy behavior—there was a time when I would read anything anyone wrote about Bob Dylan—but the whole Steve Jobs thing seems a little, well, excessive. I don’t usually speak ill of the dead, but has there ever been a bigger credit hog than this guy? Even he seemed to believe that Apple was a one-man show, a myth that’s been proven blatantly false as the company continues to roll along just over a year after his death. (I made this point before he died, though, so consider me on the record before his premature death. RIP Steve Jobs. I really was a fan, but youre no Bob Dylan.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that things have really—finally—gone too far. Fortune has a writer whose entire job seems to be to write about Apple. It would be a great job, of course, but is there really that much to say about a maker of computer hardware and software, even if it does do $150 billion in annual sales? Answer: not really, but people like to read about it. And so we write. Another scribe at Fortune called the stock a value play this week. Note to investors: there are no value plays in technology. Just ask Research in Motion. Or Microsoft. Or Dell. You’re either a growth story or you’re nothing at all.

So the open question is whether this is a growth story anymore. Some apparently believe it is not: the good people at Bespoke Investment Group pointed out last week that Apple’s 6.45 percent drop on December 5 was the first dip of more than six percent since December 2008. It’s only happened 20 times in the last decade. But after four years of hallucinatory success, here we are. When a stock’s 50-day morning average falls below its 200-day moving average, the technical analysts call it a “death cross.” And Apple is on the verge of that ominous-sounding development. In other words, more and more people are bailing on this stock. The only question now is how many more will follow.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Apple start falling victim to emotional stock market behavior, given as it’s the company’s own damned iPhones that so often put the rest of us into emotional tailspins in real life. Why hasn’t she texted me back? She must be in bed with some other guy! Why hasn’t he liked my Facebook post? Because he’s probably emailing with some girl from his office instead! Why does this map app still suck so badly? And why can’t they fix the bugs in Words With Friends?

My friend Susan recently took off to New Orleans for four days by herself. Beyond the fact that she loves the music of RockinDopsie, one of the reasons she did so was to disconnect as much as possible (if only for a long weekend) from the always-on life that Apple and its imitators have hooked us into, whether we signed up for it or not. She wasn’t that successful in her quest—I received a not-entirely-necessary text message that included a photo of a soft-shell crab po’boy mid-weekend—but she was right to at least give it a try.

Because things really have gone too far. Do any of us actually need to be staring into our iPhone screens all day, from the subway to the street corner to the elevator to the dinner table? The sane answer is no, but walk down the street in any city in this country and you will see that iPhone addiction trumps sanity, hands down. So this really is your fault, Apple. You are now a cliché—the victim of your own success—and this is the universe paying you back for your crimes against humanity. Only this time, the only thing everyone is looking at on their iPhones is your plummeting stock price.