Apple: After Jobs, Is It Still a Buy?


The panic has begun. Steve Jobs is gone from Apple (NAS: AAPL) , and shares are collapsing. Or, wait a minute. As of this writing, shares are down 1.2%, which is actually less than the 1.5% fall the Nasdaq has seen.

The greatest CEO of our generation steps down, and Apple just keeps on rolling. Mere years ago, that would have been an unfathomable thought.

But is that the right reaction? I asked a panel of Foolish experts to pull out their crystal balls and look into Apple's future.

Fool contributor and Rule Breakers analyst Rick Munarriz
Throw me into the "I can't believe Apple is trading for less than 12 times next year's earnings" camp, but I'm also a realist. It will not be business as usual for the class of Cupertino without Steve Jobs around.

Who is going to rally the troops at the next Apple powwow while a pressed black turtleneck is behind a display case at the Smithsonian?

I believe in Cook as an operational guru and perhaps even a visionary, but Apple is going to be several degrees lighter in the charisma department. This will be a big deal, because it's not as if you can just flip the autopilot switch and let Apple coast through the next few years. Apple is going to have to sell mainstream audiences on its future, and that's where Jobs will be sorely missed.

Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android is kicking the iPhone's tail, padding its market-share lead. Now that handset makers, carriers, and developers have a "free" platform that's actually resonating with smartphone buyers, Apple will have to work harder. Google is willing to spend $12.5 billion on Motorola Mobility (NYS: MMI) to protect this "free" operating system, so it's not going to back down.

Sure, the iPad is the only tablet that's selling, but I can't imagine anyone other than Jobs brainwashing us into thinking we actually needed one.

Apple is going to be a tech bellwether for a long time, but anyone who doesn't think Apple's future just got a bit more challenging will have to point out who Cook is to me in a new board room photo.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund
So Apple's genius leader steps back to a strategic role, permanently this time. The market is taking it in with a giant yawn because this move has been obvious for months. When I called Apple out as one of the worst stocks to own in 2010, a Jobs-less executive suite was the cornerstone of my risk-related argument. This event still isn't the calamity I was looking for in one of the worst calls of 2010.

The true measure of Apple's new leadership will come when even the chairman's role becomes too much for Steve to bear. Without the visionary mastermind to lead the way, Cook and his advisors will be left to their own devices. Can they continue to pump out "magical" gadgetry year after year, as Jobs has done?

We'll have to wait and see. If anything, removing Jobs from the equation makes investors expect that much less perfection out of Apple. Ironically, Steve's Dear John letter just reduced the risk inherent in owning Apple shares.

That said, Apple is running out of new gadget sizes for the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch family and may need to actually come up with some innovation soon in order to keep its customers loyal. Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) was once the world's largest company by market cap but nothing lasts forever. Apple needs to stay fresh in order to stay relevant, profitable, and growing, and I don't know for sure that Cook has that quality in him.

Fool contributor and Rule Breakers analyst Tim Beyers
It's the end for Apple! Not only has the iEmpire lost its visionary, it's lost its soul! Sound the alarm! So say the bears today. Trouble is, they're wrong. Visionaries aplenty remain employed by the Mac maker. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself.

"Right now, from our point of view [netbooks] are principally based on hardware that's much less powerful than we think customers want. Software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays ... And so, we don't think that people are going to be pleased with those types of products."

Sounds like Jobs, right? Wrong. That's Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO and the company's operational leader since Jobs first took medical leave in January 2009. At the time, he was speaking about netbook offerings from Dell (NAS: DELL) , Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) , and Asian suppliers.

Within a year, he and the team at Apple would introduce the iPad. The netbook market would begin to fall apart within months, and today is teetering on the brink of irrelevance despite Google's efforts with the Chromebook.

Don't get me wrong. Jobs is important to Apple and will be missed, but if you think the Apple of the last 18 months -- a period of unprecedented prosperity for the company -- has seen Jobs at anywhere near his normal levels of engagement, you're deluding yourself. Apple will be fine. Here's hoping that's also true for Steve.

Technology Editor for Eric Bleeker
With Steve Jobs leaving, it's only natural that investors look back to how other companies have fared after losing iconic leaders. However, I'm going to throw a name out that I haven't seen in previous comparisons: Lou Gerstner.

The company Lou Gerstner led, IBM (NYS: IBM) , couldn't be more different than Apple aside from residing in the technology space. IBM is perceived as big and stodgy, and there's no sex appeal. However, like Jobs, Gerstner came into a technology giant that was floundering. Gerstner saw a new vision and a new market of untapped opportunities. He would move IBM away from hardware into the software and services-heavy giant it is today. After Gerstner left, IBM was able to continue the momentum forward because Gerstner's vision and forward thinking was well ahead of the curve. You can see how far behind competitors are with HP's flailing attempts to unload its PC business and refocus on areas IBM long-ago conquered.

Is Jobs' story so different? He took over Apple at a time when the company lost its way. He had a vision, specifically of a mobile future where users craved an experience that seamlessly flowed across different computing devices. With the strength of iOS largely in place, I believe that like IBM before it, Apple will continue to excel into the future because the vision of its leader was so far in advance of the competition.

That's not to say Apple won't be without its challenges in the coming years. However, the greatest challenges -- the legwork on capturing the next great opportunity like growing sales in emerging markets or expanding into the living room -- has been done. iOS has proven its ability to scale into these markets. It's for these reasons that I've long insisted that the amount of "innovation" at Apple is overestimated by media that stays anchored on what Apple was three years ago. Today, execution on expanding iOS is the key driver. I think Cook, Ives, Shiller, and the rest of the management team will be able to deliver on that.

To keep tabs on how the post-Steve-Jobs Apple moves into the future, make sure to add the company to our free My Watchlist feature. It'll deliver up-to-date news and analysis as the company navigates these critical times.

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At the time thisarticle was published Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. Anders Bylund owns shares of Google. Tim Beyers owns shares of Apple, Google, and IBM. Rick Munarriz owns shares of no companies listed above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Google, Apple, and International Business Machines. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Dell, Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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