Yes, Steve Jobs Is Like Marc Jacobs

I can only imagine the hate mail Fast Company writer Adam Penenberg is getting this week. If you don't yet know, he's the guy who compared Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) CEO Steve Jobs to a designer on a hot streak. A streak that, he says, is destined to end. Quoting:

... The Apple phenomenon is as much about fashion as it is about technology. You might say that Steve Jobs is the Marc Jacobs of computers (minus the heroin), betting the house his products will be, season after season, cooler than anyone else's. Yet fashion is, by definition, fickle. Lose the buzz, and you've got trouble. (Emphasis added.)

There's plenty of truth in what Penenberg writes there. Jobs is on a hot streak, and he is like Jacobs -- but that's not because of his sense of cool. It's because of his understanding, and attention to, user experience. Fashion and function, if you will.

Witness the iPhone. Surely we can agree it's a cool device. But is that because it's black and silver and possesses a touch-sensitive screen? No, of course not. Better mobile browsing makes it cool. Visual voice mail makes it cool. A built-in interactive version of Google Maps makes it cool.

To wit: The experience of using an iPhone is better than the experience of using alternatives from Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) , Palm, and Motorola. (For now, at least.)

Therein lies one of my great problems with Penenberg's thesis. He assumes that Apple has been built entirely on two one-hit wonders:

  1. The Mac.
  2. The iPod.

Balderdash.

Here's a more comprehensive history of Apple innovations under Jobs:

  • The Apple II, which helped to popularize the idea of home computing, thereby launching a billion-dollar market.
  • The Macintosh and, more importantly, the Mac OS.
  • The Apple LaserWriter, which, when paired with the Mac and publishing software Aldus PageMaker, helped to launch the desktop publishing industry.
  • Mac OS X in all of its forms.
  • The iMac, which helped to popularize the idea of self-contained computers.
  • The iPod.
  • iTunes and the iTunes Store.
  • The iPhone.

See my point? Jobs's Apple has been a hit machine. More Beatles than Bangles. More U2 than Ugly Kid Joe. For more than three decades, Apple has oozed innovation -- except, of course, in the years when the maestro was away.

And those are the years that brought the NeXT operating system, which led directly to Mac OS X, and the creation of Pixar Animation Studios, which is reshaping Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) as I write.

The one really great reason not to buy Apple
If there's a legit complaint about Apple in Penenberg's article, it's this:

But none of that will stop a growing number of adversaries from doing all they can to pare Apple down. Nor does it diminish the fact that at $185 a share, its stock is far more vulnerable to a stall or even a fall than it was when it was $50 cheaper. (Emphasis added.)

False logic aside -- a $185 stock is never inherently more expensive than a $135 stock -- it's pretty easy to label shares of the Mac maker as pricey, as the analysts quoted in Penenberg's story do. They say that Apple is "far more overvalued" than fellow tech bellwethers Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) . 

They may be right. On the basis of price-to-earnings-to-projected growth, a ratio known as the PEG, DoubleGoo, Intel, and industry peers Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) all appear to be cheaper:

Company

2008 Projected P/E

2008 PEG

Apple

32.79

1.46

Dell

15.42

1.22

Hewlett-Packard

13.89

1.07

Intel

16.41

0.97

Google

32.10

0.97

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

What's more, through this summer, only 13 companies in the world had achieved a market cap greater than $200 billion. Why should Apple join that elite list?

Tune in tomorrow when I explore that question in detail. Or, if you can't wait, log in to Motley Fool CAPS now and rate Apple's prospects versus the market. It's 100% free to participate.


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