For much of the past two decades, Apple (AAPL 1.67%) has been a star not just in the business world, but in the stock market as well.

The company dominates consumer tech hardware. It has the largest market cap of any U.S. company, and it even counts Warren Buffett as one of its biggest fans.

However, while Apple may have an admirable track record, that doesn't necessarily mean its future is equally bright. Is Apple stock a buy today? Keep reading as two Motley Fool contributors discuss the bull and bear cases for the tech giant.

Several red Apple devices, including phones and headphones.

Image source: Apple.

The numbers speak for themselves

Parkev Tatevosian (Bull case): My bull case for Apple starts with its demonstrated ability to repeatedly create innovative tech hardware that consumers willingly pay premium prices to buy. The iPhone is arguably one of the most significant consumer products in the world (as measured by dollars spent). Notable products like the iPod, the iMac, and more preceded the legendary smartphone. Since the iPhone, Apple's produced sought-after devices like the iPad, Apple Watch, Airpods, and more. Most importantly, millions of people pay premium prices for each of the aforementioned, leaving excellent profit margins for Apple and its shareholders. 

Between 2013 and 2022, Apple's annual sales soared from $171 billion to $394 billion. Considering the diverse and large markets in which Apple sells products, it is not likely to hit the ceiling on sales anytime soon despite its already massive scale. The pricing power that Apple earned over decades of improving the customer experience allowed it to average an operating profit margin of 28.3% in that time.

Admittedly, these are all backward-looking figures, but Apple's highly connected ecosystem makes it less likely for customers to switch to a competitor's product. In other words, many of yesterday's customers will likely stick with Apple longer-term.

Chart showing Apple's price, PE ratio, and price to free cash flow rising from 2019 to 2022, then falling.

AAPL data by YCharts

The bear market in 2022 brought Apple's stock down meaningfully. Today's investors can buy Apple stock at a price-to-earnings and price-to-free cash flow of 21.7 and 19.4, respectively. This is a relatively fair price to pay for an excellent business. Investors will do well in building wealth if they can buy great companies at reasonable prices. 

What have you done for me lately?

Jeremy Bowman (Bear case): It's hard to question Apple's bona fides, as the company is one of the biggest in the world, and generates huge margins. But stocks are generally valued based on future cash flows, and Apple's may not be as strong as the market seems to think.

In Apple's most recent quarter, revenue was up 8%, and earnings per share grew just 4%. According to Wall Street, this is not the growth stock that some might like to think it is. Apple didn't give specific guidance in its most recent earnings report, but the company said it expected revenue to slow sequentially in the current quarter due to the macroeconomic environment, a 10-percentage-point headwind from currency exchange, and difficult comparisons in the Mac segment.

Wall Street, meanwhile, expects revenue growth of just 2.7% in the current fiscal year, and even slower growth in earnings per share. In fiscal 2024, it only expects top and bottom line growth to improve slightly.

Apple has built a dominant consumer franchise, but there are also real risks to the company as rivals push forward with the next computing platform. Meta Platforms, for example, will spend close to $20 billion next year to make its visions of the metaverse a reality, and other companies like Nvidia and Microsoft are pushing past the mobile computing era as well.

Apple still gets more than half of its revenue from the iPhone, which it first introduced 15 years ago. And while the company has had success in raising prices on its trademark smartphone, it's bound to reach a limit in what people are willing to pay, especially with a global recession potentially around the corner. The law of large numbers will eventually catch up to it, and it will run out of new customers to convert.

Finally, Apple's services segment, which is underpinned by its App Store, is facing more legal challenges as companies balk at its 30% commission fee. We could see a reckoning in the App Store model over the coming years.

Overall, Apple's strengths as a business are self-evident, but investors can find better growth at this valuation elsewhere.