When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) reports first-quarter earnings on Wednesday night, ubiquitous media charmer and turtlenecked mastermind Steve Jobs might not show up for the conference call. COO Tim Cook is running the show while "The Steve" takes at least six months off for some well-deserved R&R.

Fellow Fool Rick Munarriz can show you what the company will look like in three years. I'm here to give you a snapshot of Apple today. Grab a fork, folks! You'll need it in a minute.

What Fools say
Here's how Apple's CAPS rating stacks up against some of its peers and competitors:

 

Market Cap (billions)

Trailing P/E Ratio

CAPS Rating

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

$164.4

9.8

***

Apple

$69.6

14.4

***

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ)

$80.6

10.3

****

Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM)

$28.3

16.1

**

Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE)

$10.3

12.2

****

Data taken from Motley Fool CAPS on 01/21/2009.

Nearly every recent CAPS comment on Apple that takes a pessimistic angle on the stock boils down to one simple fact: Steve Jobs is not the current CEO. Some even doubt that he'll ever come back. "No Jobs, no Apple," as 312scout puts it.

On the other hand, the bulls come in a range of flavors. All-Star CAPS member Immord focuses on valuation: "Ummm....nearly $28 of cash per share with a $79 stock price. With over $5 per share of earnings, I think this is a great value." Fellow All-Star disquisitor thinks that Jobs' biggest contribution was in the field of human resources: "Yes, Steve brought them back from the brink a few years back, he was instrumentlal in their survival.... but he did so by brining in good people! Those people, are there and will continue to drive business critical functions."

Yum, brining in good people! Oh, it's a typo? Well, have it your way.

What management does
Some people -- myself included -- tend to think of Apple's gadgets as upper-crust snobbery, reserved for the wealthy and the classy. But the company doesn't collect the massive margins you'd expect from a true luxury retailer. In fact, McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) boasts higher gross (36.4%) and net (19.4%) margins than Apple over the last four quarters. That makes the iPod look like the Big Mac of consumer gadgets rather than an overpriced steak, dry-aged for six months. That's food for thought.

Margins

6/30/2007

9/29/2007

12/29/2007

3/29/2008

6/28/2008

9/27/2008

Gross

33.0%

34.0%

35.0%

34.4%

34.1%

34.3%

Operating

17.5%

18.4%

19.7%

19.3%

19.1%

19.3%

Net

13.9%

14.6%

15.4%

15.1%

14.9%

14.9%

FCF/Revenue

18.4%

19.7%

21.2%

21.0%

19.8%

26.2%

Growth (YOY)

6/30/2007

9/29/2007

12/29/2007

3/29/2008

6/28/2008

9/27/2008

Revenue

24.6%

24.3%

28.1%

33.2%

36.1%

35.3%

Earnings

67.1%

75.8%

67.8%

56.0%

46.8%

38.3%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says
Brine, Big Macs, and juicy steaks ... gosh, I'm hungry.

Let me just side with the bulls before running off to grab a quick snack. Steve is important, and may still be the very lifeblood of Apple as we know it. But the same company could still be great under different management. It would just have to be great in a different way. Abandoning the relentless flood of hyper-designed and intuitive products that Apple has released under Jobs in favor of simply building on its existing successes with incremental upgrades even makes sense.

This is no longer the high-growth, small cap minnow that Steve Job took over way back in 1997. A decade-plus of heady growth and terrific product announcements later, it's a more mature operation. But more importantly, I think it's one that can survive with or without Steve's charisma and vision.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. Or just sign up for a free CAPS account to find the identities of your fellow Fools who were quoted above. They might have more to tell you!

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. He prefers a quality burger over a mediocre steak any time. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is the Punxsutawney Phil of financial forecasting.