Apple (AAPL) reports earnings Wednesday after the market close. Wall Street is not expecting particularly impressive results. The focus of most Apple investors appears to be on the new products Apple is expected to roll out in the second half of this year.
And those products are indeed critical for the company and its stock price.
A few years ago, Apple was one of the greatest growth stories in the stock market. For more than a decade, the company astounded Wall Street with one smashing quarter after another. Eventually, Apple's lead in smartphones and tablets seemed insurmountable, and Apple's stock price soared above $700 per share.
But then the premium smartphone market hit maturity, and smaller, cheaper tablets began to gobble up more and more market share.
And now Apple is no longer a growth company.
In fact, based on Wall Street's estimates for this quarter, it's a shrinking company. Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, one of the leading analysts in the sector, expects every major Apple product line to shrink year over year. And he thinks revenue will be flat.
Why has Apple stopped growing?
Because the markets for smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly commoditized and dominated by cheaper alternatives. Apple still has a massive, loyal, and passionate user base, but most of the products sold to these users are just upgrades. The "green field" opportunity, especially at the high end of the market, is gone.
What's more, the new products that Apple is reportedly working on -- an iWatch and a television set -- are far from a slam dunk. As Steve Jobs once observed, the TV business is a highly competitive low-margin industry, and Apple appears to have had trouble even bringing a product to market. The success of connected watches, meanwhile, has been muted. So it may be hard for Apple to pull another rabbit out of a hat with a blockbuster new product.
Related: Apple's talks with Comcast reveal that Apple is no closer to "cracking" TV
Apple is likely to see a strong upgrade cycle later this year when it rolls out the iPhone 6. But after that, things could get rough. The trends that have stopped Apple's growth in its tracks are continuing. And it's not clear that the company is about to release any game-changing new products that will fix this.
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