These are the tweets from investor Carl Icahn that sent Apple shares soaring this afternoon—up about five percent as I’m writing this. And in the increasingly partisan world of tech blogging, Apple fans will doubtless be cheering this. But really people who like Apple’s products should find this to be a sad moment.
Horace Dediu showed last month that Apple stock has already been Apple’s largest acquisition by far recently. These buybacks and rumors of larger buybacks are nice for investors who are getting the chance to cash out, but for users of the products and fans of the platform these are signs of a company failing to invest in its future. Obviously in an ideal world the engineers would come up with some amazing new Greatest Thing Ever invention and the money would all be spent on producing it. But even on a realistic view of ongoing innovation there are more exciting things a company could be doing than share buybacks. Why not just do customers a favor and slash prices? A lot of people wrote stories about OMG! APPLE’S PROFIT MARGINS ARE FALLING last quarter, but their margins are still really high—36 or 37 percent. That’s nice profits if you can get it, but if all you’re going to do with it is return cash to Carl Icahn then it seems to me you lack a certain vision. Why not slash prices 30% and watch iPhone marketshare soar. Wouldn’t that be more fun?
Or build a hyperloop. Or relocate the entire company to a brand new Apple Technology City somewhere in Nebraska. Or double wages for factory workers in China. But really if you want to be boring, cut prices. Returning money to shareholders is a business strategy for an electrical utility. Show some vision.