How will Apple spend its cash in 2018?

Apple probably has more cash than it knows what to do with right now, and this “problem” looks set to intensify if the company decides to repatriate the $250 billion it’s holding in overseas accounts.

Imagination and vision

Not knowing how to spend your money sounds like a nice problem to have, but in the tech world this can reflect poorly on those leading the company, as it suggests lack of imagination and blinkered vision.

Stock buy-back is likely to feature in Apple’s financial plans this year, but this won’t spontaneously call into existence that all-important ‘next big thing’. Apple has increased R&D spending by 43% in the last three years, reporting a figure of $11.6 billion in 2017, but the company’s latest product – the iPhone X – represents a category evolution, not a revolution. There are some things that money can’t buy, and certainty of success is one of them.

Content is still king

Apple is clearly attracted by the idea of getting into the content business and then piping this – for a fee – to its customers, so perhaps Tim Cook will spend some of Apple’s cash pile on acquisitions in the media and communications sectors, competing head-on with Google, Amazon, and Facebook as it does so.

Apple is a lifestyle brand, so its market relevance is implicit from the perspective of brand-aware consumers and tech enthusiasts. The company no longer reports its advertising costs ($1.8 billion in 2015), but it believes that marketing and advertising is critical to its business strategy.

Those people unaware of iPhone, iPad, or iTunes are now a minority, so I expect the greatest marketing company on earth will be looking to take this to the next level during 2018.

The Disneyfication of consumer tech

At the individual customer level, continued investment in high-quality buying experiences and knowledgeable sales staff will sustain the company’s market relevance in the immediate future, and its “Disneyfication” of all things tech will surely lead to ample market growth.

But every company has an Achilles’ heel, even Apple, and it’s only a matter of time before a competitor, or the market, finds it. Maybe it’ll turn out to be the company’s culture and belief system (there’s a fine line between a seamless, liberating experience, and the perception of stifling control and proprietary lock-in), we’ll have to wait and see.

2017 was pretty much business as usual for Apple, albeit with a couple of wobbles towards the end of the year. Apple’s stock price was pretty resilient in the wake of the macOS root password security vulnerability and Batterygate saga, but these were self-inflicted wounds, not external market events or competitor actions – these tests have yet to materialise.

This article is part of a series on the challenges facing major technology firms in 2018. For more, please see the main Write Side Up blog page

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