Are Apple's best days behind it?July 8, 2013: 9:52 AM ET
Things are happening at Apple, no question. Will it be enough?
FORTUNE -- The task at first seemed impossible: Determine if Apple's best days are behind it or if it's merely taking a break from breakneck growth and world-beating innovation. After all, how to figure out the trajectory of a company that is so tight-lipped with its plans, which prohibits its people from talking freely, even amongst themselves, a company whose new CEO speaks rarely and then in crisp, measured sentences designed to reveal as little as possible?
The solution to an undoable task ultimately was not to choose, or rather to take both sides in separate arguments. There's an equally valid case to be made here, and each argument has passionate adherents among the techno-elite. Even among Apple veterans opinions are split, with some believing the excellence of the organization will enable it to win again and others seeing too many signs of decay to keep the faith.
But you can't really have it both ways in life. So what do I think?
The preponderance of the evidence, common sense and gut instinct all suggest the Apple-has-peaked argument is the stronger of the two. It is jarring to see Apple (AAPL) as a follower, but that's what it looks like with its iTunes Radio service, with its flat mobile software design, with its still sub-optimal online maps. Apple isn't supposed to follow anyone on anything. If Apple makes a cheaper phone, it will boost revenues. But a premium brand that attacks the low end does so at its peril. If it moves into wearable computers, it will do so only after Google (GOOG), Jawbone, or its own partner Nike (NKE) already have shown the way.
As I said, though, there are plenty of more positive data points too. Just since the print edition of this article went to press, reports surfaced that shows signs of light for Apple. A patent application in Japan for an iWatch suggests Apple is serious about wearables. Apple supposedly is talking to Time Warner Cable (TWC) about streaming rights. Is this just for Apple TV as it currently exists, or is it for the long-awaited iTelevision, as the fanboys hope? Then comes news that Apple has hired fashion executive Paul Deneve as a vice-president working on special projects as well as Hulu executive Pete Distad to craft content deals.
Things are happening at Apple, no question. Will it be enough? Read the entire feature package in the latest issue of Fortune and make up your own mind.