FORTUNE -- According to this year's edition of the Fortune Global 500, Apple (AAPL) is the second most profitable company in the world after Exxon Mobil (XOM) and has jumped from 55th to 19th place in terms of revenue. (See list below.)
Sounds good, right? The problem is, this year's list is based on last year's results -- i.e., the fiscal year that for Apple ended in September 2012, just before the company's share price famously began a nine-month dive from over $700 to below $400.
To capture the Tale of Two Cities flavor of Apple's achievement, Fortune's Adam Lashinsky -- whose Inside Apple is the best book in print on how the company works -- has written a pair of essays that present the bull and bear cases for Apple.
"Watching Apple stumble," begins the worst-of-times piece, "is a little like witnessing a just-over- the-hill prizefighter wobbling on his feet or a once-eloquent orator stammering for the right word. But there's no question: Apple has lost a step since the death of Steve Jobs. That this observation is as inevitable as the effects of gravity doesn't make it any less shocking or lamentable.
"How has Apple fallen? Let us count the ways. It has been three years since the release of the iPad, the company's last breakthrough product. The latest version of its mobile software reminds design critics more of the edgier features of Google's (GOOG) Android or Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Phone than anything associated with Apple's penchant for leapfrogging-the-competition boldness. Apple's management is defensive, its people are less committed, and its competitors are resurgent. Apple's ferocious profit growth has stalled, and investors have lost faith in its ability to restart that engine. Apple's stock price is deflated, sure, but that's merely a symptom, not the disease.
"No, the real problem with Apple is that this company, long the arbiter of cool, the corporate trendsetter on all matters from design to marketing to operational excellence, has gone from being insanely great to merely great..."
The best-of-times essay starts off like this:
"Sorry, haters. Apple has a long way to go before it can be counted out. Look closely at what little Apple has revealed about its secretive plans for the future, and you'll see a still-dominant, still-innovative company that is intelligently regrouping for fresh battles that didn't exist when Jobs was around. In its corporate DNA, Apple is a go-for-broke company, an astounding attribute given its size. The opportunities for reinvention at Apple are many, and to underestimate the abilities or the imagination of the crew Jobs left behind would be foolish. Just because Apple hasn't indicated its road map or offered concrete examples of of its upcoming breakthrough ideas doesn't mean it doesn't intend to surprise and delight its customers again, the way it has so many times before."
And it concludes:
"The conventional wisdom in the media, on Wall Street, and by lovers of schadenfreude everywhere is that dull normality will weigh down Apple in the years to come. Some canny observers of Apple's past and future, however, see something different altogether: renewed greatness."
On what side does Lashinsky end up?
"The preponderance of the evidence, common sense, and gut instinct," he writes in a third essay, The Verdict, "all suggest that the Apple-has-peaked argument is the stronger of the two."
Fortune subscribers can read Lashinsky's essays here.
Below: The first 19 entries in the Fortune Global 500.
Chosen by peers who know, better than Wall Street, that what Apple does is not easy
FORTUNE -- There's an elegiac tone to Adam ("Inside Apple") Lashinsky's essay in the issue of Fortune that names Apple (AAPL) the world's most admired company (as selected by its corporate peers) for the sixth year in a row.
"For some," Lashinsky writes, "the news will come as a surprise. Headlines of late have tended to MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 28, 2013 5:38 PM ET
How the company is changing in the post-Steve Jobs era
FORTUNE -- Adam Lashinsky, whose 240-page book Inside Apple taught us more about how Apple (AAPL) works as a company than 656 pages of the Steve Jobs biography, has the cover of the current issue of Fortune: How Tim Cook Is Changing Apple.
Lashinsky touches all the bases that had previously been reported -- the new dividend, the trips to China and Washington, D.C., the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 24, 2012 6:19 AM ET
If you're in L.A. Thursday or Friday, join us at the Apple Investors Summit
We'll be speaking, along with Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, Apple (AAPL) co-founder Steve Wozniak, Fortune's Adam Lashinsky, Asymco's Horace Dediu, Bullish Cross's Andy Zaky, Posts at Eventide's Robert Paul Leitau, AAPLPain's Travis Lewis, The Street's Jason Schwarz and many more.
To register, click here.Philip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 14, 2012 5:07 AM ET
An ex-employee asks Inside Apple's author "What creates the perfect Kool-Aid drinker?"
On the first stop on his publicity tour -- at the headquarters of LinkedIn -- Adam Lashinsky met a former Apple (AAPL) employee who had read Lashinky's book and was in a position to comment on how accurately it portrays life Inside Apple.
We've posted the meat of their exchange in the YouTube clip below. Lashinsky's interrogator -- who worked MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 29, 2012 8:06 AM ET
A deep dive into how -- and why -- Apple keeps its secrets
The excerpt, posted Wednesday, starts like this:
Apple employees know something big is afoot when the carpenters appear in their office building. New walls are quickly erected. Doors are added and new security protocols put into place. Windows that once were transparent are now frosted. Other rooms have no windows at all. They are called lockdown rooms: No information MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 18, 2012 6:24 AM ET
The senior VP's chief weakness, writes Fortune's Adam Lashinsky, is his naked ambition
He's young (43). Comfortable on stage (played Sweeney Todd in high school). Has serious nerd credentials (Stanford, NeXT). Shares Steve Jobs' obsession with detail (keeps a jeweler's loupe in his office to check every pixel on every icon). And the division he heads -- mobile software -- drives nearly 70% of Apple's (AAPL) income.
"He's a sharp, down-to-earth, and talented MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 17, 2012 5:29 AM ET
Walter Isaacson shares new information on his best-selling biography of the Apple founder.
FORTUNE -- Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs has topped The New York Times bestseller's list for eight consecutive weeks now. Earlier in the month I interviewed Isaacson for a sold-out audience of the Commonwealth Club of Northern California in San Francisco. For all that has been written about Isaacson's book and for all the people who have read it, there MOREAdam Lashinsky, Sr. Editor at Large - Dec 27, 2011 10:53 AM ET
Fortune's Kindle book is a treasure trove of vintage Steve Jobs vignettes
"Contempt" is probably the word that best describes Steve Jobs' attitude toward the press. But he courts the publications he cares about, and over the years one of the magazines he courted most assiduously -- at least until a certain 2008 cover story -- was Fortune.
While at Apple (AAPL), NeXT, Pixar and Apple again, he gave Fortune's writers and editors MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Sep 28, 2011 6:45 AM ET
It was a wheel that revolved around Steve Jobs. How will it change under Tim Cook?
One of my favorite elements in Adam Lashinsky's How Apple Works -- the "inside" story that created a sensation when it appeared in the May 23 issue of Fortune but was made fully available online only last week -- was the organization chart assembled by Fortune's graphics team under the guidance of senior research editor Doris MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Aug 29, 2011 7:51 AM ET
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