Five years ago today, Tim Cook took over as CEO of Apple to replace an ailing Steve Jobs. Although some have criticized the relative lack of excitement from the company since then—it has released just one new product, the middling Apple Watch, since Cook was promoted—the former chief operating officer has grown Apple into a company with roughly $600 billion in market capitalization, making it the most valuable public company in the world.
Here’s a quick look back at what has happened under Cook’s tenure:
Apple has never sold more than it has under Cook’s watch, in some quarters generating sales close to $80 billion—something many Fortune 500 companies don’t do in an entire year. But as iPhone sales stalled in recent quarters, and newer products like the Apple Watch and iPad Pro haven’t made a marked impact on the company’s bottom line, revenue has now fallen, year over year, for the past two quarters, and it remains to be seen where growth will come from over Cook’s next five years.
It’s a similar story when it comes to the profitability. Apple’s quarterly earnings in recent quarters have come in close to the GDP of Uganda, but Cook and company will have to look to new sources of income if they are going to be able to keep up the massive growth of the last five years.
The iPhone has been one of the most profitable, best-selling products of all time, and contributed the vast majority of Apple’s sales over the last five years. At times, it accounted for nearly three-quarters of total sales; it’s now closer to half. The big issue here is that there hasn’t appeared to be anything that could replace it as Apple’s cash cow. The company’s services business—music, apps, games, iCloud sales, Apple Pay fees, and the like—have grown in recent quarters to become Apple’s second-largest business. While some suggest that this shows a weakness, it does also show that Cook seems to have a plan for continuing to generate revenue from customers in the years between iPhone purchases. The question is whether just keeping people locked into the Apple ecosystem in the interim will be enough to sustain growth, especially if iPhone revenue continues to fall and there’s no new blockbuster to replace it.
Cook has striven to diversify where Apple makes its money. When he took over, China—now home to the largest middle class in the world—was a relatively minor market for the company, accounting for about $4 billion in quarterly sales. At its peak under Cook, China generated nearly $18 billion in sales in a single quarter.
In recent quarters, revenue in China has fallen, partly due to the country banning some Apple services, and other restrictions on foreign companies. But Cook does seem to have plan to improve its relationship with the Chinese government: Apple has invested $1 billion in the Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, and Cook, on a recent trip to China, pledged to build a research facility in the region . It’s difficult to see now whether this strategy pay off—but if it doesn’t, there’s always India.
It’s important to keep in mind that while revenue from the iPhone is slowing, so is the average selling price per phone.
Apple sold its billionth iPhone earlier this year. When Cook took over, Apple was shipping about 20 million units a quarter—now it’s sending about between 40 million and 75 million.
Apple doesn’t break out watch sales, putting them instead in a bucket called “Other Products,” which includes things like wifi routers, iPods, Apple TVs (another underwhelming product), and Beats headphones (which Apple bought under Cook’s direction in 2014). But as the only truly new product to have emerged from Apple in recent quarters, it doesn’t seem to have made changed sales much.
These last five years have been profitable for Cook personally, and for investors. How will he keep up the stock’s momentum? Will the company release another device—perhaps a car, or some sort of AI-powered virtual reality system—that fundamentally changes the way we interact with the world, like the iPhone did? Or will Cook just aim to keep the ship steady, simply releasing generation after generation of the iPhone until Apple finally misses the boat on the next wave of digital technology?
Only Tim Cook knows.