Even as I turned into the driveway at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino on early Wednesday morning, Apple's stock shares were slumping in value.
This was my first Apple shareholders meeting. In fact, it was my first time attending any such gathering by any company. But for Apple, this shareholder meeting seemed critical.
Its stock price has slid about 35% in five months. A prominent hedge fund manager, David Einhorn, has taken the company to court over its $137 billion cash hoard. Google is grabbing the headlines as tech's dominant innovator and Samsung is gobbling share in the smart phone market.
I wondered: What will Apple do at its annual shareholder's meeting when it is under such duress?
Well, the obvious: Distribute homemade pastries. Hand serve fresh-roasted coffee as shareholders wait in line to enter the building. Provide personal escorts to the ladies' room. Inspect purses and briefcases and funnel everyone through a gauntlet of smiling security (all dressed in Apple black) and a body scanner.
And for the topper, confiscate all electronic devices -iPhones, iPads, computers--so that shareholders who sat patiently in the comfortable yet stylish auditorium waiting for the meeting to start had to read items--on paper! Where's an app for that?
No apps. Just business and national celebrities in the house--Al Gore, Bob Iger (head of Disney), Andrea Jung, who revitalized Avon, and, of course, Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, dressed in all black. "He's doing his best to channel Steve Jobs," quipped one of many people who flew in from New York, Florida, Southern California and other non-Bay Area locales to attend the event.
But as one long time shareholder and former Apple employee noted: "Steve Jobs did not speak at these meetings." Cook may not have Jobs' innate charisma or his visionary leadership style, and he may be shepherding a company with a sinking stock at the moment, but he does show up.
He also answered questions about Apple's purpose--"to create high quality products that enhance people's lives;" About how they are spending their time--" focused on innovation;" On making inroads in emerging markets, becoming an increasingly green company, building a greater retail presence in China, on dealing with bad labor practices at its Chinese supplier Foxconn and with local security providers.
He even kicked off the meeting with an "I feel your pain" acknowledgement about the stock price--that Apple executives are as unhappy about its descent as the stockholders.
All that bucked me up a bit. But Cook barely mentioned what I really wanted to hear -- that Apple is creating a new category of product.
In truth, Apple did not whip up new categories out of thin air in the past.
Apple revamped the user experience of the MP3 player, invented iTunes as a legal and convenient means of downloading music and created the iPod.
Apple married the Blackberry with the iPod, substituted a touchscreen for a keyboard and emerged with the iPhone.
Apple recast the tablet, a technology that had been lingering on the fringes for a while, gave it a touch screen and created the iPad. (I previously had only seen a tablet in use once-- and that was on an episode of 24. And it required Jack Bauer to use a stylus.)
So while I would love for the company to raise its dividend or buy back more stock, Apple needs to show that it can pioneer, envision and make manifest what we do not know that we want but once it exists we cannot live without.
Bringing the television into the 21st century by substituting my five remotes for voice activated commands? A wearable computer on my wrist with a virtual pop up screen? (Or is that too much like those virtual advertisements that menaced Tom Cruise in Minority Report?) Maybe something entirely novel?
Bring it on, Apple. And with it, pull up the stock price.