Has Apple Innovation Hit a Wall?

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Earlier this week Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) teased a one-day Black Friday sale. The teaser shows an Apple Watch, but no prices are listed yet. Presumably those come on Black Friday.

Given that Apple reaped 91% of the profit in global smartphone sales in the third quarter, it may seem a little odd that the world’s most valuable company is about to offer sale pricing on some products. Then again, maybe not.

Some analysts have doubts about Apple’s ability both to maintain its stratospheric margins and to demonstrate again the innovation skill that gave the world the iPod and the iPhone. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone and one analyst told MarketWatch that the next iPhone will be “one last growth hurrah” for Apple as consumers back away from the company’s premium-priced smartphones in favor of less expensive, but nearly equally capable, cheaper phones.

Oppenheimer analyst Andrew Uerkwitz told MarketWatch, “The risks to the company have never been greater. We believe Apple is about to embark on a decade-long malaise.”

It’s hard to argue that the latest iPhones are not significantly better than the 2007 model. Larger, sharper displays, millions of apps, the list goes on and on. However the changes have mostly been incremental — the iPhone’s breakthrough features have been there since the beginning.

Still it’s possible, even likely, that a market for high-priced devices like the iPhone will remain strong for a long time to come. Canaccord Genuity, to name one firm, sees Apple extending its lead in the premium smartphone market.

But that’s only money. Where’s Apple’s next big thing going to come from? Self-driving cars, augmented or virtual reality, artificial intelligence? There are already dozens of players in each of those areas. Can Apple really stand out in any of them?

The company has surprised us before. No one expected the Macintosh, just as no one saw the iPhone coming. Does Apple have another one of those up its sleeve?