New iPhones? New iOS? New deals? Sure. But Wall Street has deeper questions.
FORTUNE — To readers paying close attention to press reports, there may not be many surprises Tuesday when Apple AAPL hosts its big September three-ring circus for analysts and the media.
The critics will be unforgiving if the event’s tentpole announcements don’t include:
- The Phone 5S, a speedier iPhone 5, probably with fingerprint recognition for ID purposes, possibly with near-field communication (NFC) technology for buying stuff in stores.
- The iPhone 5C, a plastic-bodied iPhone that comes in colors and is slower, less powerful, lower-res and less expensive (e.g. $400 plus or minus).
- The release of iOS 7, the first top-to-bottom redesign of the face the iPhone shows the world, complete with new metaphors, new light sources, a Pandora knock-off and a look designed to make Samsung’s smartphones feel old fashioned.
- New programming and new tricks for Apple TV, Steve Jobs’ final “hobby” by which he hoped to someday disrupt the entertainment industry.
- Distribution deals with some of the world’s biggest holdouts, including China Mobile (740 million subscribers) and NTT DoCoMo (60 million).
All this and maybe more will be duly reported — with specs, price points and other details filled in — Tuesday afternoon.
But by Wednesday, Apple watchers will be wrestling with the darker questions — questions that have been swirling around the company since even before the stock started tanking in September 2012.
Essentially, the issues that Wall Street has with Apple — the perceived problems that by April 2013 had lopped $280 billion (40%) off Apple’s market value — boil down to three negative story lines:
- That Apple without Steve Jobs can no longer innovate.
- That Apple’s products are over-engineered and overpriced, and that for most users, Android phones and tablets are good enough.
- That Apple can’t compete in the world’s fastest growing smartphone markets: China, India, Brazil, the Philippines, Nigeria, etc.
Those are valid issues, and they deserve an answer.
But until we see what Tim Cook has up his sleeves — and whether it delights or disappoints or even works as advertised — until then we won’t know whether the reports of Apple’s impending doom that we’ve been hearing for more than a year are, like Mark Twain’s obituary, premature.