Several factors are combining to weigh on the shares. These include the recent theft of celebrity photos from their mobile phones, which could deter consumers from using Apple's iCloud online storage service, and a sense among some Apple watchers that the company has lost its innovation mojo. The malaise raises the stakes for Apple's introduction of its latest iPhone and of a wearable device on Sept. 9. In short, either Apple rekindles its product magic, or there could be bigger hits to its stock price.
The barrage of data thefts from celebrities who kept nude photos of themselves on their phones caused an immediate drop in Apple shares on Tuesday. More than 100 celebrities, including actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton, found their images circulating on the Internet.
Apple initially claimed its iCloud system wasn't the problem. But Apple quickly moved to patch a security gap that might have allowed the data thieves access to the images, although the company still denies any fault.
Whatever enabled the theft, the incident has come at an inopportune time for Apple. According to social media analytics firm Networked Insights, there has been more online conversations about the photo scandal than about the upcoming iPhone 6, which is not what the company would want as it prepares for a major product launch.
But Apple has a bigger worry: The perception that its heralded flair for designing groundbreaking new devices is on the wane. That poses a greater threat to Apple than other tech vendors because the company has famously relied on a steady succession of hit products to drive its growth. In recent years, for instance, the iPod gave way to the iPhone, which was eventually joined by the iPad.
But iPad unit sales have been declining, and Google (GOOG) Android not only has gained a dominant market position in smartphones, but has apparently slightly overtaken iPhones in user engagement, a key metric in analyzing the industry's winners and losers. In early August, around the time of a significant drop in Apple's share price, there were again calls for the company to "stop making excuses" and to re-instill excitement around forthcoming products.
Earlier this week, Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves suggested that people begin to take profits from Apple stock. He also said that "if the announced products and services do not suggest massive incremental profit opportunities, we are likely to downgrade our rating for AAPL."
Apple next week is expected to finally announce the mystery wearable device that has been rumored for years. But some reports say the product is unlikely to be commercially available until 2015.
Breathless chatter around its products is a signature of Apple's publicity strategy. But the company will have to deliver next week if it expects to keep investors on board.