For a while, it seemed, the shine was gone from the Apple.
But Apple Computer Inc., one of the darlings of Wall Street late last year, seems to have left behind the manufacturing problems it faced with its new APPLE III personal computer.
The four-year-old personal computer maker, which claims its corporate mission is to bring the benefits of computer technology to individuals, has realigned its top management and is poised for a two-year period of explosive growth.
Investors, who drove the price of Apple stock down from about $36 a share late last year to $22 in March, have bid the stock back to the $32 range even though an additional 2.6 million shares were released to the public domain last month at $31.25 a share.
After months of anticipation, at a time when stocks of small technology companies (such as the genetic engineering firm Genentech) were being snapped up eagerly by investors, Apple "went public" last December, selling 4.6 million shares of itself at $22 a share. Investors pushed the price of $36 before the APPLE III problems became known. The price fell back to the $22 range by March before marching steadily upward again.
Apple's prospects, according to analyst Don F. Sinsabaugh of Gruntal & Co., are rosy.He said company sales should skyrocket from $118 million last year. (Apple's accounting years end on Sept. 30) to $380 million this year and $750 million next year. In 1977, the year Apple was founded in California by two college dropouts, Stephen G. Wozniak and Steven P. Jobs, the company had sales of less than $2 million.
Such spectacular growth often has been the downfall of companies -- and may yet be for Apple -- but analysts say that so far the company has managed its growth well. Apple has plenty of cash in the bank ($76 million), the ability to sell more stock (the company realized no income from last months' sale; it was an offering of stock owned by employes and early investors) and no need to make expensive capital investments.
Apple is a computer assembler. As a result, even during periods of rapid expansion, it has to invest little in manufacturing equipment.
Furthermore, it can add capacity and workers in small increments, which it has been doing at a rapid pace. A year ago it had 500 employes. Today it has close to 1,700 according to company spokesman Fred Hoar. It has assembly plants in northern and southern California.
Last summer it opened a plant in a Dallas suburb and last October began making Apple II for the European market in Cork, Ireland. Next month the company will open a facility in Singapore.
Apple shipped 79,000 computers last year, according to Gruntal's Sinsabaugh. This year, he estimates, Apple will sell 200,000 APPLE IIs and 15,000 to 20,000 of its more powerful, no longer-problem-plagued APPLE IIIs. Next year, he said, the company should sell about 220,000 APPLE IIs and 110,000 APPLE IIIs.
The APPLE III is a larger, more versatile version of the APPLE II, and its introduction was long-awaited by computer users and investors alike. But the earliest versions shipped late last year were full of minor, but annoying technical problems.
When the problems became apparent, the company stopped shipping for several months, but resumed again in April. So far, Hoar said, about 5,000 APPLE IIIs have been sent from the company's San Jose plant to dealers around the country. All other Apple plants manufacture the APPLE II (the little brother of APPLE III, as the company says) but can move to making APPLE IIIs easily.
Because of the delays in the APPLE III -- the computer is about six months behind schedule -- the software that permits the computer to do specialized tasks, from analyzing stock portfolios to keeping track of inventories, is also waiting to be developed.
The major software packages -- such as those that permit the computer to do word processing or text editing -- have been developed by Apple itself. Spokesman Hoar said the initial APPLE IIIs are being shipped with more software than the early APPLE IIs. But the smaller companies that make special programming packages compatible with APPLE III (or any other computer) have been held up.
"The problems with APPLE III probably stimulated demand for the Apple ii," said one analyst. The APPLE II has been around for about four years, and there is a plethora of software available. Even though the APPLE III has three times the memory and twice the column widths of APPLE II, many purchasers will stick with the smaller version because of the availability of software. Others will stick with APPLE II because the typical purchase price is about $2,500 compared with $4,500.
Apple and Radio Shack (a subsidiary of the Tandy Corp.) are the two major factors in the personal computer market, according to Sinsabaugh. Apple has about 20 percent of the market and Radio Shack between 20 and 25 percent. Commodore International is a close third behind Apple. The rest is divided among a number of smaller companies such as Vector Graphics, Cromemco Inc. and North Star Computers.