Report: Apple's board loses its nerve as Cook readies new product play

Apple [AAPL] is expected to reignite competition in its many markets once it begins its new product salvo this Fall -- or is it? Do reports claiming the company's Board of Directors are concerned about the "pace of innovation" at Apple suggest all may not be well in Cupertino?

[ABOVE: Apple's latest Facetime ad. Note that it talks about features, rather than dissing competitors.]

Gasparino gathers

The meat of the claims (emanating from Fox's Charlie Gasparino  via Wall Street Pit) is that company directors have become concerned at the duration of relative inactivity by Apple as it puts together its plans for Fall. They are (it is alleged) murmuring that CEO, Tim Cook, need to get something innovative "fast."

The report continues:

"We should point out this is an interesting board room drama. It doesn’t mean that Tim Cook is out of a job or that there is a job search out there. We don’t know that and I don’t believe that is happening and a matter of fact, sources inside Apple are saying that this is not the case. But what we have been able to confirm is that the board is now worried about what is in the pipeline.”

What might this suggest? It seems highly probably that Apple's board members are fully briefed on what the company intends releasing not just across the next few months, but across the coming two years or so.

Discontent among the directors could reflect a perception that other than iterative upgrades to Apple's existing product families the firm has nothing much to offer. It could also reflect a situation in which Board members aren't yet convinced of any future solutions -- perhaps they don't see the fundamental value of Apple's much-discussed move into wearable computing.

The Fox report could perhaps be based on a few whispered comments that have been blown out of proportion -- it could be inaccurate. Finally, of course, the report could reflect the different types of leadership shown by Steve Jobs and the "quiet man," Tim Cook.

Before the storm

All the same, the timing of this report is quite interesting. The company has appeared quiet for months during which it's new product launches have been slower than ever before.

The period has also seen Google's Android climb to prominence even while Samsung has effectively managed to become the de facto prime manufacturer of Android products. Apple's enemies have taken the opportunity to become strong.

Meanwhile the company has seen shares decline, and, in recent weeks, seen shares stage a quiet come back, not that this has been widely noticed.

It's all about products. Apple's dry spell in product releases has inevitably impacted its perceived value. Rumors of new iPhones, iPads, the iWatch and Apple television have helped the firm make some gains, but we're watching and waiting for something more.

"We're waiting for that all-important, life-changing product from Apple and unfortunately we're just not getting it... What we really need is that kid to go that bar and drop off some secret plans, because that's what we're waiting for," Todd Schoenberger of LandColt Capital told Yahoo Finance.

Apple has been working industriously to introduce new solutions with which to regain collective consumer mind share and maintain its record for disruption -- but are its plans coming together? After all, only a few days ago we learned company directors, Bill Campbell and Millard Drexler sold huge quantities of their Apple shares. Perhaps the men know something we don't?

Speculation around Apple needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, particularly when rumors emerge from within the analyst/investment community.

The Fox report makes no mention of the source of the information and comes as Apple shares face a further period of volatility as the company progresses through what is anticipated to be a flat fourth quarter. This flatness driven by a grim economy and a significant lack of new product offers.

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Autumn or Fall?

It is unlikely Apple has simply packed up and gone home. It seems most likely the company has indeed been preparing the ground for a fight back this Fall.

What seems more possible is that the share sell off and claimed anxiety concerning the pace of innovation within the Apple board reflects some disagreement at the top of the Apple tree as directors become anxious that the length of time between significant product releases has given competing firms a chance to consolidate their position.

This wavering in the ranks may turn out to be no more than the anxiety you'd expect from any force as it prepares to march into battle. That this anxiety has ostensibly emerged from within Apple's usually quiet boardroom suggests that whatever the company does have planned is something really big. Or, in a second interpretation, something not major enough.

Either way, reading between the lines it seems to me that Apple has reached a critical point on its road. Apple's Fall may see the company enter a fresh spring, or take its first steps on a difficult autumn.

Investors will no doubt panic at the Fox report (which we must hope it can prove in the event Apple's board knows differently), Apple watchers, meanwhile, will simply wait and see.

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