Apple (AAPL) has ramped up its spending on research and development in recent years, but that hasn’t resulted in increased product introductions. At least, not yet.
“Despite R&D spending more than quintupling over the last 6.5 years, Apple’s pace of new product/services introductions does not appear to have accelerated,” Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said in a report Friday.
Between 1998 and 2011, a period in which Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad, the company spent a cumulative $11.5 billion on R&D. It spent that same amount last year alone, Sacconaghi said.
“We believe that Apple’s R&D productivity has declined,” he said. That may be attributable to the loss of the company’s charismatic leader Steve Jobs, Sacconaghi said.
Will Apple R&D Lead To Big New Products?
“That said, it is also possible that the recent surge in R&D spending could translate into accelerated product and services announcements in the near to medium term,” he said.
A recent criminal complaint against a former employee who worked for Apple’s self-driving car project noted that Apple has 2,700 core employees working on that project. That’s 2.2% of Apple’s 123,000 full-time employees as of last September, he said.
“Apple might be spending $500 million to $1 billion of its $12.7 billion R&D spend on autonomous driving alone, and the project has yet to be publicly discussed or produce any product or service despite years of investment,” Sacconaghi said. “Apple likely has many other projects in its pipeline, including projects related to AR/VR, streaming video, etc.”
No ‘Home Run’ Product Under Cook
Seven years ago, when Tim Cook took over the helm as chief executive officer, Apple was spending just 2.2% of revenue on R&D, a percentage dramatically lower than its peers, Sacconaghi said. Since then R&D expenses have grown steadily to 5.1% of revenue, he said.
Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has yet to introduce a “home run” product like the iPod, iPhone or iPad.
“The failure to produce other blockbuster offerings is perhaps most disappointing in the context of the company’s scale and Apple’s resources,” he said. “Since Tim Cook became CEO, cumulative R&D spend has amounted to $51 billion.”
Some companies use mergers and acquisitions to pick up new technologies, but Apple’s M&A spending also has lagged peers, Sacconaghi said.
Apple has deployed just 2% of its free cash flow toward M&A, which is dramatically lower than peers at about 25%, he said.
Apple prefers to do small, tuck-in acquisitions to get ingredient technologies to make its own products and services. Siri and Apple Music are two Apple offerings that developed from acquisitions.
Sacconaghi rates Apple stock as market perform with a price target of 190. Apple shares rose 0.2% to 191.33 on the stock market today.