It does seem that Apple, considering how big it has gotten over the past several years, is no longer immune to the global macro economic conditions that have dogged other companies. The results are still outstanding by any measure, but it does seem that the days of year-over-year 70% revenue and 100%+ earnings growth are over.
Apple's business is now much more complex than it was only a few years ago when you consider the iCloud and other services-oriented initiatives to tie in with growing hardware offerings. Perhaps the tablet market isn't going to grow quite as fast as what everyone has been predicting. Perhaps the later-than-expected rollouts of the new Macs have also affected the top and bottom lines.
Competitive pressures also seem to have affected the margins as well. I don't think we can expect Apple to post net margins of 28~29% again as it did in the 1st and 2nd quarters of fiscal 2012. The guidance for the next quarter also indicates net margin in the 22~23% range, which is still amazingly impressive for a hardware company but not in the surreal realms of nearly 30%.
Growth rate has also slowed noticeably but that's more than understandable in this rotten global economy - especially in Europe and with the slowdown in China. The "haves" around the world will continue to buy new Apple gear over and over again but what about the "have-nots" or just common folks like me who don't really *need* to upgrade every two years when the stuff works just fine?
Things actually do look more challenging for Apple than it has over the past 5 years. Apple is at the top with a big bullseye mark attached to it by every competitor in the world. The competitors were blindsided by the iPhone and the iPad but it's unlikely that such a paradigm-shifting new product will come out anytime soon as the smartphone and tablet products mature over the next several years.
Still, moving forward, Apple remains better positioned than any other tech company out there when you observe the likes of Google, Microsoft, Samsung, HP, Dell, Sony, Nokia, RIM, etc. Apple provides differentiated and tightly integrated products, services and an experience that no one else can even come close to matching. As Tim Cook said, it's the long haul that matters when the competitors are scrambling to keep up, stem the losses, or just outright survive.