Apple CEO Tim Cook got testy after an analyst asked him if Apple has a ‘grand strategy’ (AAPL)

Tim Cook Apple CEOApple CEO Tim CookREUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Apple may have hit its targets in its fiscal fourth quarter, but investors are clearly not dazzled by the shrinking shipments across all of the company’s key product lines.

Shares of Apple fell about 3% in after hours trading on Tuesday. And CEO Tim Cook struggled to convince Wall Street that the company was poised for a new growth spurt.

But the moment that best defined the company’s current predicament came during the conference call on Tuesday, when Apple CEO Tim Cook fielded a remarkable question from an analyst and reacted in what can best be described as a defensive manner.

The analyst started by pointing out that Apple hasn’t released a major new product in a while, and then asked: “Does Apple have a grand strategy for the next 3-5 years? I know you’re not going to tell us, but do you have one?”

Cook responded by saying: “We have the strongest pipeline that we’ve ever had and we’re really confident about the things in it but as usual we’re not going to talk about what’s in it

The “strongest pipeline” phrase was standard Apple boilerplate language for these kinds of questions. But it was hard to miss a sense of annoyance in Cook’s voice, especially when he didn’t follow-on with any other comments, if even just some more platitudes about how focused on innovation Apple is.

Then something really interesting happened.

The unthinkable question

The analyst followed up by pressing on whether Apple has a grip on its strategy or if it simply reacts to changes to the market.

“We have a strong sense of where things go and we’re very agile to shift it,” Cook said tersely.

It was a striking sign of how much Apple’s reputation has changed from even just a few years ago, as the company experiences three quarters of declining revenue and struggles to unveil a new, game-changing gadget.

Apple was the undisputed leader of the tech industry during the Steve Jobs era. It would have been unthinkable for a Wall Street analyst to have the temerity to ask whether the company has a grand strategy or simply reacts to others.

Apple is the maker of the iPhone. The company does not react to others; It sets the agenda.

But these days, the Wall Street analysts who asked questions on Apple’s call on Tuesday aren’t taking anything for granted. As a group, they pressed the company’s leadership for more information on the direction of the company — like the long-rumored Apple Car — or details about its financial operations.

The clearest takeaway from Apple earnings call: No one takes Apple’s word for anything anymore. On India potential, next growth drivers etc

— Shira Ovide (@ShiraOvide) October 25, 2016

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