Apple Earnings Preview: 5 Issues Partners Want CEO Tim Cook To Address

Apple Quarterly Revenue Expected To Decline For First Time Since 2003

For the first time since 2003, Apple is expected to report a decline in year-over-year earnings and sales.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters estimate that Apple will report $2 a share on sales of $52 billion for the quarter ended March -- down from the same quarter a year ago, when Apple reported $2.33 a share on sales of $58 billion.

While Apple has been releasing new products, including the Apple Watch, its business still remains heavily dependent on the iPhone, whose sales have been declining.

Following are five key issues that Apple partners would like CEO Tim Cook to address on the Cupertino, Calif.-based company's quarterly earnings call.

iPhone Sale Slump

Partners want to hear whether Cook remains bullish on Apple's iPhone sales in the coming year, and what Apple intends to do to deal with market saturation.

In January, Cook said the company believed that sales of "iPhone units will decline in the [second fiscal] quarter," from the 61.2 million iPhones Apple sold a year ago.

Overall, according to research firm IDC, regional mature markets like the U.S., China and Western Europe hit single-digit growth in 2015, marking a mature market slowdown that could have serious consequences for Apple.

Despite the smartphone market saturation, Apple has continued releasing iPhones -- in March, it unveiled the 4-inch iPhone 5se for developing markets, while in September it released the upgraded iPhone 6s and Phone 6s Plus.

Product Innovation -- Instead Of Cyclical Upgrades -- For Macs, iPads, iPhones

Partners would like to hear about how Apple is planning for new innovative features, as opposed to cyclical upgrades, on its existing product lineup, including iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Mike Hadley, CEO of Boston-based solution provider iCorps Technologies, praised Apple's recent MacBook upgrade but said that the company needed a new innovative feature, such as a touch screen.

"The new 10-hour battery is great and we appreciate the faster processor and lighter weight," he said. "I think Apple is getting there but needs to change their thinking a little bit and embrace a new feature like a touch screen. They are missing the boat on that."

iPhone Market Slowdown In China

One particular region that is significant for Apple is China -- Apple's second largest market after the Americas.

Smartphone growth in China is slowing, and Apple reported a slowing 14 percent year-over-year increase in revenue from China in its last quarter.

To make matters worse, last week, some of Apple's offerings, including digital content services like iTunes Movies, were suspended due to the demands of local regulators who say Apple's services compete directly with Chinese Internet services, according to The New York Times.

Partners are interested in hearing how Cook aims to grapple with slowing demand in the Chinese smartphone market in 2016.

iPad Sales And Enterprise Partnerships

Despite Apple's investment in iPads with its new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, released in the December quarter, and 7.9-inch iPad Pro, released this past quarter, the company's tablet sales have declined for eight straight quarters.

That, coupled with increased competition in the tablet space from products including Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 and Samsung's Galaxy TabPro S, have partners wondering whether Cook remains bullish on iPads even as the company continues releasing new tablet models.

Apple has also partnered with enterprise partners, including IBM, Cisco and Box, to help grow its tablet sector, and partners would like to hear updates on these partnerships.

Mac Sales And A Struggling PC Market

Finally, partners are eager to hear more about Apple's Mac sales, particularly as the PC market continues to face challenges in 2016.

According to IDC, the PC industry at large is continuing to rapidly shrink, declining 11.5 percent in the last quarter versus the same quarter in 2014.

Despite the grim PC market, Apple continues to upgrade its Mac lineup, including new Retina iMacs, MacBook Pros and MacBooks. Looking forward, partners would like to hear what Cook's plans are in terms of innovative features for Apple's Mac lineup in 2016.