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Apple under CEO Angela Ahrendts? Hmm ... (beard stroke)

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Analysis Cloud king Marc Benioff has hailed "future Apple CEO" Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s new head of retail and online sales, as "the most important hire Tim Cook has ever made".

Some have interpreted the tweet by Benioff, chief executive of software-as-a-service success Salesforce.com, as more than just a bit of encouragement for his colleague – and have wondered aloud what information Benioff might be privy to.

The Salesforce CEO might well heap praise on the former retail boss – her soon-to-be-ex employer Brit fashion brand Burberry uses Salesforce and Benioff smokes the same peace pipe when it comes to “the social enterprise.”

She's also reportedly a friend of his and spoke at his firm's conference last year. “You have to be totally connected with everyone who touches your brand,” she has said in a Salesforce promo.

Talk of Ahrendts becoming Apple CEO is picking up after Apple reported fourth quarter numbers that left some on Wall Street disappointed. Are we to conclude that the bell has begun tolling for Cook?

The company reported growth is near flat compared to a year back, while profits have been eroded for shareholders.

According to Reuters: “Apple’s results fail to excite ahead of holiday quarter.”

Meanwhile, Apple has lost its global smartphone crown to consumer-electronics giant Samsung. That’s despite the wheels at Apple spinning furiously - 33.8 million iPhones shipped during the quarter, an increase from 26.9 million. That was what Wall Street expected.

Samsung, by contrast, carpet-bombed consumers, shipping more than twice the number of mobes, according to IDC.

And, if smartphones are a barometer of future conditions, Apple will lose its current lead in tablets too. The company’s has released a new iPad and it’s giving away its apps – its productivity suite iWorks and creative suite iLife will be free to new iOS users.

The competition’s coming from all quarters as we head into Christmas; not just Android and Amazon but with Microsoft also taking a second stab at its tablets – Surface Pro and Surface 2. The market’s confidence in Apple is wobbling.

But The Register doesn’t hear the bell tolling for Tim Cook – not yet.

The company expects to make more money this Christmas than last year, predicting revenue estimates between $55bn and $58bn – compared to last year’s “record” of $54.5bn.

Driving this will be the Christmas line-up: the new iPad Air and Mac Mini with Retina display, plus the iPhone 5S and cheaper 5C targeting lower-priced markets.

Cook and Apple have history on their side, given the buying trend among consumers – the target market for all and sundry now – is tablets and smartphones. Gartner reckons the current Christmas quarter will see tablets outsell PCs for the first time.

Once Christmas is out of the way, expect Apple and Cook to milk new launches to produce sales spikes – new versions of tablets, phones, even the expected iWatch.

This is no Microsoft, whose rambunctious CEO Steve Ballmer has been shown the door thanks to a minor shareholder revolt following years of missed opportunities.

Nor is Apple Sun Microsystems, sold out from under its CEO Jonathan Schwartz by investors infuriated by a decade of losses and determined to get their money back.

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