Shares of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) have gained 100% since the start of the year, and with the likely release of an innovative “tablet” computer and the pending debut of its wildly popular iPhone in China both in the offing, the company’s stock could still find some room to run.
Shares in the Cupertino, Calif.-based company are at their highest level since August 2008, thanks to a successive string of upbeat earnings reports, a near-$30 billion cash reserve and recession-defying sales of its products.
The iPhone alone sold 5.2 million units in the second quarter, compared to 717,000 the year before, and its Macintosh computers, which still have a miniscule share compared to Windows-based PCs, are gaining momentum.
Apple’s shares closed Friday at $170.05, up 60 cents, or 0.35%, each. An advance to $200 would represent a gain of about 18% from current levels.
Sales of Apple’s now-ubiquitous iPod have slowed, but Apple executives anticipated that would be the case, as sales of its music-playing iPhone and iPod Touch grow. Both of those devices have access to thousands of applications sold in the App Store.
A tablet computer from Apple, which has been a hot news topic in the tech world since last spring, moved closer to reality last week. The Wall Street Journal reported that since returning from leave to undergo a liver transplant, Apple Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs has devoted almost all of his time to this specific device.
Pundits have already dubbed the gadget the “MacBook Tablet” or “iTablet,” and executives believe it will have positive implications for media going forward.
“It’s a portable entertainment device,” one entertainment executive told The Financial Times. “It’s going to be fabulous for watching movies.”
Recording executives say Apple plans on using the large screen for interactive booklets and liner notes that typically accompany compact discs. And book publishers could view the tablet as an alternative to Amazon.com Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) popular Kindle or Sony Corp.’s (NYSE ADR: SNE) Reader in the growing e-book market.
“It would be a color, flat-panel TV to the old-fashioned, black-and-white TV of the Kindle,” one book executive told the FT.
Hollywood and video game executives haven’t been briefed on the tablet, but both have shown optimism for it. A large selection of movies and games are already available for the iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone.
Apple is one of the most secretive companies in Silicon Valley. Its iPhone 3G S, which sold 1 million units in its first weekend, wasn’t announced until a few days before its release. By contrast, one of its primary competitors Palm Inc.’s (NASDAQ: PALM) Pre smartphone, released a few weeks before the 3G S in June, was first announced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. Apple is aiming for a September or October launch of the tablet, The FT said.
While tablet computers are nothing new – they first debuted in the early part of this decade – they only comprise 1.4% of the global portable market, The Journal said. Toshiba Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Fujitsu Ltd. (OTC ADR: FJTSY) all attempted to sell tablets, but ultimately the devices proved to be too cost-prohibitive for consumers.
Despite the worst economic downturn since World War II, Apple is having no trouble convincing consumers to buy iPhones with pricey plans and more expensive Macs. Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Yair Reiner told the FT he expects Apple’s tablet to cost between $600 and $1,000, the range for many Windows-based laptops today.
The tablet is considered by analysts to be Apple’s answer to popular netbooks, which are smaller laptop PCs designed for navigating the Internet. They usually cost between $200 and $400. CEO Jobs and others in the Apple brass ruled out developing a netbook in a conference call last fall.
"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk,” Jobs said at the time.
The iPhone Meets the Red Dragon
Apple, whose Mac computers have played second fiddle to personal computers since 1984, found mainstream success in the gadget realm starting in 2002 when it debuted the iPod. To date, roughly 300 million iPods have been sold since 2002. In 2007, Apple debuted the iPhone, which has sold more than 26 million units.
The iPhone will make its debut in mainland China in the fourth quarter with state-owned China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE ADR: CHU) having cut a deal to act as the exclusive carrier for three years. Like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) in the United States, Unicom will not share revenue with Apple. Instead, it will offer a subsidy to consumers to lower the price, which is expected have a similar $99 to $299 range with two-year service contracts.
Unicom, which is rolling out its third-generation network (3G), enabling wireless video and high-speed Internet navigation, has 141 million wireless users. Unicom will be competing with an estimated 1.5 million gray market iPhones, The Journal reports, citing research firm BDA China Ltd. Unicom, which just reported a 45% drop in profit, is counting on Apple’s iPhone to gain share over market leader China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), which has over three times Unicom’s subscribers.
The overall Chinese mobile market, which has 687 million subscribers – more than twice the population of the United States – is highly competitive. Several phones running Google Inc.’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android operating system are due by year’s end, and China Telecom Ltd. (NYSE ADR: CHA) is in talks with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. (Nasdaq: RIMM) and Palm to bring those phones to the world’s fastest-growing major market.
“It’s essential for Apple to be in China; it’s a huge market,” CIMB Securities Ltd. Deputy Head of Research Bertram Lai told Bloomberg News. The iPhone “is not just the premium product, it’s an aspirational product,” he said.
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