Even with the product lineup it has now, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) stock has enough fuel in the tank to propel it to at least $500 a share.
But it's about to add a booster rocket.
According to several analysts, Apple is working on a TV-set device that could disrupt the TV set industry much as its other devices have done in their industries.
This new device – to simplify, let's call it the "iTV" – is not to be confused with the existing Apple TV, a set-top box that allows users to access digital content from the Internet on their televisions.
We're talking about a full-fledged television, albeit one with Apple's special touch. And that is what will push Apple stock even further skyward.
In a note to clients last week, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster made a case that Apple is already building the iTV, which he expects could add billions of dollars to the Cupertino, CA company's top line.
"We believe that of the estimated 220 million flat panel TVs sold in 2012, 48% or 106 million units will be internet-connected, of which Apple could sell 1.4 million units," Munster wrote. "We believe an Apple Television could add $2.5 billion or 2% to revenue in 2012, $4.0 billion or 3% in 2013 and $6.0 billion in 2014."
Munster said he had met with Asian component suppliers that said they knew of prototypes of the new Apple device, and that the company had filed several patents for television interfaces.
But the definitive piece of evidence is a quote from Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson's just-released book in which Jobs makes it clear that an iTV was the company's next major project.
"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," Jobs said. "It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
That "simplest user interface" is the key to why an iTV would be such a game-changer.
The iTV will not use a remote of any kind. It will be voice-controlled, using the same Siri technology Apple introduced earlier this month with the iPhone 4S.
"It's the stuff of science fiction," writes Nick Bilton in The New York Times. "You sit on your couch and rather than fumble with several remotes or use hand gestures, you simply talk: "Put on the last episode of Gossip Girl.' "Play the local news headlines.' "Play some Coldplay musicvideos.' Siri does the rest."
The iTV was waiting for Siri – technology that allows people to simply tell their television what they want to watch, whether it comes from the Internet or from a programming provider like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA) or DIRECTV (Nasdaq: DTV).
"As the line between television programming and Web content continues to erode, a Siri-powered television would become more necessary," Bilton writes. "You aren't going to want to flip through file folders or baskets of content, checking off what you want. Telling Siri to "play videos of cute cats falling asleep' would return an endless YouTube stream of adorable napping fur balls."
Bilton said that Apple has been working on an iTV for years. About a year ago, an Apple employee even told him "it was a guaranteed product for Apple," explaining, "Steve thinks the industry is totally broken."
Apple has a long track record of developing groundbreaking products over an extended period of time, rather than rushing a flawed product to market. If the technology isn't ready to support its concepts, Apple will sit on an idea until it is.
That was true of the original iPod, which required the invention of a miniature hard drive. It was also true of the iPhone, which required the development of touch-sensitive screens. (And even then, Steve Jobs rejected the first two prototypes.)
A New Slice of Apple
The best part of iTV is that it's yet another totally new business for Apple to add to revenue. Apple's other "new" businesses – the iPhone and the iPad – together accounted for 63% of the company's revenue in the September quarter.
What makes Apple so compelling, in fact, is that all of its core businesses are growing save for the iPod, which is getting cannibalized by the more profitable iPhone and iPad.
The almost forgotten Mac business was up 26% year-over-year in the September quarter and outpaced Windows PC sales by a six-to-one margin. According to data from research firms Gartner Inc. (NYSE: IT) and IDC, Mac sales have grown faster than Windows PC sales for 22 straight quarters.
Sales of Apple's iPad were up 166% year over year, with Apple's market share in tablets still at 73.4% despite increasing competition from Samsung Electronics, Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: MMI) Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and Research in Motion Limited (Nasadq: RIMM).
While growing competition from mobile devices running Google Inc.'s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android operating system as well as Microsoft Corp's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows 8 due out next year is among Apple's chief challenges going forward, the company has proven its ability to win customers in the marketplace.
Apple's competition has made headway against the iPhone lately, but that's probably owing more to the delay of the debut of the iPhone 4S.
Last week U.K.-based Strategy Analytics said that Samsung had overtaken Apple in the third quarter as the world's top seller of smartphones, and that Apple's market share had slipped to 14.6% from 17.4% a year ago.
While the iPhone disappointed in the September quarter by selling just 17 million units versus 20.3 million units in the June quarter, the device nevertheless has strong growth prospects.
Apple said it expects record iPhone sales this quarter, boosted not just by the new iPhone 4S but also by rapid sales growth in emerging markets like China, which is proving a boon for the company. Apple sales to China accounted for 16% of company revenue in its 2011 fiscal year – up from 12% in 2010 and just 2% in 2009.
"Apple's ongoing penetration ofChinaand other emerging markets likely can be measured in years and stands to have a significant, positive impact on the growth profile," JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) said in a research note.
It all adds up to a higher valuation for Apple stock over the next year. A rise to the $500 level represents a nice 25% increase, and it's almost certain to go much higher.
"I think they're crazy on track," Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told Computerworld, "and still a rocket, even with this decline of the iPhone."
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- Bloomberg News:
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- The Financial Times:
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