Though Steve Jobs has left us and leaves a tremendous legacy and hole to fill, he obviously left a great pipeline of products in place for Apple. Earnings for the quarter at Apple blew past every analysts expectations. They just seem to keep coming with quarters that seem beyond belief. As reported on Cnet, during the period, Apple posted $46.33 billion in revenue and a record profit of $13.06 billion. iPhone sales jumped 128 percent year over year to settle at 37.04 million units, while iPad sales rose 111 percent to 15.43 million units. Apple’s Macs got into the mix, too, soaring 26 percent to 5.2 million units sold. Those are huge numbers and daunting for anyone competing against Apple. If we break them down one by one it’s interesting to see the challenges for those competing and what to expect and do next.
Looking at the iPhone sales the number is staggering. They sold 37 million units of primarily the Apple 4s, not 5 but 4s. The 4s was what we used to refer to as a “dot” release, not a major release. Just a release with minor enhancements like Siri. To put in perspective Nokia has announced they have 1 million Nokia Lumia 710 in the channel. That is not in consumer hands but just to resellers. Apples number reflects units in people’s hands. The other thing is due to Apple’s channel that is pure money back to Apple. With Nokia they get most and pay back a small percentage to Microsoft for the OS. Then there is Google with Android, which is an indirect model as the hand set manufacturers keep the money and Google looks to make money via apps and mobile search. The units of Android phone is impressive but to date it doe snot have the bottom line impact of Apple’s iPhone. That could change as the mobile web grows and mobile ads increase the revenue to Google’s bottom line. Though Microsoft Bing is challenging traditional search, Google seems light years ahead in mobile search. With a major release from Apple due in 2012 with the iPhone5 could they beat 37 million? One can only wonder.
Tablets are the fashionable device of the moment. They have been since Apple made them so. Steve Ballmer said “they will never sell those things”. They sold over 15 million units in the quarter. Though there are Android tablets I have not seen the excitement for Android Tablets like I do for Apple’s iPad. The iPad seems to be playing its own game, in the short-term that could change with newer revs of Amazons Kindle Fire and further down the road with Windows 8 tablets. The challenge for the competition is they may be talking about exciting new releases but no one I know of is putting their purchase decision on hold to wait for an Android or Windows 8 tablet. I expect for the next 2-3 quarters that Apple to rule this domain, unchallenged. The question will be how far in front they will be when a competitive alternative enters the market. We will likely see a iPad3 this year, probably before Windows 8 Tablets hit the market, no one is waiting.
An interesting area of growth for Apple is its “old” business of Macs. They sold 5.2 million units in the quarter an increase of 26%. That is at the expense of Microsoft Windows. Apple with around 10% market share is in an enviable position as they are not the leader and can only grow their market share. As Microsoft Windows Revenue has flat lined (it’s still in the billions in terms of revenue) and Apple is enticing more and more developers to its platform you are seeing the first significant threat to the Microsoft crown jewel in over twenty years. It’s interesting that it is coming from a competitor whose environment is considered very closed. I think many people felt the most likely threat to Windows was going to come from the Open Source community in some variant of Linux. But with Apple’s success in Smartphones and Tablets I can see the traditional Mac business was going to follow and it has.
With all this success it has led to that great American problem. What do you do with $98 billion sitting in the bank? When I was ta Microsoft we had (and they still do) usually upwards of $30-$40 billion in cash. It would seem with Apples cash they could do almost anything they want, but in actuality it is a bit of a capitalist’s dilemma. The obvious thing to do is return money to shareholders in either a quarterly dividend or one time payment. They could also do a stock buy back, with a market cap over $400 billion this could further drive the stock up benefiting shareholders. They could do acquisitions, but Apple has never done the big multi-billion dollar purchases of tech companies. I am not a big fan of these anyway as in the short run they slow progress down and when complete the industry has moved on. It takes a couple of years for full integration, look at Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype for $8 billion and we have yet to see the fruits of this hit the bottom line. It’s not a bad problem to have but the one thing that is for sure is they will have to do something as sitting in all that money does not seem a viable option, nor will shareholders allow for it.
Apple is truly in a state of grace. It seems even when they do wrong, as in the previous quarter, they rebound. It would be easy to see a future where we all are using Apple products, luckily tech and society do not work that way. There will come a time when younger generations will not think Apple s cool as their parents think it is. We are in a time when tech trends start with the teenagers and young adults. Do I see a time when younger generations say “wow Microsoft or Dell is cool”. Right now I am having a hard time believing that scenario will ever happen. More likely it will be a young fresh start-up similar to a Facebook or Twitter. When will this happen? All I can say for sure is the next 2-3 years it is not likely to happen and the Apple strength will continue. There are exciting horizons with iCloud and AppleTV. But as I am fond of quoting Bill Baker, “The future comes slowly, change happens quickly”. This will be the case with Apple as well but in the meantime let us just enjoy being, “Wowed!”.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 30, 2012