Apple Questions for 2015

In recognition of the beginning of a new year, I want to share my running list of questions that I have been keeping for Apple in 2015. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but rather things that I know to be on the lookout for.   

Apple Watch

  • Actual Usage. I'm most interested in seeing the device in use, and not just by initial reviewers. Will people be attracted to any particular feature? Will families buy a few Apple Watches at once for communication purposes? Will teenagers want to wear the device as a status symbol? Will athletes find the device appealing? How strong will word of mouth be? 
  • Health Sensors. There have been consistent rumors that Apple has a bit more to show off in terms of health and Apple Watch. What does Apple have left to unveil about Apple Watch 1.0 and health tracking, and will medical professionals be interested in the device?
  • Pricing. What will be Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition collections (the middle and upper tier) pricing, as those remaining data points will help estimate overall Apple Watch sales mix and average selling price (ASP). How much would individual watch bands cost?
  • Unit Sales. Will Apple release Apple Watch unit sales? Management is planning on lumping Apple Watch financials into "other products" for earnings, but there is still a possibility Apple will announce opening weekend sales or even quarterly sales figures, just not revenue numbers. Apple Watch unit sales estimates currently range from 10M to 40M in the first 12 months, which is the difference between selling like an Apple TV (a few million a quarter) and iPad (10M+ a quarter). 
  • Sales Channel. Will Apple utilize new department store retailers, such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's, to sell Apple Watches next to traditional luxury watches? Apple would be able to reach a brand new target market with such a development. 
  • Apps. Will independent developers support Apple Watch? What will WWDC 2015 look like in terms of WatchKit? 

iPhone

  • ASP and Margins. I'm much more interested in iPhone's ASP and margin in 2015. The addition of a more expensive iPhone, along with reconfigured storage capacities, means that iPhone ASP may see a relatively substantial change compared to previous years while margins have room to expand. 
  • 4-Inch iPhone Mini. A new 4-inch iPhone model may be one of the more interesting iPhone rumors in 2015. I suspect there is indeed 15-20% of the iPhone target market that may enjoy the old iPhone 4-inch display form factor, and 15-20% of a big number is a big number. 
  • iPhone 6s. It seems like a better screen, camera, and processor are the leading candidates for selling points for new iPhones in 2015. I generally like the idea of using the "S" refresh years to introduce practical and functional internal upgrades as well as cosmetic changes to the outside in terms of color and finish. Will Apple update the external color and finish beyond silver, gold, and space grey?
  • iOS 9. Along with WatchKit, it is assumed Apple will announce new features for iOS at WWDC 2015. What will be the primary selling features of iOS 9? At this point the list of leading candidates is comprised of wanted features that did not make it in iOS 8.  

iPad

  • ASP. Similar to my thoughts on the iPhone, I'm much more interested in looking at iPad's ASP trying to decode how the iPad Air is selling versus the iPad mini as that will help shed some light on how much the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are cannibalizing iPad. Stronger iPad Air sales and weaker iPad mini sales (shown by a higher overall iPad ASP) would support the thesis that iPad is similar to Mac with a longer refresh cycle. Sales trends would track accordingly. 
  • iPad Pro. Will Apple introduce its rumored larger iPad model in the first half of 2015? Will it be geared towards specialized use cases in order to differentiate the iPad from iPhone 6 and 6 Plus? Will the device accompany any change to the way Apple thinks of iOS and iPad?
  • iPad Mini. Will Apple stop selling the iPad mini given that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus may be reducing the demand for such a device?

Apple Pay

  • MCX. Will there be any signs that fringe members of the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) consortium have changed their mind and are now interested in supporting Apple Pay?
  • International Rollout. How fast will Apple Pay be rolled out to new markets?
  • Loyalty/Reward Cards. Will we see loyalty/reward cards, possibly related to Passbook, be incorporated into Apple Pay in some fashion as a means of getting more retailers to support Apple Pay?
  • Disclosures. Will Apple Pay retailers use the opportunity to publicize how Apple Pay has impacted their businesses? 

Mac

  • 12-inch Retina Macbook. Will Apple ship a new Mac form factor that may eventually replace the Macbook Air? 

Beats

  • New Streaming Service. Obvious questions would focus on price, geographical boundaries for the service, and differences from current offerings in the marketplace.
  • Branding. How will Apple handle the Beats brand, including both the streaming service and hardware?
  • Jimmy Iovine. Does Iovine's role within Apple extend beyond just music? 

Retail

  • Angela Ahrendts. What changes does Ahrendts have in mind for Apple retail stores, as well as third-party retailers, including how the Apple Watch will be sold? One can argue it is time for the Apple retail store concept to be rethought to better reflect Apple's product line and current customer base.

Apple TV

  • Apple TV Box. Will Apple update the Apple TV box with a newer processor?

Financials

  • Share Buyback Pace.  Instead of wondering if Apple will increase its share buyback authorization in 2015, a more appropriate question would be to ask if there will be any significant change in pace in share buyback in FY2015 from FY2014 ($45B)? 
  • Dividends. Tim Cook has mentioned cash dividends will be increased on an annual basis, but by how much?
  • Debt. Instead of wondering if Apple will issue debt, I think a better question is how much debt will Apple raise in 2015, especially if rates remain low?
  • M&A. Will Apple continue buying smaller, specialized companies in bolt-on acquisitions, or will a bigger opportunity present itself while still fitting into Apple's M&A criteria? 

Random Musings

  • Marc Newson. Is it a given that Newson is working part-time on future Apple Watch designs, or is he working on a different product?
  • Jeff Williams. Will Apple SVP Operations Jeff Williams get more press exposure in 2015?
  • Management Turnover. With the Apple Watch launch in the rearview mirror, will Apple experience any high-level management turnover in the second half of 2015?
  • Scott Forstall. He still may represent a wildcard as to what he has to say about the circumstances leading to his dismissal in 2012.  
  • iPod Touch: Apple is selling around 1-1.5 million iPod touch units per quarter. Will the device see one possible last major update in 2015?
  • Apple Pen.  I have no doubt that Apple has some type of smart pen/stylus in the labs, but I have more uncertainty in determining if the need for such a product (in conjunction with an "iPad Pro") is enough to receive one of Apple's rare "yes" decisions for going to market.  

I would classify the Apple news events that aren't reflected in any of these bullet points as the unexpected. Apple looks to have a busy year ahead. 

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