A New AAPL Era

Apple reported its most recent quarterly earnings this evening.  Impressive would be an understatement.  

Here are some talking points:

1) Emerging Market Growth.  Skewed perspective is making it hard to understand how fast Apple is growing. Many tech analysts are situated in developed countries and economies where the Apple brand is well established, and accordingly have a harder time conceptualizing how Apple can maintain dramatic growth rates.  The combination of rising standards of living and the increasing availability of lower-priced Apple products is a new trend for emerging markets, and it is reasonable to expect this scenario to drive Apple’s growth in the future. 

2) Product Line Diversification. Similar to the iPod, we are seeing the emergence of the iPhone product line: a series of iPhones with a sliding scale of features and capabilities. By the end of 2011, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone (4S or 5) will most likely round out Apple’s iPhone line. Importantly, each iPhone utilizes iOS apps and has access to the iTunes store.  I see the same trend happening with the iPad in due time; multiple versions sold simultaneous at different price points.  Apple will rely on this product line diversification to cater to different market segments using price as a key differentiator. Emerging markets will have iPhone 3GS, mainstream will be content with iPhone 4, and early adopters will go crazy over iPhone (4s or 5).  In addition, Apple’s overall margin benefits from the continued sale of “older” products as component pricing generally declines over time.  

3) Big Losers and Winners.  Apple management was very clear on the earnings conference call: iPads are eating away at Windows PC sales and iPhone continues to grow like a wild weed.  Companies focused on selling consumer hardware (Dell, HP, RIMM, Motorola, and Samsung) are in a very difficult position as each is starting to understand that having good software is just as important as selling sexy hardware. Big winners (besides Apple) include companies who luckily aren’t competing in the consumer market, and are instead focusing on selling enterprise services or infrastructure needed to foster commerce and further innovation (IBM and Oracle come to mind).  It is no coincidence that Dell, HP, RIMM, Motorola, and Samsung have indicated (or will indicate) an interest in entering the enterprise services market. 

Random Bytes:

-) Look for Android activation numbers to become less relevant as time goes on. I have this growing feeling that Google is nervous that Android is becoming nothing more than a large void, taking up mobile space, and is relying on activation numbers to impress app developers to dedicate resources to the platform. It’s not working. iOS reached critical mass a few quarters ago and Android will not stop iOS momentum. 

-) While I will keep AAPL stock thoughts to myself (at this time), it is important to remember that the large institutional holders control Apple stock and many of these entities are not interested in quick 5-10% stock moves, but instead the attractiveness of AAPL 5-10 years out.  Potential AAPL dividend payout ratios, cash flows, and cash holdings will begin to matter just as much as iOS market share, iOS user statistics, or other random Apple product data points.  The big boys will continue to support AAPL as long as they feel confident they will receive an annual return that beats other asset classes (fixed income, real estate, etc.) over an extended period of time.