iTV Looms Large
Rumors regarding Apple's next stab at the television market are flaring up again, this time centering on an analyst research note referring to iTV and possible telecom partnerships. Retailer Best Buy also stirred the pot with a curiously detailed consumer survey. Meanwhile, Apple become the top smartphone vendor in the the last quarter of 2011, and its legal battles rage on.
Apple ended up being the top-selling smartphone vendor for the fourth quarter of 2011, but rumors about an as-yet unconfirmed next-generation Apple TV claimed much of the company's spotlight over the last week.
In a note regarding Apple, Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek wrote that Apple stock was a smart buy because the company's next entertainment device, which he called "iTV," is on its way. Misek said the TV would possibly have an feature that allows users of Apple products such as the iPad or iPhone to upload content similar to a YouTube-type sharing service.
Apple will also incorporate telecom partners into providing service to the TV, he said.
Best Buy also surveyed consumers over the past week to find out whether they would pay US$1,499 for a 42-inch, HD Apple TV that could use Apple devices such as an iPad or iPhone for a remote. This fueled rumors that Best Buy knows hardware details that other retailers don't. The TV Best Buy described also included a 1080p LED flatscreen display and a connection to iCloud, iTunes, Netflix, YouTube and Flickr. It also included a camera microphone that could be used for Skype calls.
Apple didn't respond to our requests for comment on the rumors.
"Apple has received millions -- billions? -- of dollars of free publicity for a product that does not exist, and that the company won't even discuss," Alfred Poor, editor and publisher of HDTV Almanac and analyst for GigaOM Pro, told MacNewsWorld.
Top of the Smartphone Heap
As for Apple's existing products, its iPhone 4S helped bring the company to the top spot in smartphone sales for the fourth quarter of 2011, although Samsung still shipped the most units for the entire year. Apple shipped 37 million iPhones, just ahead of Samsung's 36 million smartphones, according to IDC. On the year, Samsung had 94 million units shipped, compared to Apple's 93.2 million.
Though they were impressive numbers for both companies, Samsung had a higher growth rate than Apple's mobile device sales, seeing a 310 percent increase on smartphone sales compared to 2010.
Those increasing smartphone numbers make smartphones the place to focus going forward, especially on less premium-priced products such as Android phones, according to Chris Jones, vice president and principal analyst at Canalys.
"In 2011 we saw a fall in demand for netbooks and slowing demand for notebooks and desktops as a direct result of rising interest in pads. But pads have had negligible impact on smartphone volumes, and markets across the globe have seen persistent and substantial growth through 2011. Smartphone shipments overtaking those of client PCs should be seen as a significant milestone," Jones told MacNewsWorld.
While it's kept mum on TV rumors, Apple has also been dealing with patent issues abroad regarding some of its existing products. After a December court decision in Germany that banned Apple's products that were apparently using Motorola's 3G cellular technology illegally, Apple was supposed to stop selling the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 models, as well as some versions of the iPad, in that country.
Shortly thereafter, though, a judge suspended the injunction because Apple claimed the Motorola patent was essential to the industry and should be issued in a "fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory" basis. It argued that Motorola was refusing to license the patent on reasonable terms. The Wall Street Journal reported that Motorola wanted to collect a 2.25 percent royalty from Apple on the products, which could add up to about $1 billion in iPhone sales during 2011. Since Apple claimed that's unreasonable, and Motorola vowed to continue to protect its intellectual property, the battle will most likely be prolonged.
The injunction wasn't the only legal tussle for Apple this week. The company is facing a $38 million fine from Proview Technology, a Chinese electronics maker, for the use of the iPad name. Proview claims that it never gave Apple permission to use the name in mainland China, although Apple reportedly purchased the trademark from Proview for $55,000.
Apple objected to claims from Proview, and the matter is still under investigation.