Do AAPL Shareholders Need a Carrot?
Sep 14, 2011 5:00 AM PT
Despite rumors that a Kindle tablet from Amazon is right around the corner, confidence in Apple's ecosystem and its strong balance sheets have kept the company in a market position so powerful that some analysts have suggested a shareholder dividend may be coming up.
The company has retained its position as an industry leader in the weeks since Steve Jobs gave up the CEO post, thanks in part to high expectations surrounding the fifth-generation iPhone, supposedly on its way mid-October, and a third-generation iPad, thought to arrive early next year. Meanwhile, the highly anticipated iCloud service that will tie together Apple's neat ecosystem across multiple platforms will likely land alongside the next iPhone.
Clues about iCloud's debut have been popping up all summer, and this week was no exception. A beta version of Mac OS X Lion version 10.7.2 reportedly includes the iCloud service, where previously it was a component that had to be installed separately. Presumably this gives Apple a chance to work out some kinks and give beta testers a chance to tinker with the product.
Apple didn't respond to MacNewsWorlds' requests for further comment.
The scope of iCloud came into better focus recently when a facility in North Carolina showed up on Google maps. The building is supposedly the base of Apple's iCloud operations, and its 500,000 square-foot size indicates iCloud will be as all-encompassing as promised, storing media files, pictures, games and apps that require a great deal of service space.
"Documents are relatively small, so really it's video games, movies, that kind of thing that store up the most amount of data. Some could argue the North Carolina data center is oversized if it were just for documents and other small files," Anthony Wible, an analyst at Janney, told MacNewsWorld.
This streamlining of all types of stored files further fuels rumors about some of Apple's moves in the media sector lately, most notably its discontinuation the iTunes TV-show rental option. The company claimed this option was pulled due to low demand, but Apple could also be making moves to incorporate exclusive media deals, file-playing apps and other content services.
"Where you really need to beef up your resources in the cloud is when it comes to media -- that's the big thing now," said Wible.
The iCloud capabilities could give Apple a leg up in a field that, although ripe with contenders such as Netflix, Hulu and the new HBO Go, is still in its infancy and has yet to be conquered.
Tablet Competitors Emerging
One area Apple has already taken hold of, though, is the tablet market. Competitors -- mainly Android devices like Samsung's Galaxy Tab -- have put at most just a tiny dent in Apple's iPad sales. Other companies that threw their hats in the tablet ring, such as HP, have been forced out completely.
Amazon's Kindle tablet is rumored to be on its way sooner rather than later. The often-reported, never-confirmed pad may make Apple's executives more nervous than previous devices did. Amazon already has a devoted Kindle user base, and one that is in some cases less computer-savvy than many tablet users. This is an important distinction, since tablets are still mostly in an early-adopter phase and will likely see huge jumps in sales as the products become more mainstream.
Amazon also reportedly has another advantage -- its price. Rumors put the Kindle tablet at US$250, which, if true, is half the price of an iPad.
"At $250, Amazon is a trusted brand, and they don't need the huge margins that a hardware company does. They can use this primarily to push their content, so Amazon is a threat for sure," Colin Gibbs, mobile curator for GigaOM Pro, told MacNewsWorld.
Still, Apple will have the same advantages it's had in all other tablet races, and it's difficult to imagine a near future in which it doesn't come out ahead.
"I think there might be a little too much hype with the Kindle tablet, though. The iPad is going to continue to dominate for at least a couple years," said Gibbs.
Its ecosystem of content and apps and its marquee brand status are sure to continue to give the next iPad a similar lead in the space.
"The app ecosystem is one thing that's overlooked a little, and Android doesn't hold a candle to that. If you are a developer looking to create tablet apps, iOS is far and away your top priority. It becomes kind of a chicken and egg type problem, as people are less willing to buy a tablet without app options and developers will be less willing to develop apps for those non-selling products," said Gibbs.
Staying at the Top of the Market
That solid ecosystem has kept shareholders happy enough for Morgan Stanley to suggest an Apple dividend or buyback is "more likely than ever" from than company. A report from the financial firm argues that Apple, notoriously selective in how it spends its approximately $76 billion in cash and investment holdings, is in a position to finance a 2.4 percent dividend.
While it's difficult to deny that Apple has the steady balance sheets to be able to do so, many analysts scoffed at the idea that the company would consider that type of move now. Steve Jobs may no longer be CEO, but his successor Tim Cook frequently took Jobs' place while the former CEO was on medical leave, and he made it clear little will change with the day-to-day running of the company.
It's also arguable that mid- and long-term shareholders have already reaped far greater payouts than most likely expected. Since 1997, the year Jobs returned as CEO to Apple, the stock has climbed 9,000 percent, and it momentarily topped an oil company earlier this summer as the world's most valuable publicly traded firm. That's quite a feat considering the tumultuous dips and dives the market has taken in the past few years.