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Archive for January 2009

Jan
28

Apple rang in 2009 by celebrating a trio of milestones that were impressive by any standards including those of a company whose 32-year span has been filled with a cornucopia of noteworthy events. In quick succession, Apple posted the best financial results in its history: during the just ended 2009 first fiscal quarter it achieved record revenues of nearly $10.2 billion on record net quarterly profits of $1.61 billion and it sold an astounding 22.7 million iPods, another record. The icing on the cake: Apple’s flagship Mac computer celebrated its 25th birthday amidst the news that the Cupertino, California firm’s latest Mac Book and Mac Book Pro notebooks contributed to the overall financial bonanza with sales of 2.5 million units; a 34% gain in year-over-year unit shipments.

These feats would be extraordinary at any time but they offered even more cause for celebration due to their arrival during a week in which the news from almost all of Apple’s high-tech vendor counterparts ranged from disappointing to dismal to downright dire. Intel said it would shed up to 6,000 workers and close five manufacturing plants; Microsoft announced it will lay off 5,000 workers (the first such major action in its history) amidst declining demand for Windows PC solutions, and even the goliath Google saw a sharp decline in its 2009 first fiscal quarter profits.

With such a bountiful harvest, it was more than a little perplexing to read the headline in the January 22 issue of Silicon Valley.com column proclaiming: “Mac’s influence could wane.” Granted, the headline was a bit misleading. The article itself stated that things look good for Apple and its Macs in the near term, but what about the next 25 years? Good question.

Long term forecasts of even five years are more art or guesswork than science. But decades long prognostications are rarities unless you’re talking about Nostradamus or the Oracle of Delphi. So we’re left to forecast with the tools at our disposal – in this case, the facts. So here for your consideration is our Top 10 List concerning Apple’s health and well-being. It includes some little known facts of both a positive and even potentially negative nature.

10. Big Mac sales shrink. Apple Mac desktop sales dipped slightly even as sales of its notebooks and the lightweight Apple Mac Book Air soared. This is hardly surprising. Both the American and global consumers and workforces are becoming increasingly mobile, transitioning into an era of ever-more powerful notebooks, Netbooks (or minis) and PDAs. Critics argue that the commoditization of PC hardware will make it difficult for Apple or any hardware vendor to distinguish itself. As a result, Apple desktop sales may continue to contract along with those of PCs although they won’t become obsolete for many years. Meanwhile, Apple has a wide array of Mac Book, Mac Book Pro and the Mac Book Air products to take up the slack. The company also wisely cut hardware and OS X 10.x operating system prices to be more competitive with PCs.

9. iPod and iPhone. Apple sold a record 22.7 million iPods during the quarter, and the device has approximately 70% market share in the U.S. Worldwide market share percentages vary by country from 70% in Western Europe and Australia to well over 60% in Japan and over 50% in Canada. At the same time, iPhone sales in Q1 were 4.36 units million, representing 88% unit growth over the year-ago quarter. At some point, iPod and iPhone sales may reach saturation but that won’t happen anytime soon and when it does, Apple will most likely have another device in the offing.

8. Up, up and away. Data is no longer tied to the PC or desktop, it is moving to the cloud. Apple is right there in the cloud. Cloud computing is the new buzz word for delivering applications as services via the Internet. The first fruits of Apple’s cloud computing initiative involves the integration of Google’s cloud computing offering, the Google App Engine with Apple’s iPhone mobile computing platform. ITIC anticipates Apple will expand its reach into the cloud, again based on customer demand. Nearly half – 49% of the ITIC/Sunbelt Software survey respondents said they plan to increase integration between existing Apple consumer products like the iPhone to allow corporate users to access corporate Email and other applications over the next 12 months.

7. Marketing. No one does it better. From the moment that Steve Jobs stepped onstage 25 years ago and unveiled his 20lb. baby, to the creative licensing of the Rolling Stones tune “Like a Rainbow”, to partnering with the Irish rock group U2 to help promote iPod usage, Apple’s marketing has always been stellar. Apple uses every available channel – from the airwaves to the street – to promote its brand. There are now 251 Apple retail stores open in 10 countries, with total quarterly traffic of 46.7 million visitors.

6. New gadgets. Users and industry watchers have grown accustomed to Apple debuting revolutionary new products at MacWorld and they disappointed when it doesn’t happen. It is unrealistic to expect that any company, even one as inventive as Apple, can deliver a iPod or iPhone every year. Meanwhile, users will have to “settle” for evolutionary innovations like new laptop batteries that will run for eight hours without re-charging and Time Capsule, an all-in-one 802.11n wireless backup router that includes up to 1 terabyte of disk storage.

5. Leadership. It’s impossible to overstate or understate what company founder Steve Jobs has meant to Apple. His 1996 return to Apple sparked one of the greatest corporate revivals since Lazarus. An iconic figure in Silicon Valley for over 30 years, Jobs’ future is now clouded by health concerns, and investors and industry watchers are rightly nervous. Only time will tell when or if Jobs will return. If he does not, it will be a devastating loss on many levels but it will not cripple the company’s ability to thrive and survive. Still, Apple must allay customer, investor and government concerns by being truthful and forthcoming regarding Jobs and the company’s future.

4. What’s in Apple’s Wallet? Cash — $28.1 billion to be exact and $0 debt. That’s more than Google ($15.85B); Microsoft ($20.3B); IBM ($12.9B); Intel ($11.84B) or Sony ($6.05B). Apple also has double digit profit margins of 14.70% and operating margins of nearly 19%; return on assets is 10.77% while return on shareholders’ equity is a robust 24.47%. Few if any corporations can boast such a healthy balance sheet, which leaves Apple free to invest heavily in R&D, marketing initiatives and other efforts to keep ahead of competitors.

3. Apple is hot – and cool. Consumers have always loved Apple and there’s nothing to indicate that will change. Consumer enthusiasm for iPods and iPhones has fueled the resurgence of Macs and OS X 10.x in enterprises. Everyone it seems has or wishes they had an iPod or an iPhone. Beyond that the latest joint ITIC/Sunbelt Software data indicates that Apple is increasing its presence in many markets thanks to the performance and reliability of the core products. Eight out of 10 businesses – 82% of the survey respondents – rated the reliability of the Mac and OS X 10.x as “excellent” or “very good,” while almost 70% of those polled gave the same high marks to the security of the Apple platform. Tellingly, 68% of the survey respondents said their firms are likely to allow more users to deploy Macs as their enterprise desktops in the next six-to-12 months.

2. Enterprising. Over the past three years Apple has made a comeback in the enterprise. The latest joint ITIC/Sunbelt Software survey of 700 companies worldwide indicates that nearly 80% of businesses have Macs in their environment and 25% have significant (>30) numbers of Macs. But while enterprise users love Apple, IT managers remain divided. The biggest drawback for the Mac is the dearth of enterprise-class third party management and performance enhancement tools but technical service and support is also an issue. Apple will have to address these points if the company expects or plans to challenge Microsoft’s dominance on business desktops. So far, Apple has been silent about its enterprise strategy but a new consortium of five third party vendors calling itself the Enterprise Desktop Alliance (EDA) is determined to promote the management, integration and interoperability capabilities of the Mac in corporate environments.

1. Mobile and agile, not fragile. The combination and plethora of Apple consumer and corporate devices makes for a powerful product portfolio with widespread appeal. Unlike many of its competitors Apple is not dependent on a single product or market segment. Hence, when sales decline in one sector, the slippage is offset by another product as we’ve seen with Mac notebooks picking up the slack for Mac desktops. This enables Apple to adjust both its technology plans and market focus accordingly, strengthening and insulating the company from cyclical downturns.

One of the hallmarks of Apple’s existence has been the ability to re-invent itself – not only changing with the times – but keeping its fingers on the pulse of an often fickle public and anticipating what its users and the industry wants. Apple is well positioned for both the near and intermediate term. It will have to stay focused, keep its edge and clearly communicate its strategy in order to maintain the same level of success it has achieved in the last 32 years.