In the face of extremely low expectations for Apple's (AAPL) future prospects, I present to you my 2009 predictions. You didn't think that $1.1 billion spent on fiscal 2008 R&D is going to waste did you?
1) Apple TV will evolve into an actual TV. The current Apple TV box has not worked. Steve Jobs knows this and has referred to the product as a 'hobby'; allowing Apple to obtain the content that it needs before the real Apple TV is launched. In accordance with the Apple way of doing things, I am going to predict that the new version of Apple TV will in fact be an Apple brand flat screen television. People laughed when Apple announced that it was actually going to make a phone but they won't be laughing when Apple announces that it is actually going to make a television.
By so doing, Apple will continue the trend of seamless integration of its iTunes platform into our lives. This is the product that will once and for all dominate the digital living room. With built in WiFi and satellite provider connections, all digital movies, music, rentals, apps, pictures, and family videos will magically appear on your television menu as soon as you take it out of the box. No instructions. No set up issues. Seamless integration. Digital domination.
2) Independent analyst Andy Zaky foretells the future Apple earnings blowout. Non GAAP accounting will never be acceptable to the mainstream so investors must wait for Apple's GAAP numbers to catch up. It is in the midst of historic growth for such a mature company and the amazing thing is that it has accomplished it during a recession.
Interestingly enough, the very analysts who are paid to see through the accounting smoke and tell investors what is really happening are missing it. Zaky's research reports that in its recently reported fiscal fourth quarter, Apple's adjusted net income grew approximately 124.6% from $1.085 billion in Q4 2007 to $2.437 billion in Q4 2008—an extraordinary number when fully accounting for iPhone sales in both periods.
Just as impressive is Apple's 75.1% growth rate in sales. Apple's adjusted revenue grew from $6.673 billion in Q4 2007 to a whopping $11.682 billion in Q4 of 2008. Earnings per share grew 123.0% from $1.21 in Q4 2007 to $2.69 in Q4 2008. Because the iPhone accounting is spread out over a 24 month period, Apple is building an expanding moat around its earnings announcements even as all analyst estimates are shrinking. A great recipe.
3) Apple will team up with a car manufacturer and begin producing the first iCar. In 2007 we heard rumors that Apple was working with Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) on the iCar but talks fizzled. With the automotive industry in dire straits, car companies will be looking for any competitive edge they can find. Ford (F) or GM (GM) would be smart to contact Mr. Jobs today and be the first to secure an exclusive agreement with Apple. When the iCar is released, dealers won't be able to keep them on the lots.
Just as Apple has done with all its other products, this endeavor will result in the seamless integration of iTunes. We spend a lot of time in our cars and currently it is a hassle to hook up an iPod and fully utilize the quality of music and video. That will change with the iCar. This new car will make traditional vehicles look silly. Car makers have been very slow to adopt new technologies into their designs. Televisions has been around forever and most cars still don't even have built in screens. I really believe that the current turmoil in the automotive industry is because car companies are still living in the stone age with absolutely no vision. In 2009, Steve Jobs will change that.
4) Apple will enter the Chinese market in a major way. The Chinese are craving an inexpensive Internet device to further liberate their access to information, entertainment, and communication. Perhaps an alternative to the western world's use of laptop computers will fuel a revolutionary wave of Chinese gadget obsession. They love their gadgets. Before the government intervened with the China Mobile (CHL) monopoly, the company reported 574 million mobile subscribers back in March; the number of mobile subscribers is expected to grow to 738 million by 2010. To put that number in proper perspective, consider that the entire US population is just over 300 million.
Capturing the Chinese market is the prize of all prizes. To win the Chinese prize one must cater to the Internet demand of the young Chinese but do so on a culturally accepted platform. Computer ownership is not culturally accepted. Cellphone ownership is. That's where Apple's iPhone comes in. The inexpensive iPhone caters to the hundreds of millions of people who will trade in their current cellphones for their first ever opportunity of owning a mini-computer. The iPhone launch in China represents the most significant technological product release of our generation; not only financially for Apple but culturally for China as 7 out of every 8 households goes without a computer. Will Apple bite the bullet and advertise the iPhone as a laptop alternative in China? We'll see.
5) Apple hardware and software will continue to gain market share in the tech revolution. Most people still don't know how to make their own websites or to build up an online business. Apple products such as iWeb, Garage Band, Mobile Me, etc, allow the common man to become creative and market that creativity to the world. Just as the iPod had a halo effect on Macs, I predict that the App Store is going to have a halo effect on Apple software.
Consumers are tired of depressing local news broadcasts, predictable sitcoms, and the limited 'day old' reports found in the local paper. Modern consumers are much more interested in the unpredictable videos found on Google's YouTube or in their 'real' evening news found on Facebook or on a friend's updated blog. Many worry that the new tech revolution will make society less personal but I think the opposite is true. How much more impersonal or out of reality can you get than having the evening news or the newspaper feed you what they think is important?
Advances in Apple's iLife software will continue to improve and I think that Apple and Google (GOOG) will lead the tech revolution into the next stage, which will further empower the individual. In my own career I've used Apple's iWeb to expand my business at www.lonepeakportfolios.com. I can use E-Trade (ETFC) to make my own trades instead of going through a broker. I can use YouTube as a distribution channel for my market forecasts. I can create my own Amazon (AMZN) store and sell products to my network of bloggers and friends. I have access to the best professors at Stanford or MIT through iTunesU. The tech revolution is empowering the individual and Apple will lead the innovation with hardware and software. Mac sales will continue to grow and thrive as the company takes market share away from Microsoft (MSFT).
I would be careful who I listen to as 2008 comes to a close. Most analysts have been beaten up this year and they no longer know which way is up and which way is down. Yesterday's announcement that this is Apple's final year at Macworld is no reason to suppose that Apple innovation is finished. Even if no new products are released in January, you can be sure that there is more to come.
Disclosure: Long AAPL.