A prominent RealMoney.com commentator wrote Wednesday that AT&T's (NYSE:T) uber bullish commentary on its conference call about the iPhone is a reason that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) shorts will have to cover. While I am bullish on the iPhone, I have not once argued that owning AAPL requires the iPhone to be a monster. (Note that less than 5% of the float of AAPL is short, and I doubt those short are doing so based on the iPhone, which is still a few months from pre-orders at best).
While the iPhone is an important product transition/branding tool for Apple, ATT's bullish iPhone commentary is representative of nothing more than a carrier looking to create buzz for its brand by piggybacking the hottest brand at the moment. Verizon (NYSE:VZ) did the same thing with the Motorola Q, which has been a big disappointment and Vodafone with Palm in Europe for the 700 series which was co-marketed with Microsoft, another powerhouse that anyone would want on their side though results were modest at best.
While the iPhone will be a key product for Apple, it won't be the revenues from the iPhone that will matter most. It will be the idea of a ubiquitous Mac OS platform with the iPhone serving as just one medium to increase consumer awareness and comfort with non-Microsoft operating system. Back of the envelope math using my aggressive 30 million units for 2008 at an ASP of $400 to $500 dollars yields a pretty nice chunk of short term cash flow for Apple, but three years from now what will matter is whether or not the Mac OS is able to break Microsoft's monopoly.
Given that long-term, stocks are valued more favorably when cash flow is predictably consistent and growing with high ROEs, the short term pop from iPhones will only be one element of Apple's evolution.
Here is a list of things I pay attention to in Apple in order to determine the merits of an investment:
* Adoption of Apple's .Mac training program
* Participation in in-store workshops and education programs
* Market share in notebooks
* Intel units as a percentage of total units shipped
* Potential launch of Santa Rosa platform in Mac's before competitors
* ASPs, which I believe need to come down a bit more as total cost of ownership when dual OS's are included is still too high for mass market.
AAPL 1-yr chart: