Apple's (AAPL) much-anticipated iPhone 5 announcement event in San Francisco generally underwhelmed many followers of the world's largest and perhaps most innovative company. The San Francisco Chronicle reported "Apple Delivered No-Surprises Today Whatsoever," for example.
In the real world, the new iPhone 5 will be larger, 18% thinner, 20% lighter, 2x speedier, will have three speakers rather than two, a higher-quality camera and sound system, more glass, play games twice as fast as earlier models, improve Siri communications, offer 3-D mapping, street-by-street driving directions, etc. etc., and oh, yes, its price is the same as the iPhone 4S, it's predecessor.
Talk about expectations. How can Apple win? I have always believed that most unhappiness we experience in life comes about from the difference between what we expect should happen and what actually happens. The Apple announcement is a perfect example of that idea. Huge expectations, almost-huge new things, ultimate disappointment.
My favorite snack cracker (consumed daily by with aged cheddar cheese and a glass of fine wine) recently came out with a "new and improved" version of its classic cracker. The improvement was to cook the cracker two minutes longer so that it was "crispier." Of course, since it was now a better snack, the price was raised. The new cracker tasted burnt to me and it is no longer my favorite snack.
The snack company shelled out millions of dollars in advertising expenses to broadcast the significant product improvement and bored millions of people with their TV commercials. I had to chuckle at the difference between the snack food introduction and Apple's, where thousands of people presumably paid to attend the iPhone 5 unveiling and millions of people eagerly followed every word on the Internet, (all at no cost to Apple).
However interesting the new bells and whistles were (and they were to me), the biggest news came from what was not revealed. Most importantly, the unmentioned elephant in the room was the looming deal with China Mobile, the world's largest mobile phone company. Its 667 million subscriber base makes it more than six times the size of either Verizon Wireless (109 million subscribers) or AT&T (101 million). Earlier models of the iPhone were not compatible with China Mobile's technology. But what about the iPhone 5? They didn't say at the iPhone 5 unveiling.
When the iPhone 4 was introduced by two smaller companies in China, all hell broke loose. The demand was so great that riot police had to be brought in to control the crowds. Apple stores were closed for a while to let things settle down. For several months, Apple's biggest problem was keeping up with this unprecedented demand.
Just imagine what would happen in China when the iPhone 5 becomes available to 665 million more people.
I think we can guess that the iPhone 5 is compatible with China Mobile, even if they did not mention it at the product introduction. How could an otherwise intelligent company as Apple overlook such an opportunity?
I believe that an arrangement with China Mobile will be coming soon, but only after Apple figures out it if will be able to keep up with the demand for the iPhone 5 in the other countries around the world, including the United States. Forbes magazine recently published an article saying an arrangement with China Mobile would result in a $800 price tag for the stock. Forbes reported, "with Qualcomm's recent announcement of a baseband chip that supports not only China Mobile's 3G network but also its 4G TD-LTE network, which is still under trials, it will finally be possible for Apple to release an iPhone on the world's largest carrier."
And China seems to be getting ready for the iPhone 5 as well, according to an article published just yesterday entitled "China to Open the Floodgates to Mass LTE Rollout/Licensing in 2013." Maybe the announcement of a deal with China Mobile will not come until next year, but it seems inevitable that it will come at some point in the near future.
Tim Cook emphasized Apple's commitment to greater iTunes and iBook sales, and there was a long demonstration of how much better an action game could be played on the new iPhone model. At the same time, the new features of the iPhone 5 seemed to be underplayed, even by Phil Schiller, the marketing guy.
It seemed to me that there was a strong emphasis on digitally-delivered products and an under-emphasis on the physical product of the iPhone 5 itself. This leads me to believe that Apple's biggest concern is making the phones fast enough to satisfy the demand. Meanwhile, they can sell an unlimited amount of e-products because there is nothing physical to produce, package, and deliver.
What a wonderful place for a company to be. Instead of spending millions of dollars to promote a new product, they spend almost nothing and are most worried about whether their suppliers can churn out the phones with sufficient speed.
A couple of other things they didn't say at the meeting - first, since the iPhone 3 is now absolutely free (with a two-year phone commitment), the iPhone 4 price has been reduced, and the much improved iPhone 5 is has the same price as the iPhone 4S, how much is Apple receiving from the carriers for each phone that is sold at these artificially low prices?
Second, how much is Apple now getting (or will eventually get) in licensing revenue from the likes of Samsung and Google now that the jury awarded over $1 billion to Apple and decided that Apple's patents were legitimate and enforceable? These are not small matters.
As anyone who has read my earlier article (A Calendar Spread Strategy to Capitalize on Apple s Expected Announcement) knows, I am an unabashed Apple bull and an options nut. What was left unsaid (implicitly or actually) at the iPhone 5 introduction has reinforced my Apple bullishness, and the options strategy has so far been successful (the stock fell about $10 from the Monday open to the Wednesday close, but my options strategy has made a nice gain, at least so far).
Disclosure: I am long AAPL.