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Analysts, Investors Take Apple to Task For its Best Quarter Ever

Apple Stock January 2008
Daniel Eran Dilger
According to Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley Insider, the Era of the iPod is over. That dramatic conclusion comes from the limited new iPod unit sales increase year over year in the December quarter; this year, Apple sold just five percent more iPods that it did last winter. However, reality isn’t quite so simple, and there’s no reason to buy into the professional panic being advanced by the usual suspects.

Lost in the Numbers.
It’s hard to be too upset about Apple’s iPod sales. It sold 22,121,000 iPods, which while only five percent more units compared to the winter quarter last year, represented 17 percent higher revenues. That’s because Apple brought a more powerful and expensive iPod to market, the iPod Touch. Brisk sales of the higher end model bumped up revenues and profits and raised the average selling price of iPods in general. Apple enjoyed the highest growth rate in revenue for the iPod in a year.

Consumers enjoyed the best iPod ever. In addition to the new Touch, Apple also released the new video playing Nano, converting its product lineup into one than can play both music and video purchased from iTunes. More recently, they can also handle rented movies as well. Perhaps the company knows what its doing after all.

Another secret that seems to have slipped through the fingers of every analyst on the planet is that the iPhone is also an iPod. It’s essentially an iPod Touch with a camera and a mobile phone. Apple sold 2.3 million iPhones in the winter quarter, so if you add those into the iPod units, you arrive at 24.4 million iPods, which is what analysts were looking for, albeit in the wrong column of the report.

The other difference between the iPhone and the standard iPods is that the iPhone generates steady, subscription-accounted income as well as a share of mobile operator service fees. The nibbling cannibalization of iPod sales by the iPhone is kindest competition Apple could hope for.

iPod Unit Sales

Apple’s Changing Strategy.

Getting lost while searching for straight unit sales growth seems to be an ignorant perspective of Apple’s business. Analysts have been complaining for some time that there was nowhere for the iPod to go; it appeared that the only future would be ever larger capacity devices, which at some point would reach a point of diminishing return for users.

Apple solved that problem before it sprouted by converting the iPod lineup into thinner Flash RAM devices with less capacity. Before anyone could complain about having no need for the extra storage in a 160GB iPod, Apple jumped on a new horse to deliver the message small is the new big.

The thin new iPod Nano took over doing everything the regular iPod Classic was doing (apart from spinning a hard drive), and the iPod Touch reinvented what the iPod was going to become in the future. Rather than being a hard drive wrapped in a simple UI, suddenly it charted out a course as a handheld WiFi multitouch mobile computer.

New iPod Reviews: 3G iPod nano, iPod classic, iPod touch

The Do More iPod Platform.
To drive that strategy home for investors and analysts, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook articulated the concept repeatedly in the Q1 conference call. The iPod is no longer just an MP3 player, but is now “the first mainstream WiFi platform for mobile applications.”

Apple isn’t trying to maintain impossible exponential growth of iPods anymore. Instead, it’s redefining the iPod while maintaining its current sales volume and market share, in order to increase profitability and create sustainable, valuable growth.

Rather than just bumping up numbers year over year, Apple is selling devices that do more, both for consumers and for Apple. In 2007 more iPods gained video playback, and this year they’ll gain third party software execution features.

Imagine if Sony and Microsoft were actually earning profits from sales of their game consoles instead of losing billions of dollars, while still developing the potential for a lucrative future platform for software sales and online service revenues. That dreamy business plan is what Apple is knee deep in right now with the iPhone and iPod Touch, and it’s only ever been making money while rolling the strategy out.

Blu-ray vs HD-DVD in Next Generation Game Consoles

Pay Attention, Microsoft.
Back in 2006, I chided Microsoft for releasing the Zune as a clunky brick aimed at Apple’s high end iPod. That winter, I announced that Apple would likely follow what it did the last two winters: release and market low priced, simple iPods that drove sales volumes. That’s what Microsoft should have done in 2006, while the game was perhaps still open to new players.

Last fall, Microsoft attempted to do what probably would have worked in 2006: deploy cheaper Flash Zune models. However, Apple also rejiggered its product line dramatically, besting the Zune on the low end with the iPod Nano, and trouncing it on the premium end with the Touch. Having cleaned up the iPod market, Apple shifted much of its marketing budget to advance the iPhone rollout, which also cast a halo over the iPods.

The result was that Apple sold more iPods than ever, made substantially more revenues and profits, maintained its dominant market share position, and established both the iPhone and Touch as a new WiFi mobile platform, just in time to invite developers to code for the several million strong installed base of OS X/Cocoa handhelds this spring.

Are the analysts really so stupid that they’d have preferred to see Apple just dump more cheap iPod Shuffles into the market to achieve 30 million unit sales at lower revenues, lower profits, and at the expense of boring the public with another year of the same thing?

Should Apple have driven the iPod off a Thelma and Louise cliff for a dramatic ending instead of swerving to motor on into a series of increasingly profitable sequels?

Strike 3: Why Zune will Bomb this Winter

Strike 3: Why Zune will Bomb this Winter
Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing

It’s So Much Easier to Bluff.
Were Apple Microsoft, perhaps it could simply release an MP3 player that doesn’t work, and promise a patch to fix it sometime over the next two years. That’s what Microsoft has done with Vista and every other release of Windows, and has essentially been the company’s strategy for Windows Smartphones, Media2Go, PlaysForSure, the Zune, Windows Home Server, and even the Xbox line.

If you listen to the Windows Enthusiasts, they’ll let you know that Microsoft is gearing up to compete with the 2007 iPhone and Leopard at some point in 2010, and might even inexplicably deliver its new operating systems ahead of schedule sometime next year.

That’s right, Microsoft is supposed to deliver its new operating systems well in advance this time around because it hasn’t even showed anything off yet, and it’s not busy fixing Vista, repairing the Xbox 360s, rethinking HD-DVD, or working on the Surface bathtub. Keep praying for that you nutty bunch of knuckleheads out there in Windowsland.

Winter 2007 Buyers Guide iPod vs Zune

Winter 2007 Buyer’s Guide: Microsoft Zune 8 vs iPod Nano
Scratching the Surface of Microsoft’s New Table PC
CES: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

What You Expected, What You Got.
What do you get for beating your own guidance and even exceeding the dizzy expectations of Wall Street? Not much if you’re Apple.

  • Apple’s guidance called for $9.2 billion in revenue and $1.42 in earnings per share.
  • The Street was expecting $9.46 billion in revenue and $1.60 in earnings per share.
  • Apple actually delivered $9.6 billion in revenue and $1.76 in earnings per share.

The company also blew away expectations for Mac shipments, iPhone sales, and exceeded its guidance for iPod sales. Analysts’ response has been to bewail the fact that the company didn’t meet even higher expectations for iPods set by speculators or exceed fanciful “whisper numbers” based more on optimistic conjecture than solid research.

What drove down Apple’s stock price in aftermarket trading was the company’s more conservative guidance for revenue and earnings in Q2, which ends in March. The company forecast sales of $6.8 billion and earnings per share of 94 cents, below analysts’ consensus expectation of earnings of $1.09 per share on sales of $7.0 billion.

Clearly, Apple would rather impress than disappoint. The company does face weaker economic conditions, but also just managed to walk through a fiery holiday season unscathed and emerge stronger in its US sales and, to an even greater extent, pulled off exceptional international growth in both iPods and Macs.

It also trounced Microsoft’s efforts to make significant inroads into its iPod business, even with its rival leveraging all its tricks and dumping millions into ad campaigns and sponsorships. Over the last summer, the company followed around acts like the Chemical Brothers, offering concertgoers buying merch the opportunity to get a Zune logo silkscreened on their t-shirts. I bet Microsoft would have been enraptured to have taken the additional five percent of iPods Apple sold in the last quarter, but no cigar.

Apple is proving to be a difficult competitor.

Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here’s the Bollocks.
Apple’s best ever quarter, with record sales of Macs, iPhones, and iPods, was profiled with a particularly negative spin in Forbes by Ruthie Ackerman. Reader Gabe Stein sent in a link to the bizarre article, which spun the company’s stellar earnings under the fanciful title “Shine Comes Off Apple.”

Ackerman managed to find an analyst willing to describe the iPhone as a “failed strategy” for not yet providing a voice dialing feature, and complained that “the company is trying to rely on the Mac and the iPod to compensate.”

With writing like this from an apparently legitimate magazine, who needs CNET?

What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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  • Jon T

    The bit about expectations that everyone has forgotten – including you Dan it seems – is that after the Q4 2007 results there was a big issue made about how Apple had for the first time ever, guided above Wall Street.

    In October, the Street consensus guided for Q1 08 at just $8.58 billion in revenue and earnings of $1.39 per share.

    So the difference between THAT prediction and the actual result is even greater…


  • Jon T
  • droughtquake

    What? No sex or politics? What are we going to talk about here? ;-)

  • James

    That Forbes article is idiotic. The volatility of the stock market in general as we plunge into a world wide recession is the main reason for the fall in Apple’s share price. The 5% rise in iPod sales also raises the question as to whether the market for iPods is reaching saturation point, and this in the other reason for the drop in price. I don’t think either factor implies any criticism as to Apples current direction or strategy.

    The most encouraging thing in the results is the continuing boom in Mac sales, ignited in my view by the switch to Intel which gives an easy route to the Mac for potential switchers, which while Apple has a market share of 6% or so, has plenty of space to continue. Boot Camp and VMware/Parallels have made Windows XP the new Classic mode for switchers.

    I would say that Apple of any established tech company is perhaps in the strongest position to ride out the next few years.

  • dallasmay

    Does anyone know what the official iPod count is at now. It was 100M about this time last year right? I wonder if they have passed 200M yet.

  • lmasanti

    ” and this year they’ll gain third party software execution features.”

    They had 3rd party soft before… a.k.a. games.

    But you clearify this later… full Cocoa apps will bost usage and sales a lot.

  • lmasanti

    I think you enterely missed the point.

    Analysts and investors look for a different “kind of profit” from Apple.
    They want “quick earnings”… buy today, sell tomorrow at a large earning…

    So, that’s the reason to say “they dissapoint us”!
    They did not make “easy money”.
    Or… making others sell its [precioused] posessed shares!

    They are not paying attention to Apple’s economic health.

  • addicted44

    The drop in Apple’s stock price is fantastic because it allows other investors to get into the AAPL game at a much lower price. I agree that Apple is probably in the best position to deal with the upcoming year, and this is just a blessing in disguise for many.

  • lmasanti

    “First, Apple must be doing something right, more than three quarters of the folks who responded own more than one iPod.”

    iPoll results: iPod owners’ raves, rants, and pans

  • flybynight

    Here, here! If I did have some extra $$ lying around, I would be dumping it into AAPL right now. Great buying opportunity.

  • http://lexx.warpedsystems.skc.a His Shadow

    I was reading a criticism of the Mini from back when it was introduced and it had the gem of a line that the user got “2700 less songs”.

    You can always tell the checklist jerks because they are always whining about what’s already big not being big enough. Seriously, who the hell even has 100 gigabytes of music? I find anything more than 30 gigabytes unmanageable. It doesn’t occur to the pundits that an 8 or even 16 gigs of space is far more than the average music listener will ever need on a mobile device, especially when they have a desktop to connect to and store the rest of their collection. Obviously the extra content can be used for movies and video, but that’s why they have an iPod with 160 gigs of storage.

    It’s identical to the whining about the Air. Whenever they complain about the feature set, they are describing some other product Apple makes! Then buy THAT!

    I like many tire of the so-called tech journalists entrenched stupidity when it comes to all things Apple, and their tunnel vision on tech in general.

    And Daniel’s comment about prayers for Microsoft is spot on. Apple is delivering the the future NOW but just you wait, after 2 more years and a few trillion dollars, Microsoft will catch up to Apple! You’ll see!

    …and by then Apple will be even farther ahead. The mainstream tech press needs to be sentenced to non-stop reading of their own insipid bilge for the rest of their lives.

  • harrywolf

    The gambling game that is the Stock Market and reality have little in common.
    Apple are doing extremely well, and thats all that matters.
    If you own Apple stock, and you purchased it more than a year ago, you can sell and make a big profit.
    As there is NO other way to make profit on shares, then its not shocking to see share prices go up and down.

    If Apple (and all the others) shared profits with Shareholders, then perhaps buying and selling would be different, but they dont.

    Be happy. The sell off is Apple shareholders making money. Thats the reality of the market, but it doesnt need to affect Apple and their growth and profits, which are still excellent.

    I am still buying a MacBook Air!

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  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    Oops, I started a similar but more abbreviated thread in the forum before I saw this post… I should have known better. Anyway, agreed. The stock plunge isn’t based on good research or results, it seems more emotional. Crazy stuff.

    iPod sales to date are 141,386,000

  • John E

    aw heck. the big run up in Apple stock this past year was largely driven by spec traders playing off the big media hype Apple got in 2007. now that the entire market is crashing pretty hard they are dumping it, just like spec traders always do. so back down it goes.

    2008 looks like a bad year for the whole economy. the market’s gonna bottom and then lay flat. Apple stock is not going to be immune from this big picture.

    you can’t take these volatile short term ups and downs so dead seriously and supposedly meaningful as many have (unless you too are speculating).

    instead you measure comparable points in the market cycles to see what the real change was over several years. so … Apple peaked at 200 in this run up. what was its peak in the last one several years ago (i dunno)? the delta between those two is a really significant change. likewise, when it bottoms this year, compare that to its bottom price back in 2002 … then convert the deltas into annual growth rate % and you have some genuine economic facts to work with.

  • http://lexx.warpedsystems.skc.a His Shadow

    A couple of dorks in C|Net are comparing Apple’s slide to Microsoft’s 2% loss. As if anyone has cared what Microsoft has done for the last ten years. If it had released dynamic game changing hardware and software it’s stock would be on a roller coaster ride as well. But since nobody cares, it just chugs along at 30 dollars.

  • elppa

    “That’s right, Microsoft is supposed to deliver its new operating systems well in advance this time around because it hasn’t even showed anything off yet, and it’s not busy fixing Vista, repairing the Xbox 360s, rethinking HD-DVD, or working on the Surface bathtub. ”

    This is very funny. In fact, I spoke to someone only the other day who was absolutely convinced that the next version of Windows would ship early next year.

    Even IE, which after IE 7 was meant to get annual updates, is languishing without any news on what we will see in IE 8 or when we might see it.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    If I had a nickel for every time somebody told me to buy MSFT over the past five years, well, I’d have plenty of money right now to buy AAPL. Jim Cramer was puking up that advise a few days ago. He also found some of the most pessimistic AAPL analysts to quote.

  • beanie

    Daniel Eran Dilger wrote:
    “I bet Microsoft would have been enraptured to have taken the additional five percent of iPods Apple sold in the last quarter, but no cigar.”

    Zunes were only sold in the U.S. last quarter. I read that iPod unit sales in the U.S. were flat. Anyway, there was more competition from Sandisk, Archos, Sony, and Samsung, not only Zune, last quarter.

    So are you just assuming iPod held its marketshare? Zune 80 is consistently in the top 10 on Amazon’s mp3 bestsellers list. So I’d have to guess Zune gained marketshare. Microsoft might release some Zune numbers Jan 24.

    If you want to count iPhones as iPods, then does the 40 million Walkman phones sold in 2007 count as MP3 players? So focused on Zune, that many did not notice Walkman label. If Sony can transfer that success to the pure mp3 player market, then iPod marketshare is in trouble.

  • daniel.lucas

    @ beanie

    I have a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone and it’s rubbish. Half the time it doesn’t even play the song you want; instead it lets out an unpleasant buzzing noise. The interface is a cheap imitation of the original iPod’s, the controls make it slow to navigate (no click wheel), it uses proprietary Sony Memory Sticks, it uses a proprietary headphone connector (which eventually turns into a proper mini-jack) and the battery doesn’t last more than a few hours when playing music.

    I also have a 16GB iPod Touch.

    Guess which one I use.

    Let’s face it, Sony had their go at the “pure mp3 player” market and failed miserably. In fact, their dedicated mp3 players worked a whole lot better than their phone implementations.

    If Apple sold iPhones in Belgium, I’d happily sledgehammer my my heavily subsidised Walkman phone into a thousand little pieces.

  • elppa

    iPod sales were not flat, they were up around 5% on the same quarter last year. That may be considered flat to many, but it represents growth to me.

    What also happened though was that the average price of each unit sold increased, largely thanks to the touch. Hence Apple made 47% more money on iPod than the same quarter last year.

    MS may have taken marketshare with the Zune… from their former “plays for sure” partners. I highly doubt they’ve taken any significant marketshare from iPod.

    Morever, with all this talk of market-share and Amazon Bestseller Lists, you may be overlooking one important thing: Businesses are meant to make money.

    It’s looking increasingly unlikely that Microsoft has made any money on the Zune. Whilst this is fine for other parts of the business to subsidise a product making a loss for now, how long will this last? 1 year, 2 years, 5 years? 10 years?

    Time to face the reality: if the Zune numbers were really any good, Microsoft would be shouting from the rooftops about it. Instead all we’ve heard about the Zune is that may be selling them in Canada, sometime soon, possibly.

    Apple has cemented their position as No. 1 this Christmas, try all you might, their no other way to spin it.

    Paul Thurrot, a big evangelist and supporter of the Windows platform and Microsoft’s products in general has gone back to iPod. I don’t think I really need to say anything else. So I won’t.

  • roz

    On the other hand stock price is more about the future. I wonder why apple gave that guidance. Maybe no updated iPhone or laptops till next quarter.

  • roz

    a real risk to ipod is amazon and the anti-drm thing. if that goes forward, Apple’s lock-in is significantly reduced. that applies to ITMS and iPod. in terms of hardware and price apple is doing great but in international markets, china, it might not have the same sway.

  • roz

    but I am not saying the market is right for reacting the way it did, nor the press for the spin it gave it. If you really think its wrong – then you should see it as a buying opportunity!! :) :) and if you are scared to buy at this price, you can’t fault them for selling.

  • beanie

    elppa wrote:
    iPod sales were not flat, they were up around 5% on the same quarter last year.”

    The increase in unit sales came in International sales. I was refering to United States (U.S.) unit sales as flat.

  • John E

    putting our disdain aside, fact is Microsoft had great financial results the previous quarter and probably will again for this last quarter. we can debate their long term prospects, but right now business is very good for them too.

    its the global expansion. the second and third world are buying huge numbers of cheap PC’s (and very few Macs), and sometimes they even pay MS for the software. that’s where explosive growth is occurring, not here in the US. it was very telling – and smart – for MS to offer Home Basic in China for just $25, since otherwise most PC’s there would get loaded with bootleg XP instead.

  • NormM

    Analysts always rationalize after these big swings, explaining why it happened. I personally think this drop was due to programmed traders (hedge funds) milking AAPL volatility. They constitute about 40% of all trades and they focus on volatility and predictable patterns–they don’t care about value. They’ll now buy back in and the stock will go back up and the analysts will explain that too, based on whatever breeze is blowing that day.

  • Steve Nagel

    So much of what Apple does these days must be related to Wall St. Not so much what the analysts think but managing growth in a way that will not create lumps in sales that cannot be matched in the following year. Managing success. Tough work.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    @ beanie: Apple reported that NPD’s market share figures indicate the iPod’s share hasn’t slipped at all. Apple is the only company really creating growth in MP3 players, and always has been. The Zune et all have been getting coverage, but that hasn’t materializes into sales.

    The Zune could double and still not matter. Apple’s 5% growth over 20 million is as much as Microsoft managed, but Apple also kept 100% of its past sales.

    I compared the iPhone to the iPod because many iPod users bought an iPhone and continued to use it as their iPod. There are lots of phones with MP3 features, but users are not buying them for that purpose, and they largely go unused. If Sony’s Walkman were a brand of consequence, the Sony Connect store wouldn’t have withered away. The Walkman MP3 software is also impossibly difficult to use.

    The difference is being an iPod vs. tacking an “MP3 player” label on a phone that will only ever be used as a phone by the majority of users. Nokia likes to flatter itself as the biggest maker of cameras too, since their phones all have a toy cam, but that is nearly as delusional. At least phone users occasionally take pics, even if they aren’t much of a camera.

  • seanw

    that’s the one thing i like about apple: under promise – over deliver.

    a sure fire formula for success.

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  • http://www.ecphorizer.com Tod

    So, um, I’m real curious about the use of what appears to be a “yuppie-MBA” word: guidance. What the heck is “guidance”? What’s wrong with the time-honored words “forecast” and “prediction?” Guidance is what a museum guide does for you.

    Yours for better English,


  • roz

    they can’t make predictions because they don’t the future. forecasts would suggest they have some basis to tell the future, they don’t have that either.

    guidance is sufficiently vague to suggest a direction without making promises.

  • humann

    Thanks Tod for pointing out what had been really bugging me after reading these 31 comments. I prefer the term Serious Wild-Ass Guess(work) in this case.

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