Threat To Apple’s Future Earnings: No 4G iPhone

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Apple, Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) is not ready to launch a 4G-enabled iPhone, and that may be as important as any news that comes out with is earnings and forecasts today. Several brokerage houses have price targets as high as $500 for Apple’s shares. They trade at $374 now.

The Wall St. consensus is that Apple will report revenue of $24.97 billion and earnings of $5.83 per share. Those numbers are based on the sale of 17 million iPhones, almost 8 million iPads, and nearly 4 million Macs. Those numbers would be extraordinary and the forecast for the current quarter may be as well. But Apple will have to release a 4G-enabled iPhone relatively soon, or it will be flanked by smartphone firms, including HTC and the world’s second largest handset company — Samsung.

Apple’s new iPhone 5, which is expected to launch in the fall, will apparently not work on the AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless 4G networks.

AT&T and Verizon have slowed the use of the iPhone as their major marketing tool. Each has now started to focus on a push into 4G, and each has invested billions of dollars in new 4G infrastructure. The wireless companies believe that subscribers will pay more for super-fast wireless connections and the data plans that go with them. New handsets that do work on 4G, notably smart phones like the HTC Thunderbolt, are at the center of new advertising campaigns. Several analysts say the the Thunderbolt now outsells the iPhone 4 in many AT&T and Verizon stores.

Apple’s assumption appears to be that its brand power and the features it will add to the iPhone 5 are enough to hold most of its loyal customers and perhaps add to the base. Apple’s gamble is that 3G networks are fast enough for most consumers. That may not be true any longer. Networks based on 4G are much better for video applications and for data downloads at speeds close to those of cable modems.

The trends in smartphone use are in the direction of multimedia and the ability to transfer large files. Those features are necessary as the smartphone replaces the PC. Apple will not offer a product with that capability this year. That will almost certainly cripple sales in 2012.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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