First Take: Apple’s Gather Round Event on Sept. 12th

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By Gene Munster and Andrew Murphy of Loup Ventures

Apple sent out invitations to its annual fall gathering to announce new iPhones. Historically, they have also used this event to set the iPad, iPod, and other product lineups for the holiday shopping season. Here’s what we expect:

  • Three new iPhones: An upgraded iPhone X with a 5.8″ OLED display (iPhone Xs?), a larger screen, upgraded iPhone X with a new 6.5″ OLED display (iPhone Xs Plus?), and a lower-cost, full-screen iPhone with 6.1″ LCD display (iPhone 9?). See more below on the bigger picture of the iPhone business.

  • Apple Watch Series 4: Apple Watch Series 4, including a new, larger display. While we were not expecting a change in form factor, Apple’s “Gather round” tagline for the event has us wondering (hoping?) that the company introduces its first round-faced Apple Watch. However, the software and hardware implications of such a change are so massive, we think it’s unlikely that Apple will depart from the current Apple watch form factor. It’s more likely that they’ll deliver a larger display in a similar watch casing, reducing the size of the bezel.
  • New iPad Pros: The 10.5″ and 12.9″ iPad Pros were last updated in June 2017. The question is not whether they will be updated this year (they will), but whether Apple will host a separate fall event, as the company has done in the past, to launch the new iPads. The number of new products on this list likely warrants a second event.
  • New AirPods: Even though Apple still can’t make the first generation AirPods fast enough, we think they’re preparing an updated version with support for “Hey Siri” — voice-based Siri activation.
  • AirPower: Assuming the company is still on track for the “2018” release of the AirPower wireless charging mat, we expect to see the product launched at the Sept. event.

Now, Let’s Decode This Invitation

Warning: We’re about to read way too far into this invite. Aside from the obvious reference to the event location, the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park (both round), and the shape’s resemblance to the top of the main building at Apple Park, let’s see what more we can pull out of the invite.

Source: Loup Ventures

The color seems to reinforce rumors of a new iPhone color. The iPhone X does not come in gold, which may be added to the lineup. The gold also has a brushed look, which may reference the finish of the lower-cost iPhone with a 6.1″ LCD display vs. the polished finish of iPhone X today.

The concentric black circles within the larger gold circle are elements drawn from Apple Park. But we wouldn’t be surprised if Apple integrated that same design language into a new, round product. Does it hint at the look of a coil, like the ones used for wireless charging? Or is it a hint at a round-faced Apple Watch? We think not, but this invitation is more than a creative look at the event’s location.

iPhone: The Bigger Picture

iPhone is entering a period of stability (0% to 5% unit growth for the next several years) driven by 805m+ active iPhones with a high (90%) retention rate. Assuming a 3.5-year upgrade cycle and a 90% retention rate implies 207m iPhones sold each year, slightly below the Streets 219m expected in FY18 and FY19.

Three new iPhones this year will be a meaningful shot in the arm for our Apple as a Service thesis. In short, Stable iPhone business, Services growth, a significant capital return, and new products are driving a new investment paradigm for the company. Apple’s Sept. iPhone events set the stage for a stable iPhone business over the next year and beyond.

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