So a story appeared this week claiming that Apple's U.S. Mac sales rose 31% for the month of January as compared to last year. Since the report came from the NDP Group, which takes direct surveys of dealers, you can believe it. A key reason is most likely that Mac users have begun to receive the 2012 iMacs they ordered last year. At the same time, you still have to wait several weeks to get one when you place an order, unless you happen upon a dealer who has the exact model you want in stock.
Indeed, Apple CEO Tim Cook has already stated that Apple expects iMac supplies to be constrained through much of the quarter due to the computer's unique screen lamination scheme. Apple has a habit of implementing new and complex construction techniques when introducing new products, and it is normal for supplies to be tight for a while. The iPad mini only recently earned the "In Stock" label at Apple's online store in the U.S., and the iPhone 5 was constrained through much of the December quarter, which put the lie to stories that people weren't as interested in buying a new iPhone as they used to be. Indeed, the next closest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S III, came in third in worldwide sales.
Despite the good news on the Mac sales front from NPD, industry analyst Gene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, concludes that Apple will still move five percent fewer Macs for the quarter than last year. In a published report, Munster points out that international sales have become more and more significant to Apple's bottom line, which means, I suppose, that he expects sales to decline overseas. That seems to reverse the recent trend, so it's not as if it makes a whole lot of sense. Assuming Apple gets control of iMac shipments, you'd expect sales to increase worldwide. Munster's assumptions don't seem to add up, but what do I know?
At the same time, Munster states that iPad sales in the U.S. had increased by 3% in January compared to the previous year. That's not a huge change, but it also reverses the trend of declining sales for Apple's iconic music player, and that would actually turn out to be a positive development even if it doesn't boost Apple's revenues by very much. The iPods are too cheap, I suppose, to make a difference, but the same can be said for the $99 Apple TV.
However, it has become common in the media these days to portray Apple as somehow beleaguered, or at the very least rapidly losing steam against the increasing competition. In recent days, Apple's current TV spots have been judged against Samsung's and been found lacking. I disagree. Aside from being utterly boring, I find it curious that the color balance of the Samsung TV spots seems off somehow. Colors are muted, almost as if the ads were filmed in cloudy surroundings, and nobody bothered to correct the image before it was released. Or maybe that's part of the plan, whatever it is.
Regardless, I still wonder how many people are actually buying Samsung products, considering the company's profits were far less than Apple, and revenues were somewhat lower. It's also true that Samsung's product repertoire is far more extensive. The mobile division is just a small part of the picture. There are TVs, appliances, chips and a lot more.
Yet Apple was regarded as a failure for missing possibly overestimated revenue and profit targets devised by some financial analysts, yet Samsung was highly praised for doing worse. As I've said in the past, we do indeed live in a Bizarro world where down is up, and something that is inferior is really better. No wonder Apple can't catch a break. Indeed, the only possible good news about Apple this week is the rumor of a possible stock split at Wednesday's shareholder meeting. Of course, such a move doesn't actually make Apple a more valuable company, but it has the advantage of making the stock price cheaper, and conveying a positive image, which might attract more investors. At the same time, this rumor may have simply been spread by a fund manager to boost the price of Apple's stock and thus increase the value of his holdings.
But, as I've said in the past, I make no effort to find logic in the inconsistencies of Wall Street. If I were into wild speculation, I'd rather consider spending a few dollars at the gambling tables in Las Vegas. Since I limit my budget to $20 per visit, I know that I'm not going to suffer very much from the experience.
In any case, I suppose it would be more productive to predict what products Apple will release over the next few months. There are a few clues, and you can certainly expect the usual product refreshes, and perhaps a couple of surprises along the way. But too much about Apple is being revealed across the supply chain these days, so keeping real secrets for very long is becoming increasingly difficult. It may not be what Apple wants, but that's the way it is.
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