Apple has a big week ahead of it: Not only is the company's long-rumored tablet PC expected to make its debut during a San Francisco presentation on Jan. 27, but it will also announce quarterly earnings on Jan. 25.
Despite the economic recession dragging down revenue for a number of tech companies, Apple has managed to consistently outperform estimates for 2009. Reuters quoted StarMine's SmartEstimate as predicting that Apple will post revenue of $12.16 billion for this past quarter.
Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer previously estimated that the company would earn $11.3 billion in the quarter. However, Apple has traditionally been conservative in its estimates, despite continued strength in iPhone and Mac sales. In the previous quarter it moved 3.05 million Macs, a 17 percent year-over-year rise, and 7.4 million iPhones, a 7 percent increase from the same quarter in 2008.
As worldwide PC shipments increased by 22.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, Apple found its overall position in the United States slip one place to fifth, behind Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer and Toshiba. That data comes from research company Gartner, which also suggested that Apple saw its Mac sales rise 7.5 percent for the quarter.
Apple's revenue in 2010 could be drastically affected by sales of a tablet PC, which current rumors suggest will be offered for sale beginning at some point between March and June. Although Apple has routinely refused to comment on whether it has a tablet currently in development, months of rumors have suggested that the multitouch device will serve as a portable media player, delivering content ranging from e-books to television shows.
Also anticipated are partnerships between Apple and various publishers over content for the device. The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 18 that HarperCollins Publishers has been negotiating with Apple to make e-books available on the tablet, quoting unnamed sources supposedly close to the negotiations. The newspaper also suggested that other publishers, including Conde Nast Publications and News Corp., were engaged in some level of discussion with Apple.
Analysts have been conjecturing freely for months about the possible design of an Apple tablet. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster made a number of pronouncements on that front in 2009, noting at various points that the tablet could be based off the iPhone OS, with applications designed for a larger screen, or else a modified version of Mac OS X. Oppenheimer & Co. financial analyst Yair Reiner suggested in a Dec. 8 research note that an Apple tablet would be released in late March or April and would have a 10.1-inch touch screen. However, a source suggested to Boy Genius Report on Dec. 23 that the tablet would have a 7-inch screen.
Despite all the hype, a tablet would carry some marketplace risks for Apple. In a survey of 500 randomly selected users, online electronics marketplace Retrevo found that 70 percent of respondents thought a tablet priced at $700 and above would be out of their price range. Another 44 percent said a monthly data plan requirement would stop them from purchasing a tablet.
According to the rumor mill, Apple's tablet could be priced anywhere from $600 to $1,000.
During a July 2009 earnings call, Peter Oppenheimer noted a sales decline in traditional iPods, a phenomenon he attributed to a natural cannibalization of that device's market by the iPod Touch and the iPhone line. It remains to be seen whether an Apple tablet would cannibalize the market for other Apple touch-screen devices.