Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Apple `Firmly Planted' in Post-PC Future?

Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows of Bloomberg report, Apple Unveils New IPad to Widen Tablet Lead:

Apple Inc. (AAPL) introduced a new version of the iPad, beefing up the two-year-old mobile computer with a sharper screen and faster chip to widen its lead over Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Google Inc. in the tablet market.

The device will cost $499 to $829 and include an A5X chip that enables better graphics, Apple said today at an event in San Francisco. It will also boast a 9.7-inch screen that has more pixels than traditional high-definition televisions and run on so-called long-term evolution, or LTE, wireless networks.

Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is making the most significant upgrade yet to Apple’s tablet months before Microsoft introduces software that will run on competing devices. The new version is also aimed at helping the company fend off competition from Google’s Android operating system, as well as Amazon.com, whose $199 Kindle Fire is gaining traction among budget-conscious buyers.

The new iPad will be available March 16, and Apple is taking orders starting today. AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon Wireless will be the first U.S. wireless carriers to sell the new device. Telus Corp. (T), Rogers Communications Inc. (RCI/B) and BCE Inc. (BCE) will carry the new iPad in Canada.

Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple were little changed at $531.05 as of 1:55 p.m. in New York after the announcement.

Apple TV

The overhaul will help draw both new customers and existing owners who want new features, said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group.

Apple gets about 20 percent of its sales from the iPad, attracting consumers as well as business users. With the device’s mix of touch-screen capabilities and computing power that puts it on par with some laptops, Apple has created a new category of consumer-electronics devices.

Cook also unveiled an update of the Apple TV set-top box with a new user interface and a so-called mirroring function that lets video from a user’s mobile devices be played on TV. Photos taken from an iPhone will wirelessly synch using Apple TV. The device will cost $99 and also go on sale March 16.

According to market research firm Gartner Inc., 103.5 million tablet devices will be sold in 2012, with Apple accounting for two-thirds of those. The figure will rise to 326.3 million in 2015.

Amazon, Google Gain

The company’s share will drop to 46 percent by 2015 as Google’s Android gains customers and Microsoft enters the market.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, which went on sale in November, has emerged as Apple’s most credible competitor. Tablets introduced by Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM), Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) haven’t gained much interest.

“It’s an iPad market, and then there’s everybody else,” Howe said. “They are going to be selling them as fast as they can make them.”

Amazon has been able to make some strides in the tablet market with the Kindle Fire because of its lower price, and Amazon’s website gives it a sales channel on par with Apple’s retail stores, said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Amazon’s selection of movies, music and applications also is appealing to customers, she said.

Microsoft’s Answer

“Tablets are about services,” said Rotman Epps. “That’s why Amazon has succeeded where others have failed.”

A new wave of tablets will be entering the market with Microsoft’s introduction of Windows 8, a remake of the company’s flagship operating system intended to work more easily with smartphones and tablets. Hewlett-Packard has said it will introduce a tablet using the software, which analysts expect will be released later this year.

While Windows 8-based products are being completed, Apple may sell 11.3 million iPads in the quarter ending March 31, more than double unit sales from a year earlier, according to Brian Marshall, an analyst at ISI Group in San Francisco. The company may sell 60 million iPads in all of 2012, ISI predicts, about 50 percent more than last year.

Apple is the largest maker of personal computers if the iPad is included in the count, according to Canalys.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, will eventually become a strong competitor, though the longer Windows 8 takes to hit the market, the harder it will be to gain traction with customers, said Rotman Epps.

Most Valuable Company

The iPad has helped make Apple the world’s most valuable company, worth $494 billion based on yesterday’s $530.26 closing stock price. Since the device went on sale in April 2010, Apple’s stock has risen 125 percent and quarterly sales have almost tripled.

One reason Apple has been able to maintain a dominant share of the tablet market is that wireless carriers don’t play as prominent a role in sales as they do with smartphones, Howe said. Customers visiting a Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) store are often steered to a smartphone running Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android software instead of an iPhone, he said.

Apple also benefits from its chain of more than 360 retail stores and the thousands of applications that are tailored specifically for the iPad, said Forrester’s Rotman Epps.

I bought my iPod and iPad last summer and still carry my Blackberry Torch for my smartphone. Am I impressed with Apple's products? Yes and no. If you listen to Tim Cook below, he talks about Apple being at the forefront of leading the 'post-PC' world but I'm not as excited or impressed as many of Apple's disciples.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm technologically challenged, but here are some of my beefs with my Apple products:

  • First, I felt like a fool trying to figure out where the radio is on my iPod. I then asked and was told there is no radio and you have to download Apps to listen to your favorite radio stations (Duh!!).
  • Also felt like an idiot trying to figure out where the hell the flash is on my iPod to take pics at night (There is no flash on the iPod!).
  • Third, I wonder if Tim Cook and those brilliant employees at Apple ever tried blogging on their iPad. It absolutely sucks as you can't scroll down and have to edit things in HTML! (I got my beef with Google and Blogger too as I can't add or remove links on my blog anymore!)
  • Fourth, get us a website which recommends the best Apps for different things. The App store is alright but we need specialized, non-biased sites to evaluate all these millions of Apps available.
  • Fifth, the Apple stores are a zoo! Customer service is excellent but they need to have a system where customers walk in and are given a number to be served. And the Montreal store on St-Catherine is not very accessible for persons with a disability (have to use a freight elevator in the back to go to the second floor). I wish Apple and a lot of other retailers made their stores a lot more accessible to persons with a disability or others suffering mobility issues.
  • Finally, I am concerned about Foxconn and the exploitation of Chinese workers by foreign firms. As we all walk around with our latest gadgets, we should stop to think who makes them and under what conditions.

The last point is controversial as some lament we shouldn't mix pensions with politics, but if the largest pension funds don't speak up, who will raise these issues with these large corporations?

Apple is a powerhouse and it is competing with other tech giants in a very competitive, cut-throat market. Fine, I get it. But in a world of social media, they also have to think of their reputation and how they are perceived in terms of social, environmental and governance issues. Same goes for all corporations. There is simply no excuse for cutting corners and jeopardizing the health and well-being of employees regardless of where they live.

Below, Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, says the company has "its feet firmly planted in the post-PC future." Also, Phil Schiller, senior vice president of product marketing outlines features of a new version of the iPad, which comes with a 9.7-inch screen, a retina display like the one on the most recent iPhone, a faster chip and a body that’s similar to previous iPads. (These are excerpts from the event at San Francisco. Source: Bloomberg)

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