As iPhone fans eagerly await the release of Apple’s (AAPL) forthcoming iPhone 5, already one of the most highly anticipated tech products of 2012, many are left wondering if the iPhone 5 is actually the iPhone 4S. And with good reason. Over the past few days the iLab factory, an iPhone repair shop in Japan, has leaked completely assembled pics of the next generation iPhone, which looks pretty much like the iPhone 4S. Nothing appears extremely new from what we’ve seen and I suspect we are not the only ones being deflated by the photos floating around the internet.
BusinessInsider’s Henry Blodget summarized (generally speaking) the latest round of iPhone 5 pics as the same iPhone with a paint job and slightly larger screen.
“[I]f the iPhone 5 looks like the pictures that have recently appeared, Apple may be screwed,” wrote Blodget in his column today.
Because the “iPhone 5″ looks pretty much like the iPhone 4S. Which looked exactly like the iPhone 4, a phone that is now two years old.”
Blodget is right. Apple may face a bumpy road if the iPhone 5 disappoints. The next-generation smartphone, which accounts for almost two-thirds of Apple’s profits, will not only define the co.’s balance sheet and reputation for at least the next eight quarters, but will also be Apple’s only shot at fully regaining its dominance that has been slowly deteriorating from the tech giant since the release of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the other large Android phones.
“Samsung and other manufacturers have come out with phones that make people’s jaws drop, such as the Galaxy S3, which has a (relatively) humongous screen”, wrote Blodget. “Although the Apple faithful may start hyperventilating about things like the movement or elimination of a button, most phone buyers couldn’t care less. Now that most phones do the same things and work pretty much the same way, the most obvious (and, arguably, important) difference between them is the screen.”
“In short, the Galaxy feels like a next-generation phone”, continued Blodget. “The iPhone, meanwhile, looks small and old. And the pictures that purport to be of the iPhone 5 show a phone that is pretty much the same small, old phone.”
If the iPhone 5 turns out to be a hit, Apple will continue to command premium prices for its devices — which often are made very inexpensively in China — and a premium stock multiple. AAPL currently trades at a trailing P/E of 14.26, a forward x of 11.55 and a P/E to Growth ratio of 0.62. If the iPhone disappoints, the Wall Street may have to cut its Apple estimates. The average price target of analysts who cover Apple is $730.00 per share / high target: $1,100.00 p/sh. The company has a market cap of $568 billion based on prev Nas close of $606.81 p/sh.
Here is some interesting data. In the last 24 months, iPhone went from an installed base of 10 million units to 30 million units, while Google’s (GOOG) Android went from an installed base of less than 5 million units to 50 million units over the same period of time. While no one is alluding that Apple will go bankrupt if the iPhone 5 doesn’t perform according to expectations, the reality is that over time, the co.’s profit margins will be eroded by competition from cheaper and high quality pads and smart phones, which will cut eventually into the tech giant’s market share significantly, forcing it to consequently play catch-up.
Predicting the future is impossible, but the idea that Apple can keep producing products that replicate iPhone’s success again and again, seems unsustainable as well as hardly possible from a marketing model perspective. So, the big question is what is the next step once reality sets in. It really depends on the company I think, and how it reacts and adjusts to the change. But as Blodget notes, once change becomes inevitable, in terms of Apple becoming a more normal company, “consumers and investors will likely conclude that Apple’s magical run is over and that the [world’s most valuable] company is no longer the company it was before Steve Jobs died. In short, Apple will, once again, become ordinary.”