Apple Earnings Release: Can The iPhone 5, iPad Mini Offset A Disappointing Q3 2012?

 @redletterdave
on July 25 2012 5:04 PM

After a couple of record-breaking quarters, Apple took a tumble on its journey to becoming the first company with a market capitalization of $1 trillion, announcing its third-quarter financials after the market closed on Tuesday. The company beat its own conservative estimate, reporting a strong jump in earnings, and even sold a record number of iPads in Q3, but across the board, Apple did a rare thing: It missed analysts' estimates.

Apple posted $8.8 billion worth of net income on $35 billion in revenue for the quarter, resulting in a share price of $9.32. According to Thomson Reuters, analysts had expected Apple to post at least $10.36 in its earnings per share, on a revenue of $37.2 billion.

Not surprisingly, the iPhone and iPad were Apple's best-sellers in Q3. Apple sold 26 million iPhones -- a 28 percent jump from a year ago but a 26 percent decline from last quarter -- and a record 17 milion iPads, an 84 percent jump from Q3 2011. Apple also sold 4 million Macs and 6.8 million iPods, a 2 percent jump and 10 percent drop-off from last year, respectively.

"We're thrilled with record sales of 17 million iPads in the June quarter," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, during yesterday's Q3 conference call with investors. "We've also just updated the entire MacBook line, will release Mountain Lion tomorrow and will be launching iOS 6 this Fall. We are also really looking forward to the amazing new products we've got in the pipeline."

But even an improvement in sales across the board was still disappointing to the Wall Street crowd. Analysts predicted Apple would sell 29 million iPhone units -- 3 million more than what was actually sold. On the other hand, Wall Street had predicted Apple would sell 16 million iPad units, 4.1 million Macs and 5.9 million iPods in Q3, and Apple beat each of those estimates.

Perception Vs. Reality

Everyone may have thought Apple would report another killer quarter, but instead, it only reported a "good" quarter. And to Wall Street analysts, shareholders and investors, a "good" quarter for Apple just isn't good enough.

Apple must live with these extremely high standards, as they are the same standards the company sets for itself. 

Interestingly enough, one of the investors directly asked Cook during Tuesday's conference call about the hype surrounding Apple, and whether or not it affects quarterly sales.

"There's a lot of speculation out there," Cook replied. "It's difficult to sort out, but I'm fairly convinced that there's an incredible anticipation out there for future products. As you would expect given what we've been able to deliver in the past. I think it's a reasonable amount."

With the release of the new iPad in March, most believed the tablet would do much of the heavy lifting for quarterly sales. The iPad line represented about 26 percent of the company's Q3 revenue -- nowhere close to the near 50 percent of revenue accounted for by the iPhone. There are several reasons for this: The new iPad, besides its gorgeous display, is not vastly different from previous iPads, and more importantly, the iPad isn't cheap. The iPhone is cheap enough for more people to get their hands on it.

For this reason, Apple can really have a killer Q4 if it decides to release its next iPhone, which many are already calling "the iPhone 5," as long as the much-rumored "iPad Mini." With two products cheaper than a typical iPad ($499) aiming for similar fall release dates, Apple has the potential to not only rebound from a disappointing Q3, but have its best sales yet.

Will Apple iPhone 5 and iPad Mini At The Same Time?

Various reports have independently pegged the release dates for the iPad Mini and the iPhone 5 around September and October, respectively. On Tuesday, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who correctly predicted Apple would unveil a MacBook Pro with Retina Display at WWDC 2012, released a report suggesting that the release dates for the iPhone 5 and the iPad Mini will actually coincide in the month of September.

"Though shipments of iPad Mini's components will start in August, the new iPad line will end production, ready for transition to a modified New iPad line," Kuo said. "As such, component shipments will drop in August as iPad Mini's components shipments growth will be offset."

"iPhone 5 to debut in September," Kuo added in his report. "But due to in-cell touch panel and casing yield rate limits, ability to offset older models' shipments decrease will be moderate."

Rumors of an iPad Mini aren't new: Details about the speculative mini tablet have been circulating the Web since early January, but few could report anything substantial about the device's size and specifications. At the time, the one rumor was that the iPad's screen about be between 7 and 7.85 inches across.

But then, earlier this month, Gotta Be Mobile posted "exclusive" photos of what it believes to be an engineering sample of the "iPad Mini" design, which reveals many possible features of this tiny tablet. Shawn Ingram of Gotta Be Mobile said the engineering sample photos came from a "trusted source inside the Apple supply chain" in Asia.

According to Gotta Be Mobile, the photos suggest the iPad Mini would be wider and a little taller than the Nexus 7, Google's newly introduced 7-inch tablet, and it would even be slightly thinner than Apple's "new" iPad. 

"What we've found, using a pixel count, is that the iPad Mini should be around 213.36mm tall and about 143.67mm wide," Ingram said. "This is approximately two-thirds of the size of the new third-generation iPad. The new iPad is 185.67mm wide, 241.3mm tall, and 9.39mm thick."

Incredibly, that same day, Gotta Be Mobile received and released photos of an engineering sample of what it believed to be the iPhone 5, which came from that same "trusted source" in Asia. Unlike the iPad Mini engineering samples, however, the iPhone 5 samples could be compared with previous rumors, reports, photos and schematics. The new engineering samples and all previous reports were a perfect match.

Here are all of the features identified across all of the alleged iPhone 5 prototypes:

Smaller Dock Connector: As predicted earlier by 9 to 5 Mac, Apple wants smaller dock connectors for its iPhones, and the newly released iPhone 5 models only confirm this. In addition, after TechCrunch "independently verified" that the next iPhone will kick the standard 30-pin dock connector (a tradition since the third-generation iPod) for a newly designed 19-pin "mini" dock connector, Gotta Be Mobile released photos of the alleged "iPad Mini," which featured a similar 19-pin dock connector. Several other news sites, including The New York Times and Reuters, also believe Apple will implement the 19-pin dock into the iPhone 5, likely for the sake of making more space within the phone.

Metal Back: The iPhone 4S features a back made of all glass, but the new photos from iFixyouri show black and white iPhones with much of the back encased in metal. It's not clear what function the metal back serves -- if it's simply a style choice, or if it's made out of an extremely-light "liquidmetal" solution -- but all of the photos of the new iPhones included these metal portions. There's a slight chance that the metal back could help improve call reception, given that the metal trim along the sides is molded into the metal backplates, giving it a "unibody" feel.

Redesigned Speaker Grills: The speakers on the bottom have been expanded and redesigned in the new iPhone model. Now that the dock connector from the iPhone 4 and 4S has been shrunk down, Apple has more room to create bigger and louder speakers.

Migrated FaceTime Camera: To better mirror the faceplate of the iPodTouch, Apple has apparently moved the FaceTime camera from the left of the earpiece to above the earpiece itself. Moving the camera likely frees up more space to include more parts and components like LTE and NFC chips, but it also makes the iPhone more symmetrical and appealing.

Migrated Earphone Jack: Photos of the new iPhone show the earphone jack, which has traditionally been located on the top right corner of the phone, has migrated to the bottom left corner of the device. This design change aligns perfectly with a May 14 report from Hong Kong-based components supplier SW-Box, which claimed to have acquired a new headphone jack, ear speaker, and Wi-Fi cable part for a new iPhone. SW-Box's audio components would fit perfectly within the new design released by iFixyouri and 9 to 5 Mac.

New Camera Opening: Photos of the released iPhone show a subtle but interesting difference to the camera infrastructure: On the rear panels of the black and white iPhone models, there is now a small space between the camera lens and the LED flash. Looking at the inside of that space, there appears to be a tiny object that occupies the opening, which could be a small microphone to help with capture higher-quality audio when recording video.

These are just the outside components, however. Most of what makes the iPhone an incredible device is the software, and at WWDC 2012, Apple announced everything we need to know about iOS 6, the next operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. iOS 6 will launch in the fall, which would make it a perfect time to release two other devices, namely a new iPhone and a new iPad.

Besides all of the wonderful features in iOS 6, what other features can users expect to be showcased in the iPhone 5? Here's a breakdown of rumors, reports and patent filings that suggest a number of killer features and applications may be included in this year's iPhone model:

NFC: Near-Field Communication is nothing new. In fact, many current smartphones have the chip built-in so owners can use mobile payments solutions like Google Pay. Apple has held off on implementing NFC technology into its iPhone, but a slew of recently granted patents seem to suggest that will change with the sixth-generation model. Two of the major features said to use NFC rather heavily are the iWallet, and iTunes "Gifting."

The iWallet: If you saw Apple announce iOS 6 at WWDC, you may have heard about a new application called Passbook, which is designed to keep all of your gift cards, coupons and tickets all in one place. With a simple flick, users can summon their Starbucks cards, loyalty cards, train tickets, plane tickets and sporting event tickets, too. While Passbook will work on every iOS device, Apple has reportedly been building an expansion of this software specifically for an NFC-capable iPhone.

Apple won a major patent on March 6 for a piece of technology called the "iWallet," which is a digital system that gives users complete control over their subsidiary financial accounts on their iPhones, and also leverages Near-Field Communication technology to complete credit card transactions directly on the phone as well. The iWallet has many different features, including giving users the ability to see their entire credit card profiles, view statements and messages from their banks, and even set parental controls for their children, should they also want to use their iPhones as digital wallets. Outside of the iPhone, users can keep track of their payments and statements within the iTunes billing system, which keeps credit card information and records safe and secure. There's a possibility that iWallet could also work with other Apple utilities, which could allow users to buy things like movie tickets directly within the apps, but only time will tell with that one.

iTunes Gifting: Speaking of NFC... Another Apple patent unveiled in April described a system for standardized buying, sending, and receiving of media files from a media provider (iTunes) between multiple devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPodTouchs). The process was simply called, "Gifting," and it would certainly work with an NFC-capable iPhone.

Downloading and storing digital media with online service providers has become commonplace -- more so than purchasing DVDs and CDs at physical stores - but it's not very easy to transfer digital files from one individual to another, usually because of copyright laws. Apple believes "Gifting" is the solution.

One method for gifting requires the sender to authorize a gift charge to their iTunes account, which is then transmitted from the sender's device to the receiver's device -- via tapping, or as long as they're nearby -- thanks to the NFC chip. If the recipient of the gift isn't nearby -- or you want it to be a surprise -- the gift-giver may submit an official request with iTunes, which then processes the request and charges the initiator's account for the given file. The patent also allows for multiple gifts to be sent in a single transaction, as well as certain customization options for the gifts -- including voice greetings and custom gift images, likely to conceal the gift's identity before the receipient opens it.

OLED Display: Apple is reportedly testing the iPhone 5 prototype with an A5X chip, which is the quad-core graphics processor used to power the Retina Display in the new iPad. But why would Apple need such a powerful chip for an iPhone? Given that the A5X chip is a graphics powerhouse, if Apple doesn't drastically change the physical size of the screen to 4.6 inches, it may be changing the display's overall quality.

Apple has plenty of money to afford OLED screens in an iPhone-sized display, and it would make sense for Apple to ask Samsung to help build its iPhone 5 displays. Samsung knows how to build big, beautiful screens for any size device: Just imagine what Samsung could do with Apple's Retina technology implemented into an OLED. Apple would effectively put distance between the iPhone and all other smartphone competitors for another five years, at the very least.

LTE Connectivity: Despite the significantly higher download and upload speeds of LTE, previous implementations of the high-speed network in smartphones ravaged battery life, which was a major complaint from users. If Apple wanted LTE in the iPhone 4S, it would have been forced to increase the phone's thickness to accommodate a larger circuit board and a bigger battery. As Apple CEO Tim Cook noted in a company earnings conference call in April 2011, "first-generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises."

But now, with new LTE chips from Qualcomm now available, it's a foregone conclusion that Apple will implement radio bands for 4G LTE in the iPhone '5', given that Apple introduced the high-speed network on its new iPad, released March 16. Since LTE in tablets isn't a feature users were breaking down doors for, its implementation was likely done as a "practice run."

Crack-Proof Glass: Everyone who's ever had a rough Saturday night would certainly love this patent. Granted on Nov. 15, Apple's patent for crack-resistant glass uses the same alumino silicate glass solution used in the iPhone 4 and 4S, but chemically treats it with potassium and sodium ions to achieve greater compression thresholds on the surface and edges of the glass, making it less susceptible to cracks.

Apple also included a handy feature that will appeal to everyone who's ever dropped their iPhone: The patent calls for a shock mount to be placed between the glass and the body of the device, which will instantly inflate if the device senses it's falling. If the iPhone's internal accelerometer senses it's falling, an actuator within the device sucks in the cover glass as it accelerates to the ground, protecting it from damage.

Advanced Haptics: Another recently published Apple patent describes a new haptics feedback system that allows a user to interact with the content on the screen by touching it, which is accomplished with sensors and actuators working simultaneously. The new multi-tiered system is extremely sophisticated: Using several layers of elastic screens stacked on top of each other, Apple's screen can produce 3D buttons or objects to interact with, as well as give texture to images, like topographical maps.

Apple's haptic system can create different types of actions, including vibration, net displacement, bending, deforming, or any combination of those elements. The technology can also work with a secondary display screen or audio system, which would be useful if Apple ever builds its iTV, but the system can also be applied to flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens. This advanced haptics system would also work with almost every portable Apple device, including iPhones, iPod Touch devices, iPads, MacBooks, and even TVs, video projectors and e-Ink displays.

Apple Avatars. If you want to buy movies, apps, or any content through Apple's iTunes Store or App Store, Apple requires you have an Apple ID. Your Apple ID sticks with you in the company's Game Center, which keeps track of a user's achievements across purchased and downloaded games. But if this recently granted patent has any bearing on the immediate future, Apple users may soon get to make customizable Apple Avatars, which users would use to represent themselves within potential online or gaming environments. Apple users could create a 3D model of themselves, customizing features like hair, eyes, nose, and eyebrows, as well as other features and accessories. While avatars seem to be geared towards kids, it would actually help give users a source of identity while making the Apple brand -- and identification procedures -- a little more fun. Don't be surprised if Apple had Pixar's help on this one: Just look at the eyes.

The Photographer's Timer. Traditionally, self-timing cameras are used to take pictures of a big group, or a self-portrait. But in Apple's self-timer, a patent granted March 8, the iDevice's camera can identify the photographer and ask if they want to be in the picture. At that point, the iPhone will simply wait until it detects the photographer's face in the viewfinder before it automatically snaps a photo. If you are the "photographer" who also wants to be in the picture, the iPhone will simply wait until it detects your face to take the picture.

"But what about interruptions? What happens if I get a call after I set the self-timer?" Wonder no more. If you set the timer and then your phone goes off, the timer will still wait until it has detected, recognized and verified that you are the photographer and that you're in place for the photo.

Now if only Apple patented a tripod...

3D Photography. While existing 3D cameras and video recorders can gather three-dimensional information from objects, they're generally incapable of getting detailed enough information in relation to the shapes, surfaces and depth of the objects. Apple's solution involves a series of systems, tools and methods to capture a 3D image by using multiple sensors and cameras. One sensor would capture a polarizing image, while two other sensors would capture two different non-polarizing images, and Apple's system would combine the images into a composite.

3D Object Recognition. On May 10, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a series of Apple patents relating to 3D face and object recognition technology. Apple's system involves taking a picture -- either with a front or rear camera -- and the 3D recognition software would distinguish between the two-dimensional projection of the image and the three-dimensional shape of the objects in the image. The process would be fully automatic, which would help for identifying faces in a group of objects, or even identifying objects in X-ray images.

Multi-Player Gaming. The iPhone 5 might also be the first phone to feature a new piece of software for multi-player gaming. On March 15, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that describes a system for multi-player gaming, which allows groups of people to play the same game together and even see it from different perspectives according to the devices' physical relation to one another. The system actually mimics that of the "Find My Friends" app, in which a user's device detects other nearby devices that it recognizes as "friends," and invites them all to join a common application. The technology also determines the relative position of those devices, so some games -- like turn-based role-playing games or card games -- can be played in a specific order.

Micro SIM Connector: It's definitely not the sexiest feature, but if Apple decides to include this patented micro SIM connector in the iPhone 5, you won't be unhappy. Apple usually doesn't like people tinkering inside its devices, but the company's micro SIM solution is described as "easily removed and replaced," as well as "resistant to damage by an improper insertion of a SIM card, and may provide reliable mechanical performance."

Will Q4 Be Apple's Best Quarter Ever?

It certainly looks to be that way, assuming Apple in fact releases a new iPhone, a brand-new iPad design, iOS 6, and a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, as previously reported by our favorite guy, Kuo.

Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer released another extremely conservative prediction for Q4, forecasting revenue of $34 billion on $7.65 a share. Analysts predict Apple will reach $10.22 a share in earnings based on $38 billion in Q4 revenue, but if Apple releases all of these cheaper hardware products at once, it could find itself blowing past these estimates by mid-October.

Apple discovered the power of releasing new products in October: The iPhone 4S, which was the first iPhone not released in the summer months, proved to be the key to Apple's best quarter in its 35-year history, claiming $46.33 billion overall, $13.1 billion in profit and $17.5 billion in cash for the quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2011.

We may not know which products Apple will unveil come September or October -- who knows, maybe we'll even see that TV set we've heard so much about -- but one thing's for certain. Apple keeps raising the bar on its own quarterly performance, and it will likely do so again this fall with an exciting new line-up of hardware and software. If Apple succeeds in releasing all of these products or not, one thing is certain: Apple is going to have a very, very busy autumn.

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