With $216 billion in cash on hand, Apple can butt its way into any number of businesses without blinking an eye. And this may be the right time for it to make some strategic investments.
Apple's iPhone sales are lagging, and in the quarter ending March 26, the company is expected to post its first year-over-year smartphone sales decline. While the iPhone continues to provide the bulk of Apple’s revenue, investors are looking to the company to find ways to boost its revenue again and diversify. Here are a few conceivable purchases that might help it get back to growth:
Netflix ($39.85 billion Market Capitalization)
With a streaming music service in its pocket, the only thing Apple is missing on the content side is video. It tried to do that with a live television streaming service of its own, but that has yet to materialize due to stalls in negotiations between the company and content owners, according to Bloomberg.
One possible alternative for Apple would be the outright purchase of Netflix. Rumors to that effect hit the internet this week. Netflix' stable of original content is on the rise, and so is its subscriber base, which tacked on 5.7 million additional U.S. users and 3.49 million international members for a total just shy of 75 million total subscribers in 2015. One potential drawback is that while Apple would gain access to Netflix’s growing stable of original content, it would still lack deals for content from the major networks.
Odds: Depends if Apple can convince Netflix that it really just wants to literally just "Netflix and chill" and not the term's other meaning.
Alternatively Apple could instead take aim at Hulu and spend a fraction of what it would cost to gain a controlling stake in Netflix or an outright purchase of the company. Time Warner is eyeing a 25 percent stake in the joint venture owned by NBCUniversal, Fox Broadcasting Co. and Disney, according to the Wall Street Journal. But that could come at the cost of removing current episodes of shows on the service.
Were Apple to pursue a stake in Hulu instead, it could give Apple a cheaper way into a streaming content service for the Apple TV — an area where Apple has gained little traction. Time Warner’s potential stake in Hulu would value the service at about $5 billion to $6 billion, according to a November estimate from the Wall Street Journal. That's a fraction of the potential cost for a Netflix purchase. It would also be more in line with Apple’s acquisitions to date, the most of expensive of which was the $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronics and Beats Music in 2014.
Odds: Likely one of Apple's cheapest ways into streaming video.
Tesla Motors ($25.85 billion Market Capitalization)
If Apple wants to get its electric car project off the ground faster, it could purchase a company that already has an established brand in the market — namely Tesla Motors. By acquiring the company founded by Elon Musk, Apple would gain access to extensive electric vehicle manufacturing capacity and knowledge, as well as its advanced battery technology and factory in Sparks, Nevada.
Apple has work cut out for it if the Project Titan electric car will hit a target ship date of 2019. In January it was revealed that project lead executive Steve Zadesky is expected to leave the company. That news was shortly followed by talk that Apple implemented a hiring freeze on the team because Apple Chief Design Officer Jony Ive was unhappy with the progress made on the electric vehicle project.
Odds: As likely as a SpaceX rocket landing on a floating barge without crashing.
Twitter ($11.76 billion Market Capitalization)
With Apple’s push into music and a rumored push into video, maybe social media could be in the cards. At just under a $12 billion market cap, Apple could pick up the Twitter network and its more than 300 million monthly active users with plenty of money left over.
That said, Twitter is probably far down the list of prospective acquisitions for the iPhone maker. In the past Apple hasn’t found much success running its own social network, namely the iTunes Ping social music network. Apple launched the service alongside a 2010 iTunes update, but it lasted only two years before the plug was pulled.
Odds: Highly unlikely. But if Apple did go ahead with this purchase, journalists would be only a hashtag away from the company.
Nvidia ($15.52 billion Market Capitalization)
If Apple pushes forward with an autonomous-driving feature for the rumored Apple Car, the acquisition of Nvidia could be one way it gets there. While the company is primarily known for its role in developing and manufacturing graphics cards for workstations and gamers, it also has shown increased interest in developing artificial-intelligence hardware — such as its Drive PX 2 computer — to perform sensor calculations and computing power for autonomous driving purposes.
In addition to autonomous-driving technology, Nvidia has experience developing graphics processors that are powerful enough for handling the requirements of virtual reality headsets, such as Facebook’s Oculus. That knowledge could be helpful for Apple, which is developing virtual reality technology of its own.
Odds: Virtually possible, but Apple may instead poach individual talent from the company.
Advanced Micro Devices ($1.66 billion Market Capitalization)
One particular limitation to Apple’s line of Mac desktops and notebooks is that upgrades to the computer lineup are heavily dependent on Intel’s calendar of desktop and notebook processor rollouts. By purchasing AMD, Apple would gain the engineering knowledge to build its own desktop processors and perhaps graphics chips.
The drawback to such a purchase is that AMD licenses some key x86 processor architecture patents via a cross-licensing deal with Intel. The license is nontransferable, so in the event of a takeover bid from an outside company, Apple would be required to strike up another deal with Intel before it could start making x86 processors, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Odds: Apple in 2008 bought a chip designer to aid its mobile chip efforts, so it could happen again.