AAPL > MSFT

It was bound to be again as it was prior to 1990.

Apple’s Market Capitalization is once again greater than Microsoft’s.

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Apple’s R&D Efficiency

In fact it’s rumored that Apple brought the iPhone to market for a mere $150 million, doing so organically without acquisition outside of a touch gesture recognition company named FingerWorks.

This begs the question: how in the world did Apple grow the iPhone platform organically from zero into the most profitable cell phone business in the world with so little investment?

via Apple’s Incredible Efficient Growth.

Apple has always spent below the industry average for R&D.

Here are Apple’s trailing 9 quarters R&D as percent of sales:

3.42% 3.86% 2.59% 2.65% 3.51% 3.50% 2.93% 2.54% 3.16%

Nokia spends at least 10% of sales on R&D and Microsoft at least that much.

But these numbers are not as spectacular as the comment above that iPhone development cost was $150 million.  To date, the product has generated $31.4B in sales.

As the article points out, Apple spent $4.6B on R&D over the past four years and Microsoft spent 7x that or $31 billion. Cisco and Intel spent 4x.

The Next Billion Users

Five weeks ago Apple forecast 100 million iPhone OS devices will be sold by summer. This was fairly easy to predict but the question comes up: when will the next 100 million be sold? And what about after that?

The iPhone OS three-legged platform is now the fastest growing platform ever and enjoying network effects which naturally accrue to platforms under solid custodianship. However, I am observing signals from Apple that they intend this platform to become the global standard for mobile computing, which, in today’s world, means targeting 1 billion users. Here are the signals that I’m noting:

  1. Geographic and cultural universality. What plays in Peoria should play in Beijing.  As it has shown by being big in Japan, the iPhone crosses over cultural idiosyncrasies. Not long ago it was taken for granted that “mobile tastes” differ and “one size does not fit all” in mobile phones hence the need for hundreds of phone models in every portfolio. Apple has completely destroyed this myth. (One could ask why should mobile computers be polymorphous when their slightly larger cousins the laptops are rigidly monotonic?) By broadening the platform with multiple screens and connectivity options, Apple is cleverly spanning the jobs that he platform can be hired for.
  2. Avoidance of a pricing umbrella.  Note that this does not mean being low prices, but rather, the protection of their franchise through pricing. Apple has developed a way to stretch a single product across multiple price bands, and carefully builds product to price and margin targets that have strategic placement.
  3. Product cycles and product ramps. Apple has imposed upon itself a yearly product cycle for the iPhone and the iPod.  This is a brilliant move because it keeps the product fresh without having it seem disposable.  It also keeps competitors within its turning radius. However, the challenge is that the distribution network has to be filled rapidly and drained rapidly to maximize availability. This gets harder and harder as the volume grows. Imagine having to manufacture and ship into the channel a billion devices in less than a quarter.

I would point out that all these are marketing, not technical challenges. They are thinly disguised questions about product placement, portfolio, pricing, production and distribution–classic Marketing 101. (Promotion, which is what most people equate with marketing is not particularly challenging, especially for Apple who mostly does it through PR).

It is comforting perhaps to know that Apple is the best marketing organization in the industry today. So to answer the question, 100 million is in the rear-view mirror, 200 million will come up in no more than 2 years and 1 billion will take 5 to 8 years.

Apple’s Growth Scorecard

Apple’s growth and its disconnect with valuation has been a common theme on this blog. For another look at this conundrum I present here a table of Apple’s year on year sales growth by product line and its top and bottom lines.

I color coded the values so that a darker green signifies higher growth (and red, negative growth)

I call this the growth scorecard.

What does this scorecard say about the previous 24 months?

  • Earnings never grew slower than 30% for any quarter except for one quarter when the comp was ridiculously high at 155% (on the back of iPhone 3G launch).
  • Throughout the recession Apple grew sales.
  • The worst growth performance was on peripherals which is Apple’s smallest business
  • The fastest growth was the iPhone, now Apple’s largest business.
  • The iTunes store grew sales consistently throughout the previous 24 months.
  • Growth has been positive (green) across all lines for the past two quarters and has been accelerating.

My estimate for the current (June) quarter is that Net Sales will grow by 47% y/y and Earnings will grow by 60%.

Apple’s Valuation Struggle

I don’t know how many times I can re-write this story but here goes another try.

In the graph below I show Apple’s historic share price overlaid Apple’s P/E (with and without cash).

The share price is the line in green with the scale on the right and the P/E (trailing twelve months ex-cash) is shown in blue with the scale on the left.  The P/E including cash (which is what is usually cited) is shown in yellow.

As the graph shows, while the stock has risen, the P/E has fallen.  This is due to earnings accelerating faster than the stock price. As valuation is usually correlated with growth, it stands to reason that Apple continues to be discounted as a growth stock.

Apple P/E Briefly Drops to 20

Apple’s Price/Earnings ratio (trailing twelve months) based on restated (non-subscription) accounts.

Grey line is P/E ex-cash.

Analysts predict iPad sales

After 1 million units sold in 28 days, it’s time to review the analysts’ predictions:

First year iPad unit forecasts (sourced from TMO Finance Board)

  • Brian Marshall, Broadpoint AmTech   7.0
  • David Bailey, Goldman Sachs           6.2
  • Kathryn Huberty, Morgan Stanley     6.0
  • Shaw Wu, Kauffman Bros.              5.0
  • Mike Abramsky, RBC Capital Markets   5.0
  • Gene Munster, Piper Jaffray           3.5
  • Ben Reitzes, Barclays Capital           2.9
  • Keith Bachman, BMO Capital         2.5
  • Jeff Fidacaro, Susquehanna           2.1
  • Chris Whitmore, Deutsche Bank       2.0
  • Scott Craig, Merrill Lynch               1.2
  • Peter Misek, Canaccord Adams       1.2
  • Doug Reid, Thomas Weisel             1.1
  • Yair Reiner, Oppenheimer             1.1

Looks like at least half of these guys have already blown it.

For the record, in January I forecast 6 million units for calendar 2010 (and 10 million in first year).

Thanks to MfH for the tip.