As much as I wish I could hop in my trusty time machine and go buy more Apple (NAS: AAPL) shares as little as five years ago while the stock was near $88, my contraption picked the most inopportune time to go on the fritz, and my local Time Machines "R" Us is fresh out of parts.
We might as well look forward to the future (and to a day when my time machine is working again), and based on Apple's current price of near $380, should you buy, sell, or hold the largest company in the world?
China: Thinking of Apple's opportunities in China really is like going back in time five years. The most populous nation in the world currently has 3G penetration near only 4%, representing enormous opportunities for the iPhone, which has just cleared regulatory hurdles and should launch this month. When Apple inevitably brings on China Mobile (NYS: CHL) as an official carrier alongside China Unicom (NYS: CHU) , that will be its key to China.
The company only has a meager six retail stores in the country. The recently opened Hong Kong store ranks as one of its highest traffic and highest revenue locations in the world. Only 2% of fiscal 2009 revenue came from China. For the fiscal year 2011 that just closed, that figure rose to 12%, with the fourth quarter alone counting 16% of sales from the region. It is by far Apple's fastest-growing major region, with last quarter's China revenue growing 270% year over year.
Enterprise: The workplace has long been Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) Windows territory. Longtime enterprise Mac opponent Forrester Research has had a change of heart and is now a staunch proponent of Macs and iDevices in the office. As a frequent IT consultant, Forrester has an opinion that's likely to sway a few IT departments.
Apple TV: Not the current black puck, but a real Apple TV. When Apple enters the TV market and reshapes the broken industry, it will see a blank canvas in one of the few markets Apple has left untouched so far: full-size television sets. Just like the iPod and iTunes Music Store before it, Apple will also revolutionize how we access, manage, and interact with our content. You can also expect it to continue its role as content gatekeeper and collecting toll as the price of admission.
- Your kids: My 3-year-old daughter wants an iPhone. iGadgets top the wish list among kids this holiday shopping season, which is why they will be Apple's next catalyst. iOS is Apple's most important operating system, and its simplicity makes it accessible to young ones before they're even able to read and write proficiently. The iPod Touch and iPad are like gateway drugs to the iPhone and Macs.
Steve Jobs is gone: After years of struggling with health problems, Steve Jobs died on the day after the iPhone 4S was unveiled. Apple has now lost its visionary leader, and the company begins a new era. CEO Tim Cook is not a "product guy" in the way that Jobs was. While Jobs had supposedly left Apple with four years of products in the pipeline, there is some uncertainty about who will be the key visionary behind future products.
- iPad fad: A lot of Apple's future prospects are baked into the thin aluminum body of the iPad. A huge portion of Apple's success in recent years is directly attributed to the iPhone, and at this point everyone fully expects the same from the iPad's potential in coming years. The iPad's early days are even more promising than the iPhone's, but the first tablet revolution in the early 2000s fizzled out quickly. If the second one follows in its footsteps and the iPad proves to be a fading fad, Apple has a long way to fall.
Competition: As the hottest growth sector today, the mobile arena is being stormed by rivals. Google (NAS: GOOG) Android continues to lead in smartphone market share over iOS, thanks to its open approach reminiscent of Microsoft's in the '90s. The iPad still rules the tablet market, and even if this tablet revolution is for keeps, it can't remain top dog forever with how quickly tablet shipments are growing. Amazon.com's (NAS: AMZN) Kindle Fire is selling by the millions, and the sector is getting crowded posthaste.
- Size: Apple passes the market cap crown back and forth with ExxonMobil, but on some days it is the largest company in the world by market cap, currently around $354 billion. How much bigger can Apple get? Is it even possible to become the world's first trillion-dollar company?
Apple is still a buy, hands down. Even at today's prices. Although there are certainly things to consider first, Cupertino's future prospects are just as promising as ever. It has numerous areas of growth to tap into, and its current valuation looks downright cheap.
As much as Jobs relished the feeling of being needed, he also took great pride in building a company that would outlive him for generations to come. Each member of Apple's leadership that Jobs handpicked has earned his stripes and contributes to the company's success, from Jony Ive to Scott Forstall to Phil Schiller.
This tablet revolution is here to stay, and Apple will continue to lead the way. Apple will become the first trillion-dollar company.
Speaking of 13-digit figures, the mobile revolution is also set to become The Next Trillion Dollar Revolution, thanks in part to Apple. There are lots of companies that are set to cash in on it, but one in particular has excellent prospects. The company is one of few players that will help power the mobile devices of the future, and it also has exposure to the explosive growth in China. As bullish as I am on Apple, I'm also bullish on this stock, and I've given it an "outperform" CAPScall. It might even find its way in my personal portfolio alongside Apple. Get access to this 100% free report to find out what company I'm talking about!
At the time this article was published Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Amazon.com and Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, China Mobile, Amazon.com, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of China Mobile, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon.com and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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