Lions and Updates and Airs, Oh My!
As we round the bend into summer, Apple's software lineup appears firmly in place: Lion comes next month, followed a few months from now by iCloud and an iOS update that takes the mobile OS to version 5. But even though Apple's WWDC still has software at the top of Apple watchers' minds, a new version of the company's MacBook Air may be on its way this summer as well.
There's been quite a bit of good news for Apple investors over the past week, with two possible exceptions: the announcement Tuesday that Ron Johnson, the company's head of retail, is leaving for JC Penney; and survey results from ABI Research that suggest roughly half of all consumers don't find tablet computers to be much of a turn-on.
However, neither of those items is expected to pose a real problem for AAPL.
Apple's change of heart on its rules for subscription-based content may motivate publishers to move to the iPad en masse at last.
Further, an anticipated update to the MacBook Air and the upcoming release of Mac OS X Lion are expected to send hardware and software sales soaring.
In notes to investors, Barclays Capital has expressed strong confidence in Apple.
AAPL closed at US$332.44 Tuesday, up 1.79 percent, after a day of busy trading.
Pulling In the Publishers?
Apple now allows publishers more leeway in choosing the prices they charge for subscription purchased through iOS apps.
This, combined with the new Newsstand feature that will be available in iOS 5, will offer "a much improved consumer experience" that will "drive subscriptions and build a new revenue stream for publishers," Richard Stephenson, CEO of Yudu Media, told MacNewsWorld.
Apple was at loggerheads with publishers over its control of pricing and customer data collection. While the latter issue hasn't been entirely resolved, letting publishers set their prices on subscriptions through their own websites will let them attract more customers to their own sites, thus alleviating the data collection problem and allowing them to gain subscribers without giving Apple a cut of revenue.
Apple didn't respond to requests for comment by press time.
Apple's expected to refresh its MacBook Air product line, basing it on Intel's latest-generation Sandy Bridge processors, Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore believes.
The new notebooks could hit retail shelves as early as July, when Apple's scheduled to Mac OS X Lion, Whitmore predicted.
Sales of the new MacBook Airs could hit 1.5 million units per quarter, he forecast.
New releases of Apple's operating system have traditionally given Mac sales a strong boost.
Meanwhile, Barclays Capital told investors that Mac sales are likely to grow this month. May sales of Macs grew 21 percent year over year, and education segment demand will increase in June, the research firm said.
Strong demand for iPads and iPhones will continue to benefit Apple, Barclays Capital stated.
Consumers Don't Take to Tablets?
Could Barclays Capital be overly optimistic about the iPad?
A survey of more than 1,100 consumers conducted by ABI Research in March found that tablets left nearly half of them cold.
They were either not very interested or not at all interested in buying a media tablet, and 60 percent of them said they don't see the need for one, ABI found.
That could be because consumers aren't really clear about what they can do with a tablet, speculated Jeff Orr, mobile devices group director at ABI.
"That's normal," Orr told MacNewsWorld. "From our surveys on netbooks in 2009 and 2011, for example, we've found awareness of netbooks has increased."
Further, it's difficult to predict consumer demand trends, so the March survey results don't necessarily mean people won't buy tablet computers, Orr pointed out.
Apple's Retail Head Goes to JC Penney
News emerged Tuesday that Ron Johnson, head of Apple's retail operations, will become the new president and CEO of clothing retailer JC Penney.
Johnson was instrumental in building Apple's retail stores into the success story they are over the past decade -- the stores are the world's most profitable on a per-square-foot basis.
Apple has plans to open 40 new stores this year, 75 percent of them overseas, Barclays Capital said.
While Johnson's departure is a "meaningful loss" for Apple, Barclays Capital expects the company to "be able to appoint or hire a very capable successor," it said in a note to investors.
The key for Johnson's successor is the ability to successfully populate China with retail stores, Barclays said.